On this episode of Communicate I/O, Erica puts the Law of Little Things into practice by examining out of office messages. She shares three out of office emails and analyzes them using the Communicate I/O method. Erica also emphasizes the importance of consistency, especially in your role as a leader.
This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart on the Communicate I/O podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!
exclamation points, reply, office, people, fullest expression, communicate, unprofessional, email, words, leader, expectation, professional, leadership style
Erica Mills Barnhart
It’s summer. And that means what? Vacation or holiday or however you’d like to say depending on where you are in the world. There’s something sort of fun or posh feeling about saying I’m going on holiday. I don’t know why, maybe it’s me. Okay, so you’re going to take vacation or a holiday or go on holiday or whatnot. And that means you’ll be crafting an out of office reply, most likely. I know, in some environments, also this is true in many academic environments, nobody puts on an out of office, which is interesting. But I think an out of office is important. It allows you to manage expectations, it can diminish anxiety for people who are like, “Oh, they’re gone. When are they going to be back?” these types of things. And out of office can do so much more. So, let’s talk about those replies. You may not think of an out of office reply as a way to convey your leadership style. But it is. It’s a little thing that can say a lot about you. In episode 49, the one immediately prior to this, I talked about the law of little things. This is one of those little things, out of office reply, that over time add up to big things like for instance, how people perceive you, as a human, and also as a leader. So, I’m going to read them to you, obviously because it’s a podcast. 2 or 3 different replies I got from the email I sent out about the law of little things episode, which if you’re new to the show, one welcome and also, and or if you missed it, I encourage you to listen to that you don’t need to stop and go back or anything. It’s somewhat intuitive, but I would definitely give it a listen because there’s so much opportunity, overlooked opportunity, in these little things. Okay, I’m going to infer with my tone of voice, just harnessing some paralanguage, hear how these emails sounded when I read them in my head. I didn’t read them out loud. But this is how they sounded. All right, the first one “Hello beautiful people! I am on vacation through June 6, please contact so and so at such and such. If you need assistance during this time, if you leave a message, I will reach out to you upon my return. Thank you.” Alright, that’s number one. Number two. “Greetings, greetings! Thank you for contacting me. I am out of the office until Thursday, June 2, and we’ll be back in the office Monday, June 6 for immediate assistance call so and so. Have a wonderful day.” And then number three, “Thank you for your email. I’m out of the office Thursday, June 2, and Friday, June 3, I am unable to respond at this time, I will be happy to get back to you when I return on Monday, June 6. If this is an urgent matter, please email so and so if you wish to make a gift to our organization, please visit and then there’s the URL”. Okay, now, so three, three different out of office replies. Number one and number two have a pretty similar vibe. There are some exclamation points especially number two, we’re going to come back to that. They’re upbeat, they’re pretty open, accessible, yet they also set a clear boundary about when they’re going to be out so don’t expect to hear from me and manage your expectation about when you can expect when you are likely to hear back from them. Now let’s look at the inputs a bit more. Number one open with unexpected words. The words beautiful people, hello beautiful people, you don’t see or hear that much in the business world. And this was from a business email address. Right? So it might just be deemed “unprofessional”. I would counter if anybody were making that case, I would counter that the reply is totally professional in every way, all while giving you a clear sense of this person’s personality. Like, you can also visualize or feel what a personality would be like with this person, because they are somebody who in their out of office reply says, Hello beautiful people. I of course, also read it as Hello beautiful person, as if this person, were talking directly to me. Upon rereading it, I see that’s not true. But that’s how it felt. Let’s linger on this idea of what’s professional and what’s not for a second, I feel like this is especially important for women. And even more so for women in in leadership. So yes, clearly there are some lines that have crossed just are going to be, you know, straight up unprofessional, not showing up in your pajamas, for instance, or to a meeting without pants, or a skirt or something on, so there are some bright lines. But on balance there’s this whole other realm, right. And I’ve worked with many, and when I say realm, I mean, like, there’s a lot of gray area and a lot of people with opinions about what’s professional or not, I’ve worked with many, many a woman leader, who felt like they needed to, like tone down their personality in order to be professional, or, you know, change in some way, or to some extent, where they had to, in a way where they had to like, think about how they were going to show up because it was counter to how they would naturally show up. Right? So, changing who they are, rather than showing up as the fullest, most awesome version of themselves. This is a double whammy. Bummer. Number one, it’s not a good use of resources. So, for the pragmatists among us, myself included, like this is a bummer. Because it’s inefficient, it means that you’re diverting mental energy to showing up in a way that’s “acceptable” or “professional”, but not necessarily who you naturally are. So, it’s that’s energy, right? And anytime, you know, any of us have, and I think most of us have experienced this, you’re like, okay, I have to show up in this way. And then you have to remember to talk in a specific way or not talk or you know, any of these things. That’s just a lot of energy. Right? So, it’s directing energy in that way. As opposed to the way you show up like your most awesome self, and then you can focus on the content or the other people in the room or a whole bunch of other things. So that’s, that’s bummer. Number one is efficient. Number two, it robs the world of the gift that is you being you. Hate. There’s no other you like, and I know that you’ve heard this from other people. There’s some very famous quote that I’m forgetting right now. But it is true. The reason it keeps coming up is because there’s only one you and if you think about it, I mean, it can get existential pretty quickly. That’s so flippin cool. Right? That’s so cool. And why? Why is our work, work? You