Back To Career News

When the Boss Is a Terse Emailer


What’s worse than a boss who sends novel-length emails? A boss whose messages contain messages so brief, they’d fit handily into a tweet.


(Photo Credit: BAMCorp/Flickr)

“The potential for email misfires between bosses and subordinates is mounting, as the volume of email grows and more people read it on the fly on mobile devices,” writes Sue Shellenbarger at The Wall Street Journal. “Sometimes the boss is too rushed to read. Employees fuel the problems by sending poorly written emails. Deeper issues can arise if bosses’ and employees’ communication styles clash.”

Do You Know What You're Worth?

So what does it mean when the boss sends back one word –“done,” for example, or “OK”? Well, it depends on the boss, and on you.

Scenario 1: The boss doesn’t reply.

Possibilities: She’s hoping you figure it out on your own — or she’s too busy.

If it’s the former, you’ll be able to figure it out over time by examining the pattern. If there are certain questions your manager never answers, and they’re items you could check off yourself, you might be better off solving your own problems, and keeping her in the loop about your decisions.

If it’s the latter, a brief conversation at your next check-in about communication styles wouldn’t go amiss. Ask her how she wants to be communicated with, and you’ll both get more out of your interactions.

Scenario 2: The boss sends one word — or worse, a symbol.

Jeff Bezos famously sends emails to Amazon employees containing just one character — a question mark. As you can imagine, it’s never a good sign.

The reason this terseness works is because Bezos’ employees know what he means. If you don’t know what your boss is driving at, feel free to ask. As Shellenbarger explains in The Wall Street Journal, that brief reply might actually be a sign of trust, not a sign of frustration. If your manager knows you can handle things, he might not waste time sugarcoating his message.

Which brings us to our final point: no matter what the underlying issue is, brevity is your friend. Don’t waste time — yours and your manager’s — with long preambles and rambling thoughts. Get right to the point in your next email, and your boss will have more time to process what you’re saying and formulate an answer.

Tell Us What You Think

How do you deal with hard-to-decipher emails? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
Read more from Jen

Leave a Reply

Notify of
What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.