Email is the most overused and abused form of communications today. (Texting is next, but that’s another discussion.)
Because email is familiar, easy-to-use, and very often effective, we use it as a universal form of communications – the verbal equivalent of a survival tool that supposedly does everything from cutting tree branches to opening beer bottles.
But in many cases, email is the wrong tool for the job – and we simply don’t realize it until after we’ve pressed “send.”
Face-to-face conversations, phone calls, group meetings and other forms of communication are better choices in key situations. Here are the tell-tale signs that email is the wrong choice:
Immediate Need – If the point of your communication requires swift action – measured in minutes – pick up the phone, send a text or walk over to your colleague’s office. Simply overlooking a new email may cause you to miss an important meeting or provide crucial feedback to a time-sensitive decision.
Collaborative Discussion – When you need input from a number of people, an iterative discussion that helps shape a decision or idea, pull together the group in a room or on a phone call. Email is too often inefficient and ineffective because it masks nuances, rewards quick fingers and ignores those in the group who are working hard at something other than responding to email.
Emotional Issue– Don’t use email to break news or share information that’s likely to spark crying, anger, deep sadness or other overwhelming emotional responses. Take the time for a phone call, a group meeting or one-on-one discussion. The coldness of email magnifies the punch of bad news and offers none of the comforting tones that come from looking into someone’s eyes or hearing the feeling in their voice.
Critical Message – Many people use email to criticize other’s actions and ideas with a fervor that few people would employ in a staff meeting or face-to-face discussion. Of course, that’s why we do it. We can say what “we really believe” and “get things off our chest” through the distance and safety of cyberspace. If the intent of the criticism is to be constructive, take time for a more direct form of discussion.
Email seems like a perfectly fine choice in many of these cases because it saves time. But think again. How much time does it take to repair a broken relationship, reassure a dispirited employee, regain the trust of an offended client or reverse a bad decision made in haste without adequate collaboration?
Oh, and if you have thoughts on this subject, please don’t hesitate to email me.
Chad Carlton, President, C2 Strategic Communications