my boss misunderstands emails because she only skims them

A reader writes:

There are just three of us in a small branch office of a medium-sized global company: My boss (Jane), me, and a coworker (whom I shall call Daenerys). Almost all emails are addressed to all three of us, since we work very closely on all projects, but each have a different role in the project and need to stay on top of who’s done what.

The problem is Jane’s inability to fully read an email before responding. I understand that she gets a crushing amount of it every day and does her best to respond to every one, but in doing so she cuts corners in a way that makes things worse for me and Daenerys. What happens is that she’ll briefly scan any given message (maybe for keywords or key phrases?), get what she THINKS is a understanding of the issue, then fire off a response that is way off base — because as it turns out, she did not in fact read it carefully enough to understand the nuances, the staff involved in the request/project, the question being asked, or even if the question/task was directed to her! This inevitably leaves the recipient(s) confused, then requires a flurry of backtracking/clarifying emails from me and Daenerys as we try to explain (nicely) to the recipient that Jane misunderstood, then try to give the recipient the CORRECT information they are seeking. Not only does this create much extra work for us, but it makes Jane look sloppy/lazy/possibly incompetent and reflects badly on the whole team!

This happens several times a day on everything from small administrative issues (i.e., timesheet corrections) to large company-wide projects (i.e., global sales initiatives). It doesn’t help that she also reads her emails from oldest to newest, so she is not always responding to the most recent message in a thread, and her eyesight is not great (it seems that she has not had her eyeglass prescription updated in years).

We have tried to gently bring this up with her before, but it has gotten us nowhere as she got offended and/or defensive. Is this one of those little “boss quirks” we just have to deal with, or is there some script we can use that will break her of this awful and unproductive habit (without her getting snippy at us)?

(FYI – this is different from other letters you’ve published where the person only reads the first line or two of an email — my boss actually reads emails all the way through, but so superficially that she really doesn’t grasp what’s being asked.)

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked: “When you brought it up with her before, what did you say (as exactly as you can remember), and what was her response?”

About once a week or so, when this email issue creates a big snarl/misunderstanding, we remind her that she should read her messages from newest to oldest, and she simply says, “Oh I forgot, will do that next time.” And then doesn’t do it.

At least once a month, we ask her nicely when she’s going to the eye doctor (usually in the context of a social discussion about eyeglasses, contacts, etc.) and the answer is always, “Oh, yeah, I need to make an appointment! Must do that.” And it never happens.

She is an older lady, quite techonologically unsavvy, and resistant to all suggestions for how to better organize her email inbox (grouping by thread, larger fonts, etc.). She just does things the ways she’s always done them, and brushes off any suggestions for how to do them better, seemingly unaware of just how much this bothers us and how it creates extra work.

In the past when we’re had issues with her (on other matters) we’ve eventually had to take it to HR to get her to pay attention and change her ways. But then this inevitably causes resentment for several weeks afterwards, because obviously no boss likes it when their direct reports complain about them (even if it’s warranted).

Okay, wait, you haven’t actually talked to her about the problem of skimming emails!

(I swear, every time someone tells me “we’ve tried to bring this up gently,” I ask for more details and it nearly always turns out that it hasn’t really been said at all.)

So here is your script: “Jane, I’ve noticed that sometimes you skim them and reply without reading the whole thing — which can cause problems if you skimmed over important details that would have really changed your response. For example, (insert two recent examples here — preferably egregious ones.) I know that you’re really busy and you’re fielding a lot of emails. Is there something we can do on our end to make it easier for you to see the key info you need before responding? For example, would you prefer shorter emails, or key bullet points up top? Or even just quickly touching base once a day for this stuff rather than putting it in email at all?”

Note that this language isn’t “you’re doing this wrong and you need to change it.” It’s “here’s a work problem / what can we do differently to solve it?”

And then, regardless of how she responds, I’d play around with making some of those changes on your own. In particular, knowing that she’s going to skim, craft your emails accordingly. That means keep them as short as possible — no extra words, no filler. If you’re sending more than two paragraphs, assume it’s too long and cut it down. Put the upshot at the very top, in bold. If there’s an important caveat that could change her answer, put that at the top too (literally label it “caveat:” and bold it.) Don’t make her read the whole thing to get to the most important part or the key question or most critical nuance.

As for responding to older emails before she’s seen newer ones in the same thread, you could ask her if you can go into her email account and set it up to group by thread for her. You could frame it as “It’s been creating extra work for you and for us when you’re responding to something without seeing the update on it. (Insert one or two recent examples.) There’s a really easy way to fix this — I can set your email to show you all emails on a topic at once. Could I set that up for you?”

If these things don’t work, though, you probably can’t fix that one. She has crappy email habits, and there’s only so much you can do to try to nudge her in the right direction. Ultimately it’s reflecting on her, not you — the way you describe the aftermath of her sloppiness, it sounds like it would be pretty clear to other people that it was Jane’s sloppiness, not your sloppiness.

This isn’t something I’d take to HR either. This is actually about her work quality, not about anything HR-ish. It’s something that her boss should care about (versus HR), but it doesn’t rise to the level of going over her head to her boss (although if you’re asked to provide input for her evaluation or otherwise, it’s definitely something you should mention).

Updated to add: Am I Jane?? Some commenters are suggesting that the emails in question aren’t coming from the letter-writer and her own team; they’re coming from outside it. I can’t tell if that’s the case, but if so, half of this advice doesn’t apply! (Although the pieces about more directly naming the problem still do.) My apologies, letter-writer. This is a terrible irony if so.

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. The OG Anonsie*

    Appropriate: As I quickly scrolled past this post to get to an earlier one, I misread the title as containing “doesn’t understand why she kisses only them” and continued to wonder about what kind of insane stuff was going on as I looked at the rest of the recent posts.

    1. Runner*

      The letter is way too long — I skimmed it — and I hope is in no way indicative of the email at issue, which ideally should not be several paragraphs each.

  2. Anony*

    My boss does this and his response to it being brought up is “I’m not likely to change anytime soon”

    We just recap a lot for him. And reexplain. And remind. It’s not the most efficient but boss gets to put the energy into something he desires.

    1. jojo mcscroggles*

      this tends to be pretty common in people with fast, direct communication styles and is really exacerbated when they get emails from very slow, methodical, detail-oriented people that TL;DR every email they send.

      the key is know your audience and adjust accordingly.

    2. De Minimis*

      I like this as a possible solution for the OP, or at least something that might help. It’s extra work, unfortunately, but it might be worth doing. Maybe not do it via e-mail since the OP’s boss doesn’t use it effectively–maybe a document that summarizes recent communications?

      I’ve been there, it’s tough when people use e-mail and other tools the wrong way. I had a coworker that organized all her e-mails by sender, so she’d often be way behind on communications.

      1. a girl has no name*

        She organized her emails by sender!?!? That would drive me crazy. Was she always slow in responding to people?

        1. De Minimis*

          I think when she saw the popup notification she would see it and respond right away, and probably if it was someone who wrote often [like our boss] she usually saw those fairly quickly. Less frequent correspondents would get lost in the shuffle–I know there were times when she would not see something for a couple of days. Our boss was in the same office and often just came over to speak with her, so I guess it didn’t affect things too much.

    3. Turquoise Cow*

      I had a boss like this. The best was when he’d call me into his office panicking over some email someone had sent hours ago that he had only just then gotten to read and wasn’t the most recent in the thread. I’d calmly explain to him that I’d already taken care of it. Sometimes he’d then disagree with what I’d done — until I explained some additional detail that he had missed skimming the email.

      Also, sometimes I’d email him something or copy him on something, only to have him call or stop by to better explain it. In his defense, he was absolutely buried with emails, but probably a good number of them he could have ignored, having been copied on them as an FYI type thing. And sometimes he’d get better at it briefly, only to then have something come up that made him way behind again.

    4. AJ*

      Of course he’s not going to change. He’s got a couple of lackeys to do his grunt work. Why not let him suffer the consequences of his actions (or lack of)?

    5. babblemouth*

      When I have long emails for my bosses, and I worry they’ll miss the key elements, I start with a one sentence summary, and keep the details for later. It helps in particular to think of these as an elevator pitch – if you had only 30 seconds of your boss’s time, what is the information you suddenly wouldn’t consider essential anymore?

      Then, you can go in details. It’s particularly important then to have them separately in clearly labelled paragraphs. Bullet points and easy-to-digest key figures are your friends.

