Let me ask you something. Have you ever attempted to fix or solve a complicated problem with multiple people and parts using only email?
Next question… How did that work for you? My guess would be, not very well.
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. If you think about communication as a giant pie, then email is one tiny sliver. Email is one tool for communicating, and sadly in many organizations it’s becoming the only tool.
To really understand how email can sometimes create more problems than solve them, let’s look at how the human brain actually works.
When you are writing out an email you are also probably talking it out in your head. Because you are talking it out, you are adding something extremely valuable when it comes to communication… Context. You are also adding, meaning, sarcasm, humor, strategic pauses, emphasis, and tone to your words as you say them in your head. Of course it makes perfect sense to you, right? Well guess what the receiver your email is doing? You guessed it, they are adding their own meaning, context, sarcasm, humor and everything else to YOUR words.
Think logically now. What are the odds of those two things matching up in the real world? You probably have better odds on a casino floor.
Think about how many times you’ve carefully written out an email, read it, re-read it, maybe had a co-worker look it over. Then you send it out into the world and the “you know what” hits the fan. Everything is misunderstood and misconstrued and then 20 emails and 20 CC’s later you finally pick of a phone and talk it through.
Email for lack of better terms is really only good for 3 things when it comes to communication.
Who, When and Where.
You are invited to this meeting, on this date, at 9am in our conference room. No real room for various interpretations there.
Once you get into “How, What and Why” all bets are off.
Moving forward Please don’t confuse email communications, with actual meaningful conversations. You will be doing yourself and your organization a huge favor.
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.
This week ask yourself-
What complicated problems have I attempted to solve via email? How’s that working for me?
Where and with whom have I relied too heavily on email & text messages in place of a true meaningful conversation? What am I planning to do about that?
What expectations will I have myself and or my team commit to with regard to email? (my team 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