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How to Write the Perfect Email

I recently cut the amount of time I spent on email by almost half, and I think a lot of people could do the same.

I’m sure my approach has made some people hate me, because I come off curt. But if everyone thought about email in the same way, what I’m suggesting wouldn’t be rude. Here are the basic guidelines that are working for me and, so, I propose for all of the world to adopt immediately:

No signoff.

Best? Cheers? Thanks?

None of the above. You can write your name if it feels too naked or abrupt not to have something down there. But it shouldn’t, and it wouldn’t if it were the norm.

No greeting.

Don’t waste time considering if “Dear,” or “Hey” or “[name]!” is appropriate. Just get right into it. Write the recipient’s name if you must. But most people already know their names. Like they already know your name.

Greetings and closings are relics of the handwritten missive that persist only as matters of, ostensibly, formality. Foregoing them can seem curt or impolite. But it’s the opposite. Long, formal emails are impolite. 

Text messages and chat...

The Surprisingly Simple Fix for Ineffective Leadership Teams

It’s no secret that many leadership teams don’t function as well as they could or should. Leadership teams are the people in your organization who collectively hold the responsibility for just about everything that impacts growth, operations, employee engagement, and productivity. They’re often looked up to and have say and sway regarding how things get done. They often are the more senior or tenured employees and have earned their positions through past successes and ongoing performance in their areas of expertise.

Individually, they might shine. So, why can’t they get along and get stuff done when they’re together?

I see leadership teams up close and personal, facilitating dozens of offsite meetings each year. While the agendas are always customized to the unique, stated problems facing the group, there are invariably underlying issues with trust, respect, communications, and lines of authority. There are difficult relationships and politics. Many maintain a thorough accounting of past wrongs done to them and opportunities missed because of others’ ineptitude. Almost everyone is keeping score.

With interpersonal challenges like these, you’d think the fix would be big and expensive and might even require letting some people go. However, in my...

How to Vote for President When You Don't Like the Candidates

How do voters select a candidate when no one they like is on the ballot?

Behavioral scientists have studied decision-making – including voting – for decades. However, researchers usually give respondents at least one appealing option to choose from.

This led us to wonder: What do voters do when they consider all of the options bad? Do they fall back on party affiliation, or simply toss a coin? This question is especially appropriate in the current presidential election because the two front runners have the lowest favorability ratings ever.

When we did research to answer this question, we learned that in situations where all of the choices are bad, people tend to vote by rejecting the choices they didn’t like, rather than by affirmatively choosing the one they disliked least.

Imagine there are two undesirable candidates named Tilly and Ron. Given this “two bad choices” option, voters will be more likely to select Tilly because they reject Ron, rather than select Tilly proactively.

While the end result may be the same, the thought process that leads to this decision is quite different.

As behavioral scientists who study how people make decisions, we think this distinction could affect the upcoming presidential election...

Pay for Success: Separating Fact From Fear

In an era of tight budgets, finding innovative ways to fund social programs and improve the lives of Americans has become more important than ever. One strategy that has gained prominence in recent years is “pay for success.”

Also known as social impact bonds, pay for success aims to align government spending with targeted outcomes, such as lower recidivism rates or decreased homelessness, by raising capital from private or philanthropic sources to pay for a social program. If an independent evaluation shows that the program achieves those agreed-upon outcomes, the government repays the investor. If it falls short, investors take the loss.

Testing and implementation of the pay for success model are still in their infancy. Twelve pay for success projects are now active across the country—with dozens of jurisdictions exploring possible future initiatives—and results are just starting to come in.

Criticisms of the model are emerging as more and more projects launch. It is important to distinguish between legitimate concerns and less justified critiques.

Criticism #1: Pay for success projects ‘privatize’ public services

Pay for success finances programs delivered by a service provider—usually a nonprofit—using funding from a private or philanthropic investor. Some critics argue...

To Take Control of Your Email Inbox, Think About It Like Your IRL Mailbox

Like it or not, email breeds a curiously strong sense of obligation. The more unread messages we have in our inboxes, the more guilty we feel. The more time that passes before we can reply to a message, the more we apologize. 

Even if it takes forever to get to it, we still can’t shake the feeling that we owe everyone a response. For family, friends, and coworkers, this seems natural. We have long-standing relationships with them, so feeling an obligation to reply to their messages makes sense. But what about complete strangers? Why do we feel guilty if we can’t respond to someone we don’t even know?

It turns out that numerous experiments have shown that humans tend to adhere to the rule of reciprocity in social interactions. At its most basic level, this means that we want to respond to a positive action with another positive action. If someone does a favor for us, we want to return the favor, even if—and this is the crucial distinction—that favor wasn’t something we necessarily wanted.

Sociologist Phillip Kunz proved the unexpected power of the rule of reciprocity with an unusual, DIY experiment back in...

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