  3. Where's the Le-Toose?*

    “Is there something we can do on our end to make it easier for you to see the key info you need before responding? For example, would you prefer shorter emails, or key bullet points up top? Or even just quickly touching base once a day for this stuff rather than putting it in email at all?”

    I love this advice from Alison! OP, notwithstanding what you’ve mentioned, if Jane is already receiving so many emails that she has to skim yours, sending long emails is only exacerbating the problem. You could probably dispose of a lot of emails with a short meeting once a day.

    And there is also an art to writing emails. As a manager, I like to see the conclusion or issue first, then the background. Some of my direct report’s write emails like they are writing a novel–the issue, concern, or solution appears at the very end! Don’t wait for the end of Chapter 6. Lead the email with the question for Jane.

    1. Ego Chamber*

      I don’t disagree with this advice, but the LW was actually be talking about emails that were sent to their department from other departments and/or clients. There’s no good way to tell other departments and/or clients how to structure their emails and I don’t see a way for LW and her peer to filter those emails before they make it to Jane, since the emails are addressed to all 3 of them in the first place.

      It sounds like LW’s department receives an email that all 3 of them are cc’d on, but the email was clearly intended for LW or peer (based on how the department divides tasks). Jane responds to the email after skimming it and having no idea what’s supposed to be happening out of some misguided drive to “answer every email,” and then LW and peer do their job of answering the original email plus damage control for whatever the impact of Jane rushing in was.

      I’d recommend forwarding emails back to Jane before she had a chance to respond, saying “Don’t worry about this one, I’ve got it!”—except this doesn’t really work if she’s going oldest to newest and refuses to thread.

      Good luck, LW, I hope this situation gets better.

      1. designbot*

        I was thinking that too as I read the response. The LW can only control her own (and to some extend Daenerys’s) email format, not outsiders.
        I think your tactic of LW or Daenerys always fielding these emails is the answer, so much that I would bring this up to boss as a blanket rule. Be like “Jane, we’ve noticed that you have such a volume of email that you have a hard time devoting the time to each one to fully understand the issues. We’d like to take this off your hands–if we’re all on an email, like when (example), you can assume that we will handle the response unless we specifically ask you to.”
        I have this understanding with one of my principals, and though it came from his own recognition of his inability to handle his inbox it’s worked really well. When I do need him, I’ll start the email with his name, “Tywin, could you take a look at this?” or “Tywin let’s talk before responding.” That way in the preview line of his inbox he sees his name and knows to pay attention to that one.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Agree. And I say this as someone who occasionally does this (and kicks myself!). Try to implement a policy where you’re the first responders to most emails and you’ll go to her on the tough ones. At least if it’s high level internal emails she’s doing this on, it’ll be evident to her bosses without implicating you!

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is how I read it, as well. It sounds like the emails are coming from outside OP’s department (or 3-person work group) but are sent to all 3 staff members, including Jane. Jane responds to every email, often incorrectly, and then OP and her coworker are stuck with mopping up a mess that didn’t need to exist, at all, if Jane either (a) read her emails, or (b) did not answer them.

        OP, is there any way to coach Jane away from responding to the emails? Like, can you convince her to “delegate” the responsibility to you or your coworker to “triage”? That way you can use Alison’s scripts but also prevent Jane sending out a bunch of non-responsive or incorrect information. I’m sure this won’t work in all circumstances, but if you’re getting consistent questions that can be fielded by someone “below her level,” it may make sense to convince her that it’s a better use of her time to let her have oversight but not be primarily responsible for fielding emails.

        Another option would be to offer to ghostwrite her responses so that she still appears to be the responding person, but you get more control over the initial content. I used to do this for an older, tech-averse boss who was self-conscious about how slowly he types. He had a shared inbox, and I would ghostwrite his responses, save them to his “Drafts” folder, and allow him to review and send it (or edit it) as he wished. It took awhile to capture his voice, but after about 6 months, I was able to anticipate his tone, style, and preferences pretty convincingly.

    2. ArtK*

      I agree with learning to structure e-mails better. I’ve had to learn to do the TL;DR at the top. I have both the bad habit of writing rambling e-mails and I sometimes skim and react the wrong way.

      OP (and everyone else) should first ask themselves “what do I want to get from this e-mail”? Express that at the very beginning. Then follow with a brief discussion and then, and only then, include the nitty-gritty details if needed. By the way, if the answer to the original question is “I don’t know,” then you probably don’t need the e-mail. The answer “to keep people informed” is ok, but then you also need to ask “do they really need this information at this time and in this form?”

      1. ArtK*

        Argh. Missed the point that the e-mails are coming from outside. The advice to learn how to structure is still useful, though. You could be saving some other poor folks having to deal with their own “Jane.”

    3. Hills to Die on*

      Those are good suggestions. Having been in the position to send email blasts to a large group of idiots, as well as a manager who won’t read anything that isn’t scannable, I learned some tricks:

      1. Numbered points. 1-2 sentences each.

      2. Memo-style emails. Again, brief.
      Effective date:
      Change coming:
      Action items: (bold the names of people with action items)
      Next steps:

      3. Use bold font, italics, and highlighting sparingly. But do use it.

      This won’t fix everything but it should help. Could you get her to direct all emails from people to another folder and only read/respond the ones from you and your coworker?

      Hopefully someone at the other office says something. Good luck!

  4. Matilda Jeffries*

    This doesn’t read to me as the OP sending the emails – it looks like Jane responds to emails from outside the team in this way, and the OP and her colleague are the ones who have to clear up the confusion. So if I’m right, it’s as much about OP’s team looking unprofessional to others, than it is about the relationship between OP and Jane.

    Although I don’t think that changes the basic answer. Name the problem for Jane (when you respond to emails without checking for updates, it causes Y problems for me), and offer some solutions (threading etc.) You might also try a system where each of you takes turns responding to emails on certain days, so Jane knows to check with you if it’s not “her” day on the inbox. And you could also be more clear with people outside your team, as to who is responsible for what. Call it a team problem, something like “Oh, we’re all so swamped that we’re trying to do a better job of triaging from now on. Please email only me for teapot design, only Jane for vendor information…”

    1. Kyrielle*

      Agreed on all counts. I wonder if an email alias could be created for each one. teapot-design-support(at)teapots(dot)com, etc. And just have it route to the person in question. Although if they cover for each other when one is out, that could be a little less useful. Or if this is the sort of situation where really, the emailer doesn’t know if they need to discuss glazing _process_ or glazing _design_, and it’s the team that has to figure out whose responsibility it is….

      1. Serin*

        Yes — a solution to this problem would be to route all workgroup emails to a single mailbox, and have it be someone’s job to stay on top of that mailbox.

        Forward your stuff to your own personal mailbox; forward Daenerys’ stuff to hers. Then put all Jane’s email through a triage process where you assign as much as possible to the two of you, and whatever really has to go to Jane gets a subject line edit and a paragraph at the top that says “Action Needed From Jane By the 21st: Call Nathan And Request Change In Schedule” or “No Action Needed From Jane: FYI Only.”

        1. Serin*

          I mean, upon re-reading I see that my proposal is much more indirect than Alison’s, but when if the direct method fails, this would be the next step.

        2. Government Worker*

          I was thinking of this, too – can you make it so that Jane isn’t the first one to see these requests from others, and they have to go through a generic department email address that you and Daenerys manage? You could frame the change to Jane as reducing the volume of irrelevant stuff that she has to sift through. It would create more work for you and Daenerys, but it would probably be worth it to cut down on the cleanup from Jane’s incompetence.

    2. serenity*

      That’s exactly what I was coming here to say! Which means, I think, that there’s even less OP can do on her end to make the email messages getting to Jane easier to read/digest/comprehend.

      I do like Alison’s suggestion on how to broach the subject of email threads/grouping. Offer to do that for Jane, so she’s not mystified by what that means.

    3. oviraptor*

      I read it as outside emails also. Although it is great advice for internal emails for the 3 of them, it would be awfully hard to get everyone on board to send Jane emails that were bulleted or whatever her preference is.

        1. oviraptor*

          I am with you – I would change styles too! But I am thinking of the others that are so set in their ways and see no reason why they should be the ones to change. Or asking an outside client/vendor/company to change the way they email Jane/the department. I know I would not like to be the one to address that (I am just referring to me because that type of situation makes me feel like I am just going to be kicking a hornets nest and then stand there and keep poking it with a stick. No thanks. I will wait inside. At the bar. And anyway, those email issues aren’t *that* bad. Are they? /s).

