E mail is a wonderful communication tool for “numbers” and “fact based memos” (just the facts, ma'am). It has made efficiencies in the workplace possible over the past 20 plus years. It has eliminated the need for most formal business letters. It has impacted the U.S. Postal Service to the point where about the only thing I get in the mail are catalogues that go directly from my mailbox to the recycle can (it is disturbing that I throw away 90% of the items I receive in the mail. Imagine the cost to get all of that material to mailboxes across the country…mind blowing!) Email also has just about eliminated the need for proper grammar and sentence structure (I am a primary example of that problem.)
However, email has a dark side. A really dark side. I call it c-mail. The "c" stands for cowardice and confusion.
Since the widespread use of email started in the mid to late 90’s, there has been a corresponding decline in conversations between people in the workplace and in their personal lives. This has escalated to ridiculous levels in the last decade, to the point where people in offices right next to one another will send emails to each other and families will try resolve issues via email (I don’t know about your family, but this usually results in hurt feelings and muddled resolution in my family.)
Email is an incredibly narrow communication method that has no tone, no voice inflection, no body cues, no give and take of ideas. Email has no soul, no humanity. It is a flat communication tool that only allows the reader to “interpret” what the sender is trying to say.
In many cases people use email to address complicated and/or controversial situations. Or worse yet, simple issues spin out of control because no one actually spoke with one another…STOP DOING THIS!
Here are some of the common problem emails I have seen over the past 25 years:
The Escalating E Mail-Nothing is more maddening than seeing a two sentence email between two people on a subject that could have been handled by a quick phone call, mushroom into an all-out CYA exercise, with 100 other people ultimately cc’ed on the e mail. This can happen on an email for something as simple as:
“Hey did you get those reports done last night? I need them for a meeting later today”
Pretty innocuous, right? Wrong. The receiving party responds:
“Sorry, I didn’t get to those last night.”
Well, now we have a problem. Instead of a simple phone call to see what the problem is, we get this gem from the original sender, with a "cc" to his boss and others in the organization:
“Hey I need those reports. You told me you would have them finished.”
The problem just went nuclear. The gauntlet is thrown down, additional people have been involved and honor has been questioned. I have seen this lead to a string of 50 emails from people adding comments along the way. A complete waste of time, effort and money. Why? No human interaction. No empathy between the parties, no understanding of why the reports aren’t done. No conversation.
Several years ago, I started to stop these email strings by calling everyone up and holding a face to face meeting with all the parties. This was very effective. You would be amazed how quickly these things can get resolved when human beings are in a room looking at each other…novel concept.
The CYA email- There is always a person who writes an email in a company with an attached report or a piece of information that they cc to anyone in the company they can think of. The purpose isn’t to inform. The purpose is to be able to say, “I don’t know why you are surprised, I cc’ed you on that email.” That is the coward’s way out. If I am cc’ed along with a bunch of people who report to me, I am going to assume those folks are taking care of the issue. If you want me involved, call me and we will have a conversation, then email me directly asking for my input. Don’t drop me on a cc without explanation and assume I am going to “spot” any problems.
The Fire Bomb E Mail-Only cowards send these emails. These are the emails that blame people. Do you really think this will help solve any problem? Have the guts to have a conversation with the person about a problem. This type of email will only make people dig in to try to justify why it wasn’t their fault.
Each of these situations, lack one important ingredient…conversation. Email has contributed to our inability to have a conversation. Emails will never take the place of a conversation. Emails are easier, because you are talking to yourself. Once you add another human being into the mix, it’s messy…and about a million times more effective in the long run. Face to face conversations are the best, but telephone conversations are more realistic.
So…….For The Love Of God, Stop Writing emails & Pick Up The Phone!