The Email Problem


I put together a training and coaching proposal for a client recently. I had previous discussions with all of the decision makers so I was pretty confident that I could cover all the bases and provide them what they were looking for. I probably spent 4 hours writing & re-writing it. I wanted to make sure all of the comprehensive details of the program were outlined clearly and addressed many of the challenges that the organization was faced with. I cut and pasted and pasted and cut. I edited and reedited, explained and over-explained. I read and re-read and finally sent off the package to the client.

The following week the questions started coming in, what is this, how is that, tell me more about pricing, what will this cover, how will this work. I’ve been in sales for a long time now so these are normal, but I couldn’t help and think that all of these were covered in my in depth and detailed proposal.

What I realized is something that I have known for many years and for some reason seem to have forgotten. It’s impossible to get more then one person to understand what you are talking about via email.

Let me ask you something. Have you ever attempted to fix of solve a complicated problem with multiple people and parts with only email?

Next question… How did that work for you? My guess would be, not very well.

I know this and I even talk about it in my sessions and seminars. Email, while being a very important, and productive tool in the modern workplace, can confuse us and create a lot more work in the long run if we are not careful in how we utilize it.

To start with, let’s look at how the human brain takes in and interprets information.

The RAS (reticular activation system) is a bundle of nerves at the base of our brain. It’s main job is to take the 400 billion bits of information that come at us every second and delete, distort and generalize it down to a more manageable number around 2000 bits per second.

The next job of the RAS is to find in the outside world, everything that matches what you are thinking, feeling or believing on the inside world. A good example of this when we buy a new car, and we believe that it’s one of a kind, it’s unique and special and we haven’t even seen too many cars like this make or model. Then the minute we drive off the lot, we begin to see that exact same car everywhere we look.

So let’s apply this to email and written words. When we are the author, we know how we are feeling and the meaning we wish to convey. We add meaning and emphasis to our words; we can hear our own voice in our heads as we write them out on the page. We pause at certain points for emphasis and blast thru other pieces we feel have less meaning. Our RAS is helping us put into the outside world what we know to be true and certain in our inside world.

Now we send our well thought out, clear and concise message to the rest of the world. Guess what? The receivers of our messages get to interpret our written words, and their RAS is making a valiant attempt to match up these words they interpret on the outside, to whatever they believe on the inside.

So let me ask you a question. What are the odds that their RAS has filtered out the exact same 2000 bits of information from the over 400 billions bits available to them that your RAS has? I think you get the picture.

This is one of the reasons why you might send a well thought out, well written email or text and the person responds to something that has nothing to do with what you are actually talking about. Or they latch on to one word or phrase that excites or upsets them. Their RAS is just doing its job.

Look I get it. Email is not going away and in fact can be extremely helpful to get someone a piece of information. I love that I can be on a beach somewhere and confirm a date and time with a client, or answer some quick questions around who, when, and where. But when the questions start to evolve into the more complicated issues of “what” and or “how,” well then it may serve you better to pick up the phone or schedule a face to face.

 

Which is exactly what I did with this particular client. I got all of the decision makers on the phone, conveyed my meaning and objective to all of them just one time instead of 4 separate times. I answered all of the “what” and “how” questions, and closed the deal. Now I can use email to answer the questions of when and where.

Questions to consider:

What complicated problems am I attempted to solve via email? How’s that working for me?

Where and with whom have I relied too heavily on email & written information? What am I planning to do about that?

What expectations will I have myself and or my team commit to with regard to email? (I had a client that has a 3-email rule; if you can’t solve the issue in 3 emails, then pick up the phone)

How will I start managing my email and stop having it manage me?

Please post your strategies below for successful email communication

Thoughts for the week:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. –George Bernard Shaw

Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.– William Butler Yeats

In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood. –Henry David Thoreau

The two words information and communication are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through. – Sydney Harris

One should use common words to say uncommon things. -Arthur Schopenhauer

The worst distance between two people is misunderstanding – Unknown

Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.– Plato

 The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.– Mark Twain

Looking forward to our next conversation

One Comment On “The Email Problem”

  1. Great article with a great real life example.

    I’ve been railing against email abuse to my staff for years! Email IS an important tool; but it has become a massively overused crutch.

    Your article mentions a “3 email limit”. How about a “3-sentence limit”? Anything longer than that and you might as well just pick up the phone or schedule a meeting because you’ve probably lost your audience by the fourth sentence anyway.

    Thanks for the reminder – people need to TALK!!

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