The 7 Line Rule

A client made us aware of this “rule” recently, which seemed worth passing on. Why? Because the rules for getting someone’s attention have changed. The rule: Do you have a key message for a client (or for your manager)? Keep the heart of it to 7 lines or less. Because these days, that is how much of the message a Blackberry™* will show without scrolling. If your message isn’t compelling by then, the reader will never scroll to read the rest of your message.

You can stop here – this is line 7.

I often start a negotiation skills training session with this message. “I’m going to cut 20% out of your email workload over the next 2 days. Turn off your phone. I believe you will find that 20% of the “urgent” problems that you would have responded to will fix themselves before we leave.” Most people laugh, but why? They laugh because they know it is true.

Remember the days of actual memos? You know, with paper? Circa 1980? One of our colleagues used this method to manage responses: he put the physical memo in a “hold for one week” folder. At the end of the week, if nothing happened, put it in “hold for a second week”. After week 2? Discard it (and ignore the action). Why did he do this? “Too much mail, too many cc’s.”

A recent CEO profile in the NY Times quoted a CEO who basically said that if he was only on a cc list, he immediately erased the email as not important to him.

We all know the problem – too much email, and not enough time. So if you want to get answers, make it compelling…within the first 7 lines.

* Blackberry™, Android™, iPhone™… (td)

Got a question? Email a K&R negotiator directly at ask@negotiators.com.