Jean: “Jeff is a total slacker. When it gets busy, he always manages to disappear and leaves me to hold things together. I’m sick of it.”
Me: “Have you talked with Jeff about your concerns?”
Jean: “Yes, I sent him an email about it.”
Dang. That’s when I know I’ve got some work ahead of me.
The goal for all communication is to understand and to be understood.
The problem with email is that it is easily misunderstood. In touchy situations, it’s about the worst possible tool you can use to send your message.
Yes, there is a time and place for email. It works pretty well when the information is simple, short, and does not have or will not likely create an emotional charge.
In most other circumstances, email is the wrong choice. I don’t need to tell you that lots of people make that wrong choice.
It’s an especially popular way to deliver bad news or a critical message because people believe that sending a message in this way will protect them from any potential blow-back.
While it’s true they may not be there to personally witness the response, it still will find them. I guarantee it.
The critical message sent by email is interpreted as an attack. It’s as if you sent a bomb through the network. The receiver reciprocates with a bomb of her own, and this time she adds a few more names to the cc list. Instead of contributing to a solution, your email has made things worse.
If you are interested in preventing this kind of unproductive email correspondence, ask a few questions before hitting send:
- Would I be willing to say to the person’s face what I’m writing?
- Have I made any assumptions about what the person really meant in her email?
- How am I feeling right now, and how is my emotional state affecting what I write?
- Who have I copied and why?
- How is the recipient likely to react to my email?
- Is email the best way of sending my message, or would the telephone or an in-person visit serve me better in this situation?
- What have I written that could be misinterpreted?
- Is this the right time for the other person to receive my message?
Email is a great tool when used properly. The trick is knowing when and when not to use it.