Don't Send Me An Email (Sort Of)
I’m old enough to remember a time when we didn’t have email at work.
If I wanted to communicate something, I’d pick up the phone and call that person, or I’d write them a letter, or I’d set up a meeting (by phone) and head over to their office to chat.
Since then, the advent of email has led to more streamlined and more versatile communications. You can not only share a thought or an idea, but you can have entire streams of back and forth, all fully documented for future reference. For example, a discussion that would have taken place over the phone and hence have taken more time, can be simply and efficiently sorted out by a quick email exchange. Add up those 5-10 minutes savings and that’s a substantial productivity boost. So there’s no question that email has brought a lot of value to our working lives.
But email has also resulted in the exact opposite.
Situations that are better served by a quick chat are replaced by email back and forth. A conversation that’s more easily done in person is made digital. Even individuals working in the same office, on the same floor, will email each other asking a question, for an update, for an answer.
The problem with this is that it actually hurts communication, hurt the personal interaction and ultimately impairs relationships, bit by bit. Because email often takes away the context, or it implies an emotion (even when it isn’t there), suggests a judgement that often hasn’t been made. A conversation - face to face or over the phone, would have solved for this.
Of course, there’s all sorts of reasons this happens. Yes, expediency and efficiency are the stated (or implied) ones, but in many instances, it’s avoidance or laziness or fear. Avoidance of the human interaction. Laziness in engagement (our willingness to do it). Fear of the response. These have always been around, but email has given us one more (easy) tool to indulge them. Email gives us an easy way to hide.
Better to face our fears head on. Better to engage with our colleagues on a personal level. Better to be willing to face the emotion. Yes, it will, at times, be difficult, or painful. But it will be real, and it will build, and not break down (so long as both parties are inclined accordingly).
So, the next time you’re tempted to email, ask yourself if it’s the best way to get things done. It may be, but it may not.
Maybe you should pick up the phone and make the call. Or head over to their office across town. Or, better yet, just get up and walk the 10 feet to her office to have that chat.
Don’t send an email when you can talk instead.