know, with ease, why isn’t it to just fill up but show up as the fullest expression of ourselves, right? So, there’s a whole other conversation we can have about why that happens, the socialization, but I want to invite you into that line of inquiry for yourself, are there ways in which you’re contorting or adapting? Changing who you are, rather than just being like, this is me. This is the fullest expression of me. So, I have this little lovely little letterpress card on my desk with this quote from Anne Rand, which reads, which reads and she says for dramatic pause, no, not really. I just actually lost my mind there. I could just look over it literally is on my desk, which reads, “The question isn’t who is going to let me it’s who is going to stop me?” Who is going to stop you? Who is going to stop me from showing up as us the fullest expression of myself, right? Who gets to decide who is and what is authentic to you? That’s a loaded word authentic. What is professional? What is allowable or acceptable? Yes, there are power dynamics that are lines not to be crossed. There are hierarchies and a whole bunch of other things to factor in. And you get to decide who you want to be as a human, as a leader. As a mum, as a partner, you get to decide, right? And then you get to show up accordingly. Yes, we need to show up differently at our dinner table than we do at, you know, in the boardroom. Absolutely. And you can fluidly move between contexts and still beat you when you dim your light. You’re not doing anyone any favors, especially yourself and this has the real thing to do with your out of office reply. Oh, you thought I forgot No, no, no, yes, I went off on a little rant there. And I want to come back to the law of little things and your out of office reply. Now the law of little things, says that little things add up to big things big impact over time. That’s why it’s worth work in the Communicate I/O protocol, even with your out of office. So, what does that mean? That means you start with the intangible outcome you want to achieve. And you do that by asking how do I want someone to feel when they receive this out of office or whatever it is, whatever it is, name it, then figure out which words and grammatical flourishes or not depending on if your grammatical flourishing type of leader and person, what do you want to include? And then write the out of office reply, right. And this does not need to be a tome unless that is your vibe and how you generally communicate. You can do a lot in a little amount of space, as we saw with these out of office replies. Now, you are going to use the word beautiful, beautiful people? How about the exclamation points? That’s the second email. Greetings, greetings, two exclamation points. Also, it was on two separate lines, rather than on the same line. So, there’s something about it, I was like, “Well, hello, yes. Welcome to me into your email”. The two separate lines was a nice touch. Exclamation points, say women in particular, get this feedback, because we are somewhat more prone to using exclamation points. Most of the time when I work with folks, and I say “what are your exclamation points trying to say?” Or like enthusiasm, or I don’t want someone to feel badly. We also do that, like if I just add an exclamation point, maybe that will lands more softly, sometimes true, sometimes not. Folks who historically have used exclamation points tend to be much more comfortable using emojis, the rationale behind it remains the same. Sure, sometimes all of this is received as unprofessional. And again, that’s your call. If you’re someone who usually uses a lot of exclamation points, including them would be consistent with who you are. If all of a sudden you go from like emojis and exclamation points to you know, just like periods and semi colons very, very formal, right? That’s what is gonna make people be like, did she read this? Who is this? This is the first thing that I thought I was getting in touch with. And consistency is key when it comes to leadership and specifically, to communicating and like a leader. Consistency increases trust, speaks to integrity. So, it is worth really diving into and figuring out is your leadership style, how can you align your communication accordingly. Now, let’s circle back to the third email, I’m going to reread it, because I’ve talked a lot and you might have forgotten it. Here it is, “Thank you for your email. I’m out of the office Thursday, June 2, and Friday, June 3 and unable to respond at this time”. Note the boundary, you’re not going to hear from me. “I will be happy to get back with you when I return on Monday, June 6. If this is an urgent matter, please email so and so. If you wish to make a gift to our organization, please visit insert URL”. I’m an analyzing these things. Because I for obvious reasons, nary an exclamation points to be seen. And the tone is more straightforward, like a material more formal than the other two. But this one has an end like a surprise ending twist ending of sorts, as it includes a call to action to donate. This is genius. This is a great use of your out of office reply. Okay, and no, that’s not a long that is 4 sentences all short sentences. So even if they don’t get a single donation this way, this very savvy human is planting this seed, right? And setting the expectation that you will give at some point, right? Maybe not today, but someday. They’re just planting that seed with this little out of office reply smart, smart, smart. Okay, so when you go to write your next out of office, here’s what you’re going to do. Recap. Number one, start with how you want the recipient to feel and then to figure out what information you need to convey. Number two, manage expectations, what and if you’re someone, and this is pretty common, who if you’re out of the office, there’s somebody else that is there, so if it’s time sensitive all of that stuff that who they should contact, all of those things and then three, write the out of office in your voice. The factors are number one and number two, align the inputs with the outcomes in the tangible that you want to achieve. Alright, I hope that you will be taking time off this summer to recharge your batteries and reconnect with yourself and your friends and your family and have fun and laugh a lot and do silly things and whatever you do vacation, all the things that get to happen on vacation that don’t generally happen. When we are working away, I hope that that is on your docket. That time is so important. It allows us to show up as our fullest selves in the other moments of our life. And now you can take that time off knowing that you’re out of office, because you’re going to craft it in a way that we just talked about, you’re out of office is communicating exactly what you want. And in a way that reflects the style that is you all you, 100% you. Putting the law of little things in action. Thank you for listening. I hope this was helpful. And I hope that you have a stupendously awesome day!