Recently I was working with a client and was reminded just how destructive email can be when used incorrectly.
Like many companies, their standard form of communication is email. They are spread across Canada and internationally. People work together who never meet, and the default form of communication for all issues is email.
The problem is that people will often say things by email they would never say to your face. People use email to avoid dealing with conflict—it’s easier to fire off an email than deal with the issue head-on. Plus, there is always a record—the ultimate “cover your ass.”
Too often emails don’t get at the substance of the issue, or important elements do not get addressed because they rightly should not be put on paper. Words on paper can often be misunderstood by the recipient, causing escalation when none is needed.
My Perspective: Leaders build rapport based on emotional connections. If you really want to build relationships, you won’t do it unless you create an emotional connection with people—and that requires individualized interactions.
Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind the next time you think about sending an email when a phone call might work better.
- When you speak to someone personally, you have the opportunity to build rapport with your colleagues. The emotional context of the conversation is much easier to communicate. Too often the tone of an email is misunderstood. On the phone you have the modulation of your voice and it’s easier to communicate the feelings behind the words.
- The phone allows you to listen and build on their contribution more efficiently.
- If you misspeak, you have the opportunity to immediately address the situation. It doesn’t create an opportunity for the recipient to fester and contemplate their response. Although email does offer time for reflection, it too often is used to launch a counter-attack.
- Email prolongs discussion. I am sure we have all experienced entire conversations played out via email, with the entire company copied, looking for input from anyone and listening to no one.
- It’s not always what you say, but how you say it. Electronic communication removes the emotion and personality and we are left with the stark words. This is especially problematic when people are trying to resolve problems or communicate the subtleties of thought or emotion.
I agree that email has an important role in communicating, as do Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and a host of other digital channels. They have fundamentally changed how we communicate. They may deepen and broaden an existing relationship—but they cannot, on their own, create a deep relationship with a real emotional connection.
The digital channels cannot replace the live emotional connection we can create face to face or on the phone. That’s hard to replicate electronically.
Often if you ask a colleague who is having some difficulties with another colleague if they have picked up the phone, too often the response is “no.”
So the next time you are preparing to dash off an email, ask yourself, could this situation be better served through a phone call (or even a face to face). Then pick up the phone and build a relationship.