Based on the title of this post, please don’t think I’m one of those pedantic Gen-X leaders who criticizes Millennials’ devotion to all things electronic. To the contrary, I’m actually a huge fan of devices and software in a variety of contexts as long as they improve productivity, enhance collaboration, and/or save time. Here’s the thing about email: the way most people utilize it does not fit any of those criteria. Let me illustrate with a few stereotypical scenarios I see when coaching people through professional communication challenges.
1- The email novelette: When you send painfully long emails, what are the odds the recipient(s) read it, took the requested action, or replied? Pretty slim, #truth. The ramification is that you will then spend additional time following up, maybe resending the same ineffective email (which won’t get read the second or third time either). And, perhaps you’ve killed your productivity further insomuch as the lack of reply created a bottleneck to you moving forward on a project or following up with a customer.
BEST PRACTICE: If an email needs to be more than a few short paragraphs, consider picking up the phone instead. You can then follow up with a much shorter email to share files or other information they’ll need.
2- The email Ping-Pong game: These emails are the ones with trivial threads back and forth. Research shows that interruptions cost people between 3-15 minutes in lost productivity. With the hundreds of emails we’re already getting each day, why clutter the inbox with a litany of emails that string along a subject that could have been nailed in one short and sweet phone call?
BEST PRACTICE: If the subject line starts to look like this: “ReReReReRe:” pick up the phone and end the time-consuming volley.
3- The email drama: “I can’t believe this!!!!” Based on that emailed statement, am I excited? Angry? Surprised? Or just punctuation happy? That’s right…you don’t really know, do you? Email lacks the non-verbal cues, tone of voice clues, and other nuances that show up in actual conversation. Yet, in the absence of knowing true feelings, recipients often interpret the sender’s energy in a way that causes them to waste time with actions such as responding with a long, defensive email, pouting, overanalyzing, or worse, involving other people in unnecessary gossip or game theorizing.
BEST PRACTICE: If an email topic is potentially sensitive or open to misinterpretation, pick up the phone and save the soap opera for TV.
I wonder how hard it would be to reprogram that old AOL voice to say “You Got Phone.”