How often do you read articles on LinkedIn and industry websites and think to yourself ‘that’s good advice, I will most definitely put that into practice’? And if you’re anything like me, you will promptly forget and the really good advice is never followed. However, an article I stumbled across on LinkedIn has stayed in my mind and I am (mostly) following its guidance.
It’s very simple: never start an email with the pronoun ‘I’.
But as with many simple pieces of advice (such as eat less food and you will lose weight or don’t drink so much wine when you go out with your friends and your hangover will be a bit more bearable), it isn’t quite so easy to implement.
This time, though, I have made a concerted effort to avoid starting an email with ‘I’ and a quick look back of the last few weeks’ work emails and I have achieved it roughly 50% of the time. Sometimes I do have to rewrite the email because it is practically a natural response to start your emails with ‘I think’ or the obligatory ‘I hope you’re well’. You really have to stop and think and sometimes it can be quite challenging to come up with a very different opening which doesn’t sound odd.
I also have a confession: my first draft of this blog post started ‘I often read articles on LinkedIn and industry websites…’, it’s an easy trap to fall into and it took a bit more effort to come up with an alternative opening line.
The reason you should never start an email with ‘I’ is as simple as the guidance itself: because the focus automatically becomes about you or rather me and not the person you are emailing.
If your opening gambit is all about you, it can be somewhat off-putting when the attention should really be on the person you are addressing.
This simple if challenging to implement advice comes from hotelier businessman Jonathan M. Tisch, co-chairman of the board of the Loews Corporation and chairman of its subsidiary Loews Hotels & Resorts, in an interview published in the New York Times and subsequently written about all over the internet including various LinkedIn articles and The Sun.
Anyone who was taught the formalities of letter writing back in the day would have undoubtedly been told to begin along the lines of ‘I am writing with reference to….’ and it has endured in the electronic age.
Tisch though provides us with a different perspective in his interview: “My boss told me that whenever you’re writing a letter — and now it applies to emails today — never start a paragraph with the word ‘I,’ because that immediately sends a message that you are more important than the person that you’re communicating with.”
He went on to say: “When you start to train your thinking about how to not use ‘I,’ you become a better writer, and it teaches you how to really think through an issue. What are you really trying to say and how are you going to say it without starting the paragraph with the word ‘I’?”
Try it, it sounds easy but I can assure you, it is more difficult than you will at first think.