      1. Ego Chamber*

        I’ve worked at places where management had weird, overly-specific email preferences, like “all emails must be in the form of a bulletted list, no exceptions” or “any email that has a negative message must include kitten pictures” (I’m barely joking).

        The end result is if there’s no repercussions for not complying, people ignore them, and if they lose their shit when people don’t comply, people stop emailing them. Either way, the situation basically resolves itself.

          1. Cedrus Libani*

            I had a colleague who, for every time he was obliged to put a differential equation into his PowerPoints, would also include an “apology kitten”. No project update was to have more differential equations than kittens. I thought it was a genius policy, and the moment I’m senior enough to get away with implementing it elsewhere…meow.

    4. BRR*

      Your comment made me reread the letter and now I’m not sure it’s the LW sending the emails now either (I thought it was the LW’s emails). It doesn’t change how the LW should bring it up but I was thinking making changes anyways was going to result in a more favorable outcome.

    5. V*

      I get the same impression but managing around her by getting the people communicating with her to change the way they do so is risky and I’m not sure it would be very effective. If this was a single mailbox where they could parse stuff before Jane sees it that would work but actually going around her and changing the way their team is to be contacted is unlikely going to go over well considering Jane’s past reactions to legitimate communication issues. When you boil it down you have a manager who’s downright terrible at organising a team, lacks attention to detail and is strangely incapable of such a basic task as reading every entry in an email chain before replying. If you add in that she doesn’t see how any of it is a problem, you’ve got a situation that you can’t resolve as a subordinate. Jane’s manager is dropping the ball in a huge way here.

      I think this is where “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” comes in.

      1. Matilda Jeffries*

        Yes, I think ultimately it’s a Jane problem, rather than an email problem. And I do think it’s worth a try to get her to change how she handles her emails, but I’m not super optimistic about it either. Ultimately, I think this will end up being a situation where the OP has to decide whether to live with it or leave.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          “but it makes Jane look sloppy/lazy/possibly incompetent”

          No, Jane’s making Jane look sloppy/lazy/possibly incompetent.

          I sympathize. Whenever I email a particular higherup about an issue, she always thanks me, then asks a question clearly addressed in the first sentence of my original email. I deal with it.

    6. NotThatGardner*

      agreed – i was a little surprised to see advice written for OP writing emails to Jane, not the problem OP wrote about.

    7. Kate*

      This is how I read it too. Instead of splitting up email responses by day, I was thinking maybe they could sit down and discuss what questions each person should address, since the letter says OP, Jane, and Daenerys each have different roles on their projects. Assuming Jane is at least getting the gist of the emails she’s skimming, she might at least be able to say, “Oh, this falls under OP’s territory. I don’t need to worry about it.” It’s still worth having a talk with Jane about the problems her skimming is causing so she can hopefully improve her answers the questions she should be answering, but I think that’s an easier route to go than trying to get everyone who emails the group to change their communication style.

    8. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh my goodness. I added an update at the end of the post addressing this. Yes, I may have gotten that part wrong! In my case it wasn’t skimming, but starting to write an answer and then putting it aside and coming back to it later. I plead ongoing exhaustion, but there’s really no excuse for so mangling that piece of it, if this interpretation is correct.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Also, I think this is the second time this has happened recently, so I’m taking it as a flag that I need to reassess if I can keep up this posting pace right now (so please don’t think I’m being cavalier about it).

        1. Myrin*

          I was thinking just yesterday that it’s really impressive how you can keep up with your normal posting schedule while you’re thrill in the throes of moving! Please don’t feel like you have to for your readers’ sake, I’m sure no one would mind more sparse new content for some time!

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I would honestly rather have misread answers than no answers! I never think you’re being cavalier about letters :)

          But I understand that the posting pace might not be sustainable at this moment, and I support you doing whatever you need to do to stay above water!

      2. Kyrielle*

        May I just say I love your update? You rolled with the possible irony here. And I’m sorry you’re swamped and exhausted – never a fun state to be in, even if it doesn’t lead to confusion.

    9. WerkingIt*

      I work with someone like this! And while I may try to adapt to her, we get a lot of email she from outside contacts, contractors and vendors and it makes a huge mess. It causes a lot of confusion and I find myself being embarrassed as well.

  5. Paige Turner*

    It sounds like most of the emails are coming from other people and being sent to all three people at the office (OP, Boss, and Coworker). Should OP and Coworker maybe suggest to the boss that they be the first to respond to emails from Person A, Organization B, etc?

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      I predict that if Jane agreed to this, she’d nevertheless read the oldest e-mail first and then send a message to LW and Coworker asking “Has this been taken care of?” – because she hadn’t yet reached the e-mail in which LW or Coworker took care of it.

      I mean I suppose that would just be tiresome rather than requiring a ton of cleanup, so maybe it would be an improvement.

      1. ErinW*

        My boss, who has the same email issues as Jane, does this about 70% of the time–forwards with “Erin, can you do this?” “Erin, take care of this.” “Erin, has this been done?” It’s very quick and easy for me to be like “Done.” “Yes.” “Handled.” “I’m right on top of that, Rose!” Much preferred to the other 30% of the time when she sends a wrong or outdated answer out to a bunch of people who then need handling.

        I really wish everyone would adopt my email system. Outlook allows you to categorize your emails and then sort by category. I have two categories: “In Process” and “Nothing Further Required.” As emails come in I immediately evaluate whether they require action, or whether they are an FYI or a thank you or whatever, and I put them in their category. Stuff I need to do is at the top and stuff I don’t need to worry about is at the bottom.

  6. Becky*

    I probably need to follow some of this about being consie and bolding the most important information. I get super annoyed when people ask questions about things that I explicitly answered already and sent to them in emails or tickets.

    1. BookishMiss*

      I send one-sentence emails for some of the office managing parts of my job, and will get a reply (from the same person every time) asking exactly what that one sentence stated. Example: “copier 1 is unable to print or copy, but it can still scan.” Inevitable reply: “can I use it to make copies?” Ummmm…. No. I mean, this person has myriad other irritating issues (always marks her emails as high importance, for one), but this one just gets under my skin.

      1. Becky*

        There are some people who do it more often than others in my office and for those who just obviously haven’t read even a short email the automatic response is “Have you read your email?”

  7. Em Too*

    It sounds like a lot of the problems are with other people’s emails which are coming to all three of you. I’m not clear why the boss is responding to all of them. Can you get her to step back a bit? What if you offer to lead on email answering for project X, and Daenerys project Y, and ask her to input if and only if it’s beyond your scope?

    1. Myrin*

      Yes, I think that’s very reasonable but also almost the only thing OP can do in this situation anyway (since she can’t magically conjure up a popup which tells everyone who inputs Jane’s email address as a recipient “Warning! This person will only skim this message and confuse everyone in the process! Send anyway?”).

      As I understand it and despite the “almost all emails are addressed to all three of us”, there are still emails that only go to Jane, right? (Because otherwise it wouldn’t be only Jane who gets a “crushing amount” of them, but OP and Daenerys, too.) Is it possible to tell Jane – in addition to mentioning the skim issue, which I think does need to be brought up – not to worry about emails that are addressed to all of you or even just anyone else beside Jane? You could frame it as taking work off her plate which I can imagine she might be thankful for.

      1. S-Mart*

        Building on your popup comment, I thought you could go into her program and set up an autoreply that says pretty much the same thing.

        Obvious, but don’t actually do this! (The thought amused me, but of course it’s a terrible idea)

  8. BlueWolf*

    For some reason I never realized you could organize by thread in Outlook. Just changed my settings. This should make my work life much easier! It can definitely be difficult to follow threads, especially since sometimes emails belonging to the same thread end up in different folders based on my rules. Learned something new today!

  9. animaniactoo*

    If possible, you might also get some traction from not speaking FOR Jane when you reply to people who are confused about the incorrect info, etc. but rather redirecting it back for her to answer.

    Right now, it’s never a problem for her – because you guys are handling it so what she’s doing is working for her in that she’s “taken care of her e-mails”. But if she starts having to re-address e-mails herself that she’s already taken care of, it will become her problem that she’s not giving correct info. Yes, it will still be yours as well somewhat but if you can do it without having the business suffer too hard for it, it could be worth it to drop the bad results back on her plate.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Re: Redirecting it back to her but still being professional – “Hi Bob, Jane won’t be back in the office until tomorrow morning, but I wanted to check in with you and let you know she’ll handle it then. I think you’re right that there’s an error in the number there, but it’s her area of expertise so it will be better if she can confirm.” and scripts of that sort.

