Dangerous Email

Posted on January 7, 2007. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development, Technical writing |

I had an experience with email yesterday that reminded me of the dangers of email–especially in a professional setting. The crux of it is that I’d been coordinating an event with several people. The event involved some who were experienced with the requirements of the event and some who were new to the event. To make sure each person was on the same page regarding meeting time, location, transportation, equipment and materials required, etc. I’d sent emails to the group as well as made phone calls to ensure the items were understood and to field any questions the group might have. All was going well.
Then yesterday I received an email from one of the participants, I’ll call her Mary, saying that another of the participants, I’ll call him Jim, had changed his mind about the transportation he was going to use to get from Point A to Point B. No reason was given for the change in plans. As a result of that email, I began to wonder whether this change in plans was indicative of a problem behind the scenes that I wasn’t aware of; if it was to what extent, and did anything need to be done to resolve it.

After pondering an approach for several minutes, an email arrived from Jim. His email explained the situation very differently: the change in transportation plans was not his idea; it was actually a suggestion from one of Mary’s teammates to which Jim agreed.

What’s my point with this story? Is it that I’m a control freak and got twisted because the team didn’t just agree with my plan and move forward? Okay, some people do call me a control freak; but in reality the point is simply this: email does not convey the full story. It is inherently limited in what it can convey because it cannot convey tone of voice; it cannot convey facial expression; it cannot see and respond to the facial expressions of the recipient–facial expressions that might convey a lack of understanding, questioning, disappointment, etc.

While the events related here are rather minor, I saw them as emblematic of how relying on email–something nearly everyone does in today’s communication environment–is not only ill advised, it is a dangerously inadequate tool. Yes, it’s convenient; but sheer convenience doesn’t make things healthy. Consider fast foods and prepackaged meals–a diet based on these has a tendency to lead to unhealthy bodies. And that’s my point with a heavy reliance on email–a communication diet based on email leads to unhealthy relationships because of the potential for miscommunication and the undermining of relationship.

You can still use email to get the job done, but add some face-to-face conversations to the mix. Call people on the phone in addition to emailing them. Reduce the dependence on email and increase the use of other vehicles of communicating. This will help build relationships with the people on your team and give them a sense that you know them as individuals rather than just faceless workers. It’s the relationships we have with others in our personal and work environments that creates our ability to get the job done. Without the relationships, they–and we–are just names in an inbox mixed in with all the other names and junk mail we get.

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