Out of the (in)box: This Clevelander wants to cure your email woes

Chances are you’ve felt a wave of panic after hitting “send” on an email. Ian Charnas has felt it too, and that’s precisely why he came up with Email Strategy Cards—a deck of cards with suggestions on how to navigate the tricky waters of effective email communication.

While we all dread cleaning out our inboxes, as Director of Innovation and Technology at think[box] innovation center, Charnas fields a whopping 210 emails per day on average.

“At that volume, I really have to take email productivity seriously,” he explains. “So, I’ve always kept a digital notepad of useful phrases for difficult situations, like respectful ways of declining something and saying no. Over email, where you’ve lost that tone, you can’t hear if I’m being genuine, calm, and earnest. It could sound mean. You get that one word answer—yes or no—and it sounds curt no matter how you may have meant it.”

After colleagues encouraged him to share the contents of his notebook, Charnas curated the phrases he’d developed, sketched out some designs for artwork, and hired a designer to bring his vision to life. He set up a Kickstarter campaign to fund the cards with a goal of $5,000, and when it went live on Tuesday, October 9, It blew past the goal in only eight hours.

The cards encompass four main themes designed to address everyday communication issues professionals encounter everyday—such as saying no, saying yes, bouncing the ball back to the other person's court, and defusing difficult situations. While they appeal to a wide demographic, Charnas thinks they can be particularly valuable to those just starting their careers.

“A number of CEOs have reserved packs of cards on the Kickstarter, and they’ve sent me messages saying, 'I’m buying this for all my young professionals,'” says Charnas. “They are trying to learn how to communicate in a professional way, but they’re communicating with their clients and colleagues as if they were talking to a friend. You don’t use slang and emoticons when you’re talking to a client. This gives them some examples of professional communication.”

The Kickstarter campaign is still in full swing, but now that the cards have hit their initial Kickstarter goal, Charnas is thinking to the future. A phone app is a possibility, and a second volume of cards will include crowdsourced phrases from the public. For now, he’s shifting his focus to hitting more funding goals in order to make this deck as high-quality as possible with sturdier boxes and metal binding rings for gift giving.

“You’re holding something that feels valuable,” he says. “Because I think that words are valuable. One wrong word can really damage a relationship. If you say the right words, you can really build a relationship. Words are powerful. I want the cards to reflect that value.”

Ilona Westfall
Ilona Westfall

About the Author: Ilona Westfall

Ilona Westfall is a Cleveland-based freelance writer. When she's not penning articles for a variety of Ohio publications, she's roller skating with Burning River Roller Derby, rolling d20s with her D&D group, or getting muddy in the woods. Follow her on twitter @IlonaWestfall.