      1. Kyrielle*

        But in some cases, Jane is replying to emails that OP or her coworker should have handled originally – backing off on those, at least, would look awkward also.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Sure, it won’t work for everything, but for those places where it will, doing the redirect rather than answering because you happen to know the info might be a useful play.

      2. LSP*

        Or something like, “Jane, thanks for the information on X. There was a question in the email about Y, though. Can you please clarify?”

    2. Tyche*

      Maybe speaking to her in person. Something like: “Jane, you answered X to Fergus’ email, but now he wrote again because X it’s incorrect and he needed Y. Could you email him the right answer?” This way she’ll have to understand how many time she has misread the original email.

  10. Koko*

    It sounds like a lot of the problem is coming not from emails OP and D are writing to J, but when external clients are emailing the tea. Before OP or D can respond with a correct, thoughtful answer, J dashes off something inaccurate off the cuff, and they then have to repair things with the client.

    1. Emma*

      That’s how I read it too, which admittedly might be because it’s an issue I have with my own boss. Some of our clients are aware that my boss skims emails and responds without due consideration, but others aren’t. I’m pretty much forced to monitor my email all day so that when we get an email from a client who’s not “in the know” I can try to respond before my boss does.

  11. Kate*

    Oh man, that is SO annoying. I go through this a lot with customer service (especially a certain rideshare company) where they seem to just pull a keyword out of my email and respond to that. Like, I mentioned that the driver used his GPS instead of the route I told him to take, they said (boilerplate language) “We’re working to improve our in-app navigation. Absolutely infuriating. This boss is going to lose this company a lot of business- the client’s take away is “I did not give your email the time or attention it needed.”

    1. Caitlyn*

      I had that same problem several times with a digital device recently! I said, “since my phone’s OS update, the app and the device don’t communicate with each other anymore.” They said, “when and where did you purchase the device? we can replace it!” and I said, “I’m 99% sure it’s an app problem, as your help forum has a thousand pages of people with my identical issue…” They’re mailing me a new device. Very frustrating!

    1. Jenny Generic*

      Me too! It’s often on my mind anyway, since I have a very generic U.S. name and my sibling has a very complicated unusual name from our parents’ ethnic background.

      1. shep*

        My brother and I are the same! I have the “exotic” name and he has the “normal” name, with an even more generic nick name.

  12. Sue Wilson*

    I would be more blunt that you’d like to give her a summary before she responds. Reading Alison’s response made me think she was suggesting that you guys change a communication style, rather than explicitly creating the task of summarizing before Jane responds. So instead of ” Is there something we can do on our end to make it easier for you to see the key info you need before responding?” I would say something concrete right then like, “Would it help if Daenerys or I gave you a summary before you respond?” If she’s the type of person who thinks that all emails must be responded to immediately, give a time period by which you would have the summary to her. If she responds at a certain time of day, get her the summary before then.

  13. PM Jesper Berg*

    This is a very easy problem to solve. Instead of sending your boss e-mails on complex subjects, pick up the phone.

    1. Kate*

      OP mentions that her responses leave “the recipients” confused and that OP and her coworker have to do damage control- meaning that these emails are not all from OP and her coworker. If they were, she’d say that the responses leave “me” confused.

    2. The IT Manager*

      To it’s not because the emails aren’t coming from the LW they are sent to LW and her boss.

      Stop being a Jane. Read, don’t just skim, the letter before commenting.

    3. Not a Real Giraffe*

      Except that the emails aren’t coming from OP or her coworker, but from other departments, clients, etc.

      1. PM Jesper Berg*

        This doesn’t change the advice. Long e-mail chains create confusion, particularly when you’re dealing with complicated subjects. OP can pick up the phone to deal with clients as well.

        1. Kate*

          The issue is that the *clients* send emails, as is their right, and Jane gives cursory responses. Surely you’re not suggesting the clients should be criticized for choosing to send emails and expecting them to be read thoroughly by people WHO THEY ARE PAYING?

        2. tigerlily*

          Whether OP is using the phone or email, she’s still cleaning up Jane’s mess and the department still looks sloppy and unprofessional. Your advice doesn’t do anything to actually solve the problem.

          1. Not a Real Giraffe*

            Aside from not solving OP’s problem, it actually has the potential to make it worse.

            Phone calls in response to emails that involve multiple recipients also create scenarios in which OP may have resolved an issue via phone, but Jane still responds to the initial message with a confusing or incorrect answer because (a) she wasn’t part of the phone call and/or (b) she didn’t read the newest thread that says “FYI issue has been resolved over the phone.”

            1. LN*

              Yeah, eliminating the paper trail here actually sounds like the worst possible thing to do. Confusion on top of confusion.

        3. SS*

          It kind of does though. Email is clearly the client’s preferred mode of communication, and it’s likely because it’s the most practical for the work they’re doing.

          When I worked in marketing I sent emails literally all day, because we were sending written briefs, reviewing images and written copy, forwarding them to our legal team who would write back with comments or excerpts from relevant laws/guidelines, requesting product specifications from our planning department and forwarding them to our agency to cross-check against what they’d created, marking up any requested changes of our own, etc etc. I found it really frustrating when I’d email our agency and they’d reply by phone without a good reason because it made record keeping and version control so much harder. If they said “sorry, I know you pay us millions of dollars but our boss can’t be bothered reading emails properly so from now on we’re going to read out a 40 page brochure over the phone and you can interject with comments about it as we go” they would not have been our agency much longer.

          Email hasn’t just become the default mode of business communication because people hide behind computer screens or can’t be bothered picking up the phone. It’s often preferable, particularly for complex matters, because (for most people) there’s LESS risk of misunderstanding when you have things in writing.

  14. Magenta Sky*

    Is it possible she has some sort of reading impairment, like dyslexia? That she’s not getting the real gist of a message because she can’t? That she hasn’t bothered to update her eyeglass prescription because it wouldn’t make any difference? It’s not uncommon for dyslexics to be undiagnosed all their lives, or to be embarrassed by it and go to great lengths to keep others from knowing it.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        I think Lehigh’s question could be read as snarky or rhetorical (not assuming you meant it that way, but could be interpreted as such), but actually I’d be interested to see what someone with experience with dyslexia might suggest in that case. Does it in fact change some of the suggestions? I’d expect it would change some things, though not others.

        1. Lehigh*

          I’m not being rhetorical; I’m genuinely curious if there is a substantive answer. But, since I suspect there is not, I guess I’m being snarky as well. As Magenta Sky suggests it may be a possible ADA issue–but I don’t see how an employee could manage that for her boss.

          I would be very interested to know if there is something it changes *for her subordinates,* not for the person with dyslexia or her boss.

          1. Lehigh*

            If I have something I’m embarrassed about and want no one to know, for instance, I can’t imagine I’d take well to an employee going “Hey, I noticed you might have X.” Is that how this goes down? Do you go past her to HR to tell them she might have a disability? That seems super awkward.

            I can see asking to talk to her every day before she replies to her emails, or any of the other strategies other people have suggested…but how does the mechanism that’s causing her to miss details change that advice?

            1. Magenta Sky*

              I’m not suggesting any particular response. But I do believe that “sloppy reading” warrants a different approach than “reading impairment.” One is willful, the other is not.

              When it interferes with the job, as appears to be the case here, pretending it doesn’t exist (as the boss would be doing, if it’s a reading impairment) isn’t a very good option. It’s a complicated situation, and complicated situations rarely have simple answers.

      2. Magenta Sky*

        It would certainly change my view of the matter. There’s a qualitative difference between “too lazy to read the mail thoroughly” and “has trouble reading it and understanding it.”

        Since it seems like it is damaging the business, it could also turn it into an ADA accommodation situation.

  15. Argh!*

    Can you get others to take her off the cc: and cc: you instead? Then you can forward a summary… in a large font.

    She could zoom her email herself, too, if she’s willing to learn. I find that Outlook fonts appear smaller than other things on my computer. (and actually, I am reading this at 200% because my monitor is 2 feet away so I can have desk space)

    1. Nan*

      You know, I’ve looked at the zoom button, but never clicked it. I love you for this. and so do my eyeballs.

  16. Katie Fay*

    The added problem here is that she isn’t sensing that she’s causing confusion, additional work, and embarrassment – she sounds deaf to the chaos she’s causing and doesn’t seem to care that she is causing extra work, confusing those communicating with you and the team when she should be embarrassed. Being ‘gently’ called out on this kind of thing SHOULD be something that makes her think ‘Hmm, I need to pay more attention so this doesn’t happen again. That she isn’t figuring this out is a BIG problem. (and I don’t have any advise to give)

    1. Friday*

      I don’t either, but the thing is that with different email groups, it probably resolves itself over time. If you have a certain client/customer email in a few times, and each time they get the crappy confusing response from Jane followed by a good response from OP/Danaerys, then that client will see pretty quickly that it’s advisable to ignore the Jane response until OP/Dany get to weigh in. If I were that client I’d probably still feel the need to add Jane to the email train because she’s the boss, but I wouldn’t worry about her responses after she’s proven herself to be careless with them.

      1. Yorick*

        I mean, I’d worry that the boss never has a clue what’s going on. Would probably not want to keep doing business with them.

  17. Artemesia*

    You won’t change her sloppy reading habits (although the threading suggestion is excellent) and you won’t change other people’s Email construction, so is there any chance of taking over her Email entirely from outside and then just forwarding the ones only she can respond to and copying her on the ones you are picking up for response to outsiders? You would be better off, if she weren’t responding at all.

    I had a boss who got copied on stuff that was sent to our department that I handled. e.g. the larger organization would send me the ‘time to resnurdle the widgets with all clients’ note which I had been handling for years and the new boss would be copied as was routine on such announcements from central. She would then rush to contact all the clients, in an often semi clued email which undercut my ability to manage the process which usually required follow ups and reminders and assorted feedback from me. I always had shortcuts which I would send to new employees who were doing the resnurdling for the first time with their clients and would send links to these FAQs etc to everyone at resnurdling time. It drove me nuts. She was always slightly off base and it always made me look incompetent since it was something I generally handled. Hard to deal with a boss like this.

  18. AdAgencyChick*

    Well, how long are the emails you want her to read? Because I’ve got a coworker who will very snippily inform me that a question I had was “covered in her email” and then I go back and look, and the email was like five paragraphs long. Sorry, ain’t nobody got time for that.

    If she’s having this problem when you send her three lines of text, then she has crappy email habits. But if you’re asking her to read a novel, I don’t blame her for not being good at it.

    1. Yorick*

      This isn’t meant to only be directed at you, but why can’t people read the whole email? I’m all for structuring messages efficiently and stuff, but it’s not that hard to read 5 paragraphs, and I resent the implication that it’s the sender’s fault. I say this as someone who usually emails just a few sentences. We routinely read long AAM posts and don’t complain about their length, why not important work emails?

      1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        Agreed. Especially since it sounds like the sender is giving a rundown of FAQ-type info in the first email, just so she doesn’t have to spend time responding individually to a barrage of “what if?” emails. Sorry, ain’t nobody got time for that either.

      2. Risha*

        Yes, this routinely drives me crazy. If I bothered to type 5 paragraphs, it means I already cut out all the waste and boiled everything absolutely essential for you to know down to just 5 paragraphs. Some topics are inherently complicated, and if you don’t have all the info, your answer will be wrong!

        1. Artemesia*

          But most people are not. Emails 5 paragraphs long are rarely well written and almost never written in the reverse funnel format they should be. I don’t think I have received many long emails that were not redundant.

          1. teclatrans*

            My long emails are rarely redundant, but they have lots of detail (especially details of the process that led to the described results, or nuances and contradictory aspects of a problem) that I tend to think is all as important as evrrything else, while many people just want to know what they need to do next. I want them to know everything I do.

            My fixes for this are 1) summary statements and key action up front, eith a note that detailed description follows, and 2) sleeping on it and returning for an editing pass where I figure out what’s key and what I actually want people to walk away with.

      3. Phoenix Programmer*

        It is almost always the senders fault. Email is not the communication vessel for a work item needing five paragraphs too explain. Call or schedule a meeting.

        *Spoken as a former 5+ “succinct” emailer who now only sends <2 paragraph emails and frequently only two sentences.

  19. The IT Manager*

    Seriously, are half of these commenters being sarcastic? It looks like more than half the commenters did not read or comprehend the second sentence of the letter that makes it clear the emails are not originating with the LW or her co-worker.

    Almost all emails are addressed to all three of us, since we work very closely on all projects, but each have a different role in the project and need to stay on top of who’s done what.

        1. ZVA*

          I think it’s unclear from the letter who the emails are coming from, but they sound internal to me: “on everything from small administrative issues (i.e., timesheet corrections) to large company-wide projects (i.e., global sales initiatives)”…

          1. Kyrielle*

            They say they are a branch office of a larger company; I suspect they are coming from people in other offices/teams within that company.

          2. Jill*

            It’s very clear that a lot of the emails come from outside of their group. “Almost all emails are addressed to all three of us,” makes it very clear other people are sending them.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I’m super confused about why there seems to be any confusion since the letter is extremely clear, not just because of the sentence you quote but because of that whole paragraph:

      “This inevitably leaves the recipient(s) confused, then requires a flurry of backtracking/clarifying emails from me and Daenerys as we try to explain (nicely) to the recipient that Jane misunderstood, then try to give the recipient the CORRECT information they are seeking. Not only does this create much extra work for us, but it makes Jane look sloppy/lazy/possibly incompetent and reflects badly on the whole team!”

    2. MissDisplaced*

      No, we GOT THAT, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is still very much a problem for the OP.
      There will always be bosses like this, and you have to “manage the manager.” Unfortunately, it’s part of the game.

      Happens all the time at my work. As the communications person I sometimes need to summerize long email chains of discussions from others and send to boss with a big header at the top otherwise they won’t do anything even though they’ve been copied on all of it same as me:
      Boss, I need you to do X, and sign off on Y and Z by Friday. Details below on project.

      1. Read It Again*

        Many commenters clearly DID NOT get that, since their advice was aimed at telling the OP how to write her own emails differently. Which is irrelevant since it is NOT her emails that are the issues. So, NO. The issue for the OP is quite different than the one many of the commenters here are attempting to answer.

  20. DevAssist*

    I almost feel like this is one of those situations the employees will have to deal with…and that my coworkers and I could have written this letter.

    Our CEO has the WORST habit of doing this- skimming emails and misinterpreting the meaning. The CEO will ask questions that were directly answered in the email.

    1. DevAssist*

      Also, just to add: an example would be:

      Me to CEO (and other team members): Hello Boss, the team meeting was held Monday. Six people attended.

      CEO to me: great! How many people attended? I want to be informed of our numbers because attendance is critical.

      It can literally be an email that simple and our CEO still skims and somehow misses the important information.

      1. Janice in Accounting*

        Ohhhhh that just gave me PTSD. I had this boss, and he would somehow also add a passive-aggressive tone to his response that made it seem like you were an idiot for not including the number of people. When you DID include the number of people. It’s right there. In the original email. Which he did not thoroughly read. But God forbid you point that out, because then you were not respectful or not a team player or otherwise stupid and incompetent.

        I need a drink now.

        1. DevAssist*

          I should buy you that drink, Janice, because that is exactly what happens! Passive aggression. Every. Single. Time.

      2. Artemesia*

        Oh in a long lifetime in the workforce that began before the internet, I can remember literally hundreds of experiences like this. It almost makes you feel as if you are being asked for the information you just provided and in this case and most of the time in mine, clearly and in a well organized way.

        1. Artemesia*

          “it almost makes you feel as if you are being accused of incompetent when asked for the information. . .’

  21. hbc*

    If she’s at least saying she’s amenable to reading in reverse order, maybe there are some other changes she won’t resist if they don’t change the look or feel of what she does. For example, if there are departments or topics that can be covered by you and Daenerys, you can set up a filter so those are tucked elsewhere than her inbox, and she can continue chugging through her reduced pile without noticing them. Or you can be even more aggressive and get rid of anything where she’s only on cc and you two are also getting the message.

    It’ll probably take some managing up that you shouldn’t have to be doing, but it sounds like it’d be worth it for all of your sakes.

    1. hbc*

      And I should add, if she needs to be in the loop, she can be in the loop with a daily sum-up email from you, or a chat at the end of the week, or a project whiteboard. She’s obviously not *actually* being kept in the loop by receiving all of these emails because she’s not reading the information in them.

  22. mf*

    Do you work for my former boss? Cause it sure sounds like it. Here’s what I did:

    1) Never send an email when you can talk to her in person. If you want the conversation documented or she’s terribly forgetful (as my former boss was), send a follow-up email summarizing your discussion. If it’s urgent and you can’t speak to her in person, CALL. Don’t email.

    2) If she’s CC’ed on a email, mention in person or send a follow-up email: “Let’s discuss this before we respond.” (She won’t see your follow-up email, but at least you tried! When her reply causes confusion, you can say, “Hmm. This is why I suggested we should talk this through before responding. Can we try to do that next time?)

    3) As Alison said, use bulletpoints whenever possible, bold/highlight/underline the important stuff, and keep your emails as short as humanly possible. You can’t change how other people write their emails, but it’s worth trying if it minimizing the number of times per day she’ll send confusing replies.

    4) Stop covering for her. If she’s causing confusion, make her do the work of clearing up that confusion: “Hi Jane–your email caused a lot of confusion because your statement about X contradicts our agreement to do Y. Can you please reply and provide clarification?”

    5) Consider polishing your resume. She sounds like a crappy manager (because of those “other issues” you’ve had), and the fact that she refuses to address a problem that’s impacting her work (doesn’t read emails, has bad eyesight) does not reflect well on her. I wouldn’t necessarily hightail it out of there, but… this doesn’t sound like a place you want to work for the rest of your life.

  23. Al*

    I am having so much trouble understanding how so many commenters (and AAM, it seems) missed the part that LW isn’t the one writing these emails; she’s dealing with the fallout from Jane’s sloppiness.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I understand that, but it might be OP’s job to somehow manage the manager, or OP may be expected to keep some of the day to day work rolling, but need approval and/or input from Jane on things… so it becomes their problem as well.

    2. AW*

      Because the OP doesn’t explicitly say it.

      The letter says that all three of them get emails and that the boss will briefly scan any given message but doesn’t actually say that the email that she’s misunderstanding came directly from clients or other departments. It’s not clear who the last person is in the reply all chain is before the boss sends their incorrect response.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        OP was clear. Read on:

        “This inevitably leaves the recipient(s) confused, then requires a flurry of backtracking/clarifying emails from me and Daenerys as we try to explain (nicely) to the recipient that Jane misunderstood, then try to give the recipient the CORRECT information they are seeking.”

        1. AW*

          You’re missing the point. Al asked how people missed it and they missed it because the OP never said who was the last person to send the emails before Jane responds. All three of them are getting any emails sent to the department which means the email Jane is reading could have been from LW/Daenerys if it goes Customer > LW/Daenerys > Jane > Customer > LW/Daenerys.

          I’m not saying it’s impossible to read that it was Customer > Jane > Customer > LW/Daenerys but it wasn’t made explicit in the original letter and that’s how the mistake happened.

    3. lychee*

      Seriously, its rather insane that the commentators are missing the point when the letter is pretty clear. Alison alone going off track I understand.

      Its like the folks arent reading the actual letter, just Alison’s response and jumping on the OP.

  24. Z*

    Another way to point it out:

    “Jane, when you don’t read the whole e-mail before responding, not only does it ruin the rest of the day for the two of us that have to clean up your mess, but it makes you look inept to everyone involved. “

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      You have to really have the right relationship with your boss to do this. I had a boss who didn’t read to the end of the thread before responding, and we DID sit him down and flat-out tell him to knock it off and he was (a) making himself look less competent than he actually was , (b) making it seem like the rest of us weren’t qualified to handle it without manager, and (c) wasting time on low-level tasks we could handle when we really needed X and Y management tasks from him. Fortunately, he had good humor about the situation and did at least try to stop.and he would. We finally reached a point where we told him he wasn’t allowed to talk to the end-users at all. It was a joke, but a serious joke. Also fortunately, he talked to himself a lot and would start muttering about an email we’d handled hours ago while he was at a meeting and yell over the wall, “Do NOT respond to that! We handled it two hours ago! NO talking to the end-users!”

  25. Kelli Too*

    I kinda love that a ton of comments about a boss skimming and misreading e-mails from clients are suggesting that the LW coworker should stop sending the e-mails. It’s AAM inception!

    1. DevAssist*


      It sound similar to my work, where we may have the CEO, an outside contractor, the Development Department lead, and a member from payroll all on the same email. A few emails will go back and forth between members (all understanding the project/situation, all following the thread) and then all of the sudden the CEO will pop in with outdated info or a misinterpretation. It then falls to someone on the team to re-explain the situation so that the outside contractor and other staff members are not confused.

  26. FCJ*

    “but it doesn’t rise to the level of going over her head to her boss (although if you’re asked to provide input for her evaluation or otherwise, it’s definitely something you should mention).”

    Out of curiosity, why not? The OP says this is happening multiple times per day, which means it must be having a profound effect on the team’s efficiency. If I had to spend half my day cleaning up after my boss’s mistakes instead of doing my actual job, and directly raising it with my boss hadn’t helped, darn right I’d escalate it. If I were a client of this business, after the second or third time this happened I’d start looking elsewhere.

    1. Argh!*

      Yep, and fortunately it’s all in emails so it’s already been documented. But for grandboss’s sake, it should be just made available, and not dumped on grandboss.

  27. mirror*

    Haha, if I was the letter writer and saw AAM and most of the commenter’s responses, I’d probably want to bash a printer Office Space-style right now.

  28. MissDisplaced*

    I don’t know if this will help in “Jane’s” case, but to simplify extremely long email chains I like to put in both the subject line AND at the top of the email something like the following.

    ACTION ITEM: Please fill in your data on attached spreadsheet teapot-report.xls and send TPS Report to John by October 1. Details below.

    I like using ACTION ITEM so people who skim don’t skip it when I need an answer. I get frustrated with long emails where you’re not clear what is actually wanted and needed as it feels like just roundabout discussion (fine, but at some point you’ve got to tell people what they need to do). We have that problem with some people where I work.

    1. Argh!*

      I like that! I have a boss who has a very roundabout conversation style and her emails have the to-do verb buried or just implicitly “understood” (understood only by her)

      I’d suggest this to her, but I’m not hopeful!

  29. AMT*

    When I used to work in criminal mitigation, I had to write reports to DAs and judges about why such-and-such a defendant should receive an alternative or reduced sentence. I knew they all skimmed, so I’d put all the important points up front in a bulleted list of four or five items (e.g. “Mr. Smith has been diagnosed with schizophrenia,” “Mr. Jones has expressed willingness to enter drug treatment”). Then I’d expand on all of these items in the rest of the 3-4 page report.

    I wonder if it’d be possible to write emails like that to OP’s boss to pre-empt misunderstandings. Maybe a bulleted list at the very beginning with the important/easily missed stuff up front, like:

    • Bob misplaced our teapot skimmer, but this won’t impact production because we have a spare
    • I need your okay on some minor changes to the white chocolate report
    • The dark chocolate project has been delayed for reasons explained below, and I’ve already notified the client

    1. AMT*

      (To clarify, each of the reports was about a single defendant, not all of them at once, of course. I don’t think that came across in my comment.)

  30. nnn*

    Depending on context and personalities, can you work out a way to change Jane’s email settings yourself, e.g. to put the newest messages at the top, to increase font size, etc.? (I don’t think introducing threading unilaterally would be appropriate – it could be confusing.)

    For example, if you’re ever using her computer for something, you could change the settings (ostensibly for your own purposes) and “forget” to change them back.

    Or if you’re both sitting at her computer looking at something or trying to figure something out, you could take the mouse momentarily and quickly change a setting, again ostensibly for your own purposes, with the same choreography you’d use if you were looking at something on another person’s computer and the window wasn’t maximized.

    A possible excuse for sitting down at her computer: if she’s ever having technical difficulties, you could offer to take a look at it.

    1. sayevet*

      Yikes, remember the person who was fired for disabling the caps-lock key? This is a slippery slope and doesn’t need to be disguised as “forgetting” you’ve made changes to her settings. Showing Jane different Outlook options that might make her work life easier could be shown (and repeated) as helpful tips and recent discoveries.

  31. Jessie the First (or second)*

    As a few others have noted, OP isn’t talking about her own emails being skimmed by Jane, but *other people* emailing Jane.

    I imagine OP is having a big head-desk moment right about now.

      1. DevAssist*

        I think the problem is it is ANY email sent to Jane.

        If the three of them are collaborating with a client or outside contractor, then yes, what Jane is doing is more than frustrating and can”t be fixed by having the staff change their email structures. These sound like ongoing conversations with clients and others.

        In cases where the emails are ONLY between OP, Jane, and maybe another team member, then yes; bullet points or shorter emails might be helpful.

      2. animaniactoo*

        If you take this section, I think it’s pretty clear that she’s talking about e-mails from others, although she may also be talking about e-mails from each other:

        This inevitably leaves the recipient(s) confused, then requires a flurry of backtracking/clarifying emails from me and Daenerys as we try to explain (nicely) to the recipient that Jane misunderstood, then try to give the recipient the CORRECT information they are seeking. Not only does this create much extra work for us, but it makes Jane look sloppy/lazy/possibly incompetent and reflects badly on the whole team!

        This happens several times a day on everything from small administrative issues (i.e., timesheet corrections) to large company-wide projects (i.e., global sales initiatives).

        I do not think OP would be worried about the team looking bad if these e-mails were internal among the team, rather than external that others are seeing all over the place.

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, I actually think this is super clear, not only because of your last sentence but because the mentioned “recipients” clearly aren’t Daenerys and OP – both because then OP would certainly just say “we/us” but much more importantly because OP and Daenerys need to explain the situation to the recipients and give them the correct answer. Also, since “almost all emails are addressed to all three of us”, they logically can’t come from either of them.

          (Although I’m certain Jane only skims emails by OP and Daenerys, too, like the “administrative issues (i.e., timesheet corrections)” OP mentions, but it seems to me that since the three of them work so closely together, there isn’t much need for actual email communication between them because they can just talk to each other.)

      3. kapers*

        Yes– OP and Daenerys are constantly having to follow up with various recipients to correct Jane’s mistakes.

      4. kc89*

        I’m sure it’s a mixture of both. The letter does seem to mostly be talking about e-mails from other people though.

      5. Jessie the First (or second)*

        “Almost all emails are addressed to all three of us” and then Jane fires off a response after skimming and then “This inevitably leaves the recipient(s) confused, then requires a flurry of backtracking/clarifying emails from me and Daenerys as we try to explain (nicely) to the recipient that Jane misunderstood, then try to give the recipient the CORRECT information they are seeking. Not only does this create much extra work for us, but it makes Jane look sloppy/lazy/possibly incompetent and reflects badly on the whole team”

        I don’t see how this could be about emails the OP sends to Jane.

      6. Jill*

        Yes, it really is this obvious. Right at the top it says “Almost all emails are addressed to all three of us”. This could not be any clearer.

      7. lychee*

        Its pretty clear. Read the second line

        > “Almost all emails are addressed to all three of us. ”

        They are a branch office so they could be receiving mails from corporate headquarters, clients or suppliers. And the boss is responding to them without comprehending the mail content or talking to the team, hence causing issues with return mails seeking clarifications etc

  32. Student*

    Have you tried getting her to focus less on her email and more on her other duties?

    I’d be pretty blunt with her about the problem, and suggest that she is too important to spend all that time wading through emails. I’d emphasize that she’s responding to stuff you and colleague are also responding to at the same time, which is inefficient and confusing. I’d offer to bring her items in person (or phone or whatever she responds well to) that actually merit her attention, to spare her the email deluge that you and your colleague are dealing with at the same time. Add in some regular meeting check-ins to give her a status update on whatever frequency makes sense.

    If you bring her a plausible excuse to not deal with a never-ending stream of email crap that she can’t actually keep up with, she just might bite.

  33. Heather*

    A few things I’ve noticed at my current office. Use the CC function specifically when someone needs to be aware of something, but not take action. And also call out at the top of the email “FYI Jane” so they know there is no action to be taken. It’s worked well for me to be able to know when I can skimm something. Maybe clarify who needs to do what in your emails more clearly?

    1. Marillenbaum*

      That is a thing I’ve benefitted from a lot, is learning to use my subject lines to greater effect (especially now that I’m on a team consulting project): I’ll always lead with “FYI”, “FOR REVIEW”, “ACTION DEADLINE”, etc. so the person knows what they’re getting out of the email.

  34. TootsNYC*

    Sis there a setting that will group things by conversation, most recent first?

    Maybe you can offer to fix her settings on the idea that you whippersnappers can use your expertise to help.

    1. Footiepjs*

      I think this might be a good suggestion. Maybe Jane has pushed back on reordering emails and adjusting other settings because she doesn’t know how to make those changes and might be embarrassed to admit it.

      I also liked the idea of creating a group email and/or having OP/D take on most of the email and escalating to Jane when they need her.

    2. sayevet*

      I’ve had success opening with “I found a setting that saves me some time on my email, can I show you?” Then we sit down together and I explain what I’m showing so they feel comfortable trying/adopting it.

  35. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    “This inevitably leaves the recipient(s) confused, then requires a flurry of backtracking/clarifying emails from me and Daenerys as we try to explain (nicely) to the recipient that Jane misunderstood, then try to give the recipient the CORRECT information they are seeking.”

    I’d stop mopping up for Jane as much as professionally possibly. Eventually the confused (and possibly) frustrated recipients will loop in Jane’s boss or stop emailing her at all. My boss does this all the time even in face-to-face conversations. He hears/reads a keyword or phrase and before the rest of the sentence can get out, he assumes he knows what the rest will be about and starts in on his answer. He can be very emotional about it too and getting him to backtrack to hear the rest is hard.

    1. kc89*

      Yeah I was going to suggest quit cleaning up after the boss but I worried it would end up making the other two employees look worse.

      1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        I never hold it against a lower level employee if their boss is an idiot/jerk. I don’t think Jane’s habits make either the OP or her coworker look bad at all. Their habit of panic-mopping up might actually be making them look worse than just letting Jane be Jane.

  36. kapers*

    How about asking Jane in person the pertinent questions only, and then telling her you’ll respond for the whole team?

    I had a boss with failing vision (she admitted that, though, so it wasn’t a touchy subject) and that’s what I did for her. Much easier than undoing her damage and cuts down on emails which is nice for everybody.

    In her defense, it sounds like your company send a lot of (long?) emails that need immediate responses from many parties and cutting down on that could be beneficial overall.

  37. Kim Possible*

    My previous supervisor at my current place of work had that same, awful habit of reading the oldest emails first.

    Customer (to whole customer service team): Can you please send me a copy of invoice #1234?
    Me (or another team member): Please see attached a copy of invoice #1234. Thank you!
    Customer: Thank you! Sorry, can you also send a copy of invoice #5678?
    Me (or another team member): No problem – please see attached a copy of invoice #5678.
    Customer: Thanks so much!

    (3-4 hours later)

    My supervisor, in response to the original email: Please see attached a copy of invoice #1234.

    *face palm* every. single. time. Then she realizes her error, apologizes, and does it again the next day.

  38. saffytaffy*

    I used to have a boss who did this. Email her an either/or question, and her response would be “yes” or if you asked for a deadline date, she’d reply “that’s fine.” Always very short replies. I eventually learned from coworkers that she had criticized at least 7 of us in an office of 11 for “poor emails skills.”

    1. Kim Possible*

      I use to work with several people like that. I would ask them, “do you want me to order x, or y?”, and the response would be “yes.”

      How frustrating that your boss would criticize you and your teammates for being the ones to have poor email skills!

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      I have people all over my university that do this. It’s like being on Punk’d.

      Me: “What color do you want?”
      Them: “We need about a hundred.”

      Me: “How many do you need?”
      Them: “The college will be handing them out in our orientation packets.”

  39. Hiring Mgr*

    If you’re worried about Jane not responding well to being told this directly, this could be the perfect time for the tried and true “compliment sandwich”:

    “Jane, thanks for your help the other day with the Penske file, you were a lifesaver!
    “But one thing Danerys and I noticed is that you’re a complete and utter idiot when it comes to reading your emails properly and our clients probably think you’re drunk, so if you could, you know…actually read them?
    “Jane, you killed in the marketing meeting today…that new campaign idea of yours is pure gold!”

  40. Angelinha*

    Yessss, my boss is exactly this way. She’ll reply to an email with a directive that I am pretty sure is the opposite of what she’d want to happen, if she had taken in all of the context in the email. So then I have to find out if, given this extra context (which she would have had if she’d just read the email a little bit slower!), is that still what she wants me to do?

    I will say, working with her has been a helpful exercise in tailoring my communication to specific audiences. It’s very very easy for me to communicate almost exclusively over email with people who communicate the way I do, and my first instinct wouldn’t be to walk into someone’s office with a verbal summary of an email I’m about to forward them, but it’s good practice for working with people with all sorts of (sometimes very strange, very “how do you ever get anything done, omg”) communication styles.

  41. nnn*

    Another solution would be to introduce a policy that LW and Daenerys handle all emails first, and forward anything needing Jane’s attention to Jane with a specific coloured flag.

    The stated reason for this would be that Jane, as manager, shouldn’t be using her valuable time on things her subordinates can do just as well.

    Of course, the tricky part here is how LW could introduce a policy like this in her capacity as Jane’s subordinate. But if I were Jane’s manager, this is how I would be telling them to handle it.

  42. Sid Viscous*

    Without actually getting Jane to change her email manner, or get new glasses, perhaps one approach is to improve her computer screen. If she has a larger screen with larger print her ability to read the emails will be improved. OP can talk this up and perhaps even arrange for it to happen. This is better than waiting for Jan to change her ways and fix her glasses.

  43. Purple Jello*

    Can you create a shared mailbox for shared requests, then move/archive the email conversation when you “claim” or respond to it?

    If the requests coming in are similar, can you set up a form for the requesters to use? If there were a standard format, it would help everyone: Jane would know what specific things to look for, the person making the request would know what to include. Even if the requests are different, if they’re set up in the same order each time, possibly in a table or form, it would be easier for Jane to read.

    The other suggestion is changing Jane’s mailbox to conversation view, after demonstrating how that works and the benefits you get by doing this.

  44. Willis*

    I have no suggestions, but lots of sympathy. I had a boss with very poor email habits (incomplete responses, random switches to all caps, not noticing that people had responded to a thread, etc.), who didn’t seem to care/notice that it made us look unprofessional.

    The worst was when she accidentally set up some type of stationery for her email account…one time every email came with a scroll background, and another time there was a cartoon child blowing kisses at the recipient. Those definitely warranted a – “let me give you a hand with your email settings…”

  45. Pam*

    Perhaps an answer is ‘Boss, these emails are such a pain. Maybe you should let us respond to them and we will pull you in when we need to. That way you aren’t wasting your valuable time on them.’

  46. Subsriba*

    “As part of team-wide process improvements”, can you get IT to set up a generic email for your team, and only put yourself and Dany on it? Act as if it’s a given that of course it would only be the junior members of the team responding to such trivial matters. It would be a lot easier to get people to start emailing a generic email address than to quietly go around to everyone hinting that they should take Jane off the To: list (feels much less personal).

  47. SS*

    I also took this letter to mean that most of the emails were coming from clients or from other departments, not from the OP to Jane herself. If that’s correct, OP, I have sooooo much sympathy! I once worked in a team where my boss who always read oldest-to-newest and a grandboss who was a terrible skimmer. Between the two of them we were constantly dealing with multiple versions of the same email chain, panicky responses to an issue that was raised days ago and already resolved, decisions that caused problems down the track because they hadn’t read/considered all the relevant information… It wasn’t just annoying, it made it very hard for the rest of us to do our jobs!

    I don’t really have any advice because I left that role, but I agree with the others who’ve suggested stepping back and letting Jane fail a little. Once a client gets angry with her about something she might take the issue a bit more seriously. If it makes sense in your relationship with the client, you could even suggest next time Jane’s inability to read emails correctly causes a problem that they escalate it to their boss to raise with yours.

  48. Courageous cat*

    Huh, I thought the emails were coming from Jane’s employee (and not an outside source) as well. Upon further reflection I can see that that’s not the case, but I honestly don’t think that was made super clear at first!

  49. Anion*

    “Updated to add: Am I Jane?? Some commenters are suggesting that the emails in question aren’t coming from the letter-writer and her own team; they’re coming from outside it.”


    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  50. Pam Beesly*

    Not exactly the same issue, but in my line of work many people are not tech-savvy or are simply overwhelmed by the number of emails, which come in multiple languages. For those people, I’ve learned to make printed to-do lists and confirm things verbally. If LW can’t get the boss to read top-down, at least leaving a printed to-do list on her desk, or calling/stopping by to confirm the situation might save them some embarrassment, though it would create extra work for LW.

  51. CM*

    I used to work for the same boss! (In spirit, anyway.) I talked to her directly about it, she agreed that it would be better if she checked for updates before responding to old emails, but then never did it. I pointed out a couple of instances where her intervention caused confusion and delay (to channel Sir Topham Hatt) and she was annoyed that I brought it up. Eventually I started just handling as many things as I could before she saw them, and if she re-responded I would reply forwarding my email and say, “All set with this, see my email below.” I also managed to get her to delegate more to me so she didn’t feel obligated to respond in the first place. But ultimately I had to just let a lot of it go — it’s her reputation, and she’s the boss so she decides how she wants to run things.

  52. LizM*

    This sounds like my boss, except the emails are sent to her and then she assigns me the work verbally, so I often get the assignments that are slightly off from what was actually requested. It’s incredibly challenging. I don’t have any advice, but you have my sympathy.

  53. Gabriel Conroy*

    I’d be wary of putting things in bold or underlining because I suspect a lot of people would consider that akin to shouting. (Also, not all email is created equal and sometimes things like bold formatting don’t translate. I suspect that’s not a problem if you and a coworker share the same email system…..but in my workplace it’s not uncommon for two coworkers to have two different email systems, even though both systems are legitimate job-related email systems.)

    I agree with the rest of the advice, though.

  54. Adlib*

    I work with someone that does this constantly. In fact, just today I received a huge chain of emails that were unnecessary because she misread the original email and mistook it for a completely different issue. People like this would save more time in the long run if they just slowed down and took a minute. (In the OP’s case, this lady needs to be more organized also.)

  55. Goya*

    In the terms of TLDR emails for bosses….bullet points, always bullet points. I’m personally a fan of the bullet point version of anything, get to the point. No one has time or wants to read through a paragraph when a sentence will do.

  56. CMDRBNA*

    Sigh. Yep, I had a boss like this – she wanted to be CC’d on everything but also “got too many emails” to actually triage the important ones and respond when you NEEDED her to, but would leap into relatively inconsequential email threads and inevitably screw it up. For example, she rushed to respond to a speaker and invited him to the wrong program, in the wrong city, on the wrong date, that caused a ton of confusion and him eventually dropping out of the program we DID need him to speak on.

    This was just a symptom of a larger problem, which was that she refused to delegate anything to her (very competent and capable) assistant, didn’t know how to prioritize anything, got overwhelmed easily, and was so disorganized that our communication was usually just resending her emails over and over because she couldn’t find them.

    Oh, and, it was pointless to go try to talk to her in person because she was always in meetings and never in her office.

    I wish OP good luck in handling this! I never found a way to work with this particular boss and ended up quitting.

  57. Zahra*

    I’ve got a few suggestions on what you could do with her, depending on what she’s open to. Use one or many, whatever works for you.

    – Yes, threading, absolutely! (But she did say she didn’t want to do it.)
    – Conditional formatting or rules to highlight emails that need or don’t need an answer:
    – For senders that usually copy Jane as an FYI
    – For senders that usually send critical/actionable emails
    – When she’s not in CC or BCC.
    – When you and/or your colleague are in the “To” line.
    – Send the link to “How to Write Email with Military Precision” to the most frequent emailers to your team. (Link in reply, because of moderation.)
    – Make an agreement with her not to reply to emails before you sit with her to review what has been answered to and what hasn’t. Then sit with her twice a day. Upside: she only looks at her email twice a day so she can concentrate on other stuff. Task switching is the biggest productivity killer.
    – Remove the email pop-up, it breaks concentration and creates a false sense of “must reply now!”. Also, see task switching and productivity.
    – Implement some sort of task management solution where you can enter comments or a copy of the replies between you and the “requester”. Then she can look at the task management in parallel to the emails and see what has been done, the latest news, etc. and what hasn’t been done.

  58. nonymous*

    how about setting up a group email address? so OP and Daenerys both have access to a generic email (which can be transitioned if duties get passed around or attrition) but Jane doesn’t see them. If anything needs Jane’s input, they can bring it to her attention separately via phone or in person preferably or in an appropriately formatted email.

    This will benefit the group in two ways: (1) keeping Jane out of the loop until absolutely necessary and (2) reducing the number of emails in Jane’s inbox, which could be profoundly liberating for her.

  59. DeeDee*

    Written communication is the most difficult to write so the receiver of the written communication can understand it. I always avoid written communication as often as i can. If you feel your boss is not reading the entire email….go to her in person. It being a small office face to face communication should be simple.

  60. L*

    I’ve worked with many people who do this whether it’s because they’re very busy or whatever but I now actually will write details and then summarize in bullets and I will even go so far as to put the word (Action item or context info) next to a sentence so she pays attention to what I actually need. My boss really likes this style and it makes my emails more effective.

  61. Noah*

    I would add this: it is TERRIBLE advice to tell Boss to read the emails newest to oldest. That’s very confusing, especially for somebody who is bad at email. It is much better to read them from oldest to newest, but read ALL the emails in a chain before responding.

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