Created: Tuesday, 20 December 2011 17:49
Written by Elizabeth Danziger * WorkTalk Communications Consulting
When I teach “Email Best Practices,” the first principle does not refer to directly to email. Rather, it suggests that people determine whether email is the best medium for their message. In many cases, the phone is a better option.
Email is quick and easy to use and, even better for many people, it does not require you to directly confront your reader. Because of this paradoxical combination of immediacy with non-confrontation, people often opt for email when they are trying to communicate emotions or sensitive subjects. This is a mistake. If you need to have a dialogue with someone, you are probably better off with the phone. When both individuals take turns venting their feelings through their keyboards, conflict is more likely to escalate. Lacking nuance and tone, email is a poor choice for highly charged discussions.
Have you ever sent an email to someone asking them to get back to you immediately and then started tapping your foot, wondering why they haven’t responded already? Again, email is paradoxical. You as the sender can make your message instantly available, but your receiver is under no compulsion whatever to pick up your message. You have no control over when your reader will pick up your email or respond to it unless you sidestep the process by calling him on the phone. So if you need an answer or response immediately, follow your email with a phone call.
How annoying is it to run through five or six emails just to set a time for an appointment or meeting? Most people would agree that it’s pretty irritating to have your inbox clogged with “9:30 works for me” and “Where?” and “Sorry, can’t make it”. Although email feels like a quick, efficient choice, in some cases you will get your questions resolved more quickly with a phone call. If you work in a large organization, hopefully everyone is on Outlook or some other calendaring program; this would enable you to set appointments for groups without multiple “reply all” blasts about who is available when. Even if you can’t use Outlook, a quick phone call with both people looking at their calendars can eliminate the process of going back and forth with multiple one-line emails.
So here are a few situations in which email might not be the ideal choice: If you are dealing with strong feelings or sensitive information, avoid email. If you need an immediate reply, use the phone. If you’re setting up an appointment, try the phone first. As a general rule, figure that if you have exchanged three emails on a topic, it is time to pick up the phone or go to the person’s office. Hash out your communications in a context that enables you to access vocal tone, nuance, volume, and other vital elements of expression. Email is a great tool, but like all tools, it should be used for what it’s best at: Quickly conveying non-emotionally charged, non-time-sensitive information.