While dating myself, I remember the days before email in business. Communications was as tough then as now. There was the misuse of voice mail, the inter office mail pouches with little strings to hold closed. Orange pouches for rush memo’s (within 24 hours delivery) – I can share a funny story on how one company added Rush Red envelopes that guaranteed delivery within one hour and ended up having 90% of all internal mail go this way; I still laugh thinking of all the golf carts they bought and people they hired to do this on a campus of 15,000 employees and in 3 months killed the whole idea because everything was Rush Red critical.
I can share horror stories of how in the olden times of the early 1980’s in business the challenge was to not have so many face to face meetings, or phone conferences that would go for hour after hour; staff meetings with the single goal for everyone to share how busy they were. I get the chills thinking of a stack of those little pink call back notes that would be clipped outside my door after lunch.
All of these and many other past examples pale in comparison to the danger that is sitting in front of almost 100% of every employee in the country today – email. It is a business killer like nothing before.
1. Not A Relationship Builder – It happens all the time. People have an emotion, an issue, want to make people aware of something and what do they do? Give someone a five-minute call? Walk down the hall and say, “hey I noticed XYZ and wanted to talk with you…” Schedule a meeting to talk it over. No they craft an email and shoot it off thinking “there now I have done my job!” (off my plate and now stuck in some else’s windpipe.) Best yet when they copy a whole department of people – now I’m cooking I showed everyone.
Maybe it is the sense that email is electronic, 100% controlled by the sender and not forever paper, but I have seen some emails in my time that are just so off base, personally attacking and well not accomplishing anything beyond making the person writing the email feel in the right and taking fake action. I know some people would never put pen to paper and write what they would in an email if they stopped and thought “oh my this letter will go in a file/document my message/ get posted to a wall somewhere.”
E-mail is so, so dangerous not just internally to team building and moral, but most importantly to clients and partners. Every email sent can tear down a client relationship in nano seconds. Email is great at documentation, