By Rick Gage

Over the holiday weekend, I was talking with some friends about the challenges we face in communicating with our adult children. We were lamenting that our kids don’t reliably read the emails we send them.

We’ve all tried texts. Turns out they don’t consistently respond to those either— but the hit rate is better than email.

Some had tried emails in which the subject clearly identified when it was “Urgent – Please Respond” or “Pay attention: this is about money.” Sometimes that seems to work.

One person had even tried emails that only have subject lines— no message body. Per instructions from the kids, they include EOM (“end of message”), at the end of the subject line so the kids know they can just respond without opening. Still only mixed results.

I’ve noticed a similar pattern creeping into the workplace. A foundational social contract is slipping away. We are so busy and our inboxes so overloaded that we have given up on being accountable to read what is sent to us.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was embarrassed not to have read something that was sent to me. I would even apologize to someone who’d taken the time to communicate with me, but whom I’d effectively blown off by not reading their message.

A couple months ago I saw it shift even further when I had a client say, “I haven’t read your email— it didn’t look relevant. You have to make me want to read it.” Essentially, he hadn’t read it, and it was my fault. Once I got over the shock of my client’s response, I began to internalize what this new normal really means.

Rather than struggle against it, I’m working to embrace it. I’m making it my mission to be clear, concise, and interesting enough to cut through the noise. I aspire to be instantly compelling.


1. Use a headline / subject that grabs attention

Keywords in the subject line can sometimes be useful if they are a part of the person’s business culture. Examples include: Urgent, Action Required by XX/XX, FYI, Not Urgent, or Background/Read Later.  More universal is just using the subject to say something interesting or convey your call to action like, “1 thing from you and I can blow this out of the water.”

2. Distill the essence of my content into a sentence or two at the top.

I often also include a sentence or two (at the most) at the top of the body of the email that conveys the essence of the message. I use text formatting (like centering) to set it apart from the rest of the message.

3. Make it explicit that I’ll be making 3-6 key points.

There are tons or “X things about Y topic” posts out there for a reason. It works. I’m embarrassed to admit how many of those links I’ve followed on LinkedIn and Facebook. It may feel gimmicky— it was even a little awkward for me to use it in this post. But if you’re still reading, maybe it works.

4. Use short sentences and white space to make my message more accessible.

Long paragraphs seem to be really daunting to some readers. I have a colleague who embodies this perfectly by shaking her hands above her head wildly and exclaiming, “too many words, too many words.” I hate it, but she’s right. Short paragraphs, bulleted lists and anything that produce more white space seem to help.

5. Be timely – I find I can break through If I catch someone at exactly the time they need the info I’m sending.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had a great idea, but put off sending the note. And then the moment passed. I’m working to be ready to respond quickly – and then chose my opening as wisely as I can. If in doubt, sooner is better.

6. My stretch goal is to get so comfortable creating short video clips that I can pop them into my email messages.

The data is pretty clear. People click on videos more than text articles. So why not include video in my important emails. I’m not comfortable enough yet with creating and editing video of myself to do it. But I’m working on it.

Breaking through with a clear, concise and compelling personal brand is one of the most important things I can do to increase my job satisfaction and advance my career. Stay tuned for future articles about how I’m learning to take personal brands to the next level.

I wish I could report that these six tools have increased the responsiveness of my kids, but hope springs eternal.

Rick Gage is a Managing Director, Account Leader and member of our Strong-Bridge leadership team. He is also a Personal Branding coach with a keen interest for helping connect people to their own strengths and passions. Rick brings his expertise to helping our consultants and clients refine and express their unique personal brands.

Interested in knowing more about us? Feel free to send us a note