February 20, 2014

Rethinking Email


10-15 years ago that word evoked very different emotions than it does now. It was about technology and progress and efficiency. Now - for most people - the thought of email invokes feelings of irritation, aggravation, and even for some, a neverending burden. You can even hear and read people voicing the feelings of being "a slave to email!" There are courses and series of blogpost to help you "overcome and master your Inbox". Email has singlehandedly taken over the world!

At first it was about communicating more effectively and efficiently. I could send one message to ten people. Or a thousand people. They could all reply. It was instant global access and response. And let's be clear: it still can be. But most of the time, email has become a second-rate, mediocre at best, anything but effective method of clear communication. Let me explain.

I've angered people through email because they read an emotion into what I said that wasn't accurate at all. Other people have angered me for the exact same reason. It was a misunderstanding. (Why did you need to write that in those BOLD UPPERCASE LETTERS!!!!????) Did you read ANGER!! into that? That wasn't my intent.

I was placed on an email chain one time that actually had to do with me - a decision that I had made as a leader. The author of the message was less than excited or supportive of my decision. Most of the people who received the email didn't pay attention to or realize I was on the chain and they decided to chime into the conversation by hitting Reply to All. Let's just say that was one of the most devastating and painful things I've endured. I still hate thinking about it. I lost sleep, lost weight, shed tears, and even lost friends. 

Today, I sat down with some friends at lunch to talk through some things that were being confused and misinterpreted through email - confused and misinterpreted by each of us. We ate sandwiches. We drew on napkins. We laughed. We questioned. We understood each other. As we were getting up to leave my friend said, "This was great." I totally agree.

Email cannot convey emotions.
Email is void of vocal inflections.
Email doesn't show facial expressions.
Email can't stop and ask for clarification on an issue.
Email can make the sarcastic sound serious and the serious sound sarcastic.
Email can make a few suggestions sound like a list of demands.
Email can be edited and even DELETED...until you hit SEND.
Email can be ignored for an indefinite amount of time. 
Email is an accident waiting to happen.

Therefore, I highly encourage you to consider making email your last resort. When you can pick up the phone and talk to someone, or better yet, speak to them in person - look into their eyes, hear their voice, watch their body language, and immediately respond - why settle for email? Why just communicate with another human when you can actually connect with them? Why hope for cloudy when you can get clarity?

Convenience? Efficiency? Laziness? Corporate Policy?

How convenient is it that you have to reword or restate what's been misunderstood?

How efficient is it to have to do "damage control" when your intent was misconstrued?

How aggravating is it when you're having to explain to someone, "That's not what I meant at all!"?

How painful is it to discover that your written words - regardless of your intent or motive - have wounded someone deeply?

Please hear me: I'm not telling you to abandon your email. In many ways, it's become a great tool for those who master it. But if it's become an excuse or a scapegoat to keep you from having to actually communicate with other human beings, I would reconsider. If it's become your first line of communication rather than third or fourth (or last), I would rethink it.

There's a reason we haven't completely done away with the "phone".
There's a reason (beyond coffee) that places like Starbuck's are still thriving.

Effectively communicating with another real, live human being. It's exhilirating!
I highly encourage and recommend it.

And if you like this blogpost, you can always email it to someone.


Mary Wagner said...

Thanks for this Brian! My thoughts exactly. Most teens don't even know how to hold a conversation and when they do, they aren't looking at you ... they are texting while talking! We need limitations on email, Facebook, etc.

Mary Wagner said...

Thanks for this post Brian! I agree with you!
I am concerned about the teens today ... they don't really know how to have a conversation with people. If they are talking, they aren't looking at you because they are texting while talking! It is epidemic ... limitations should be set on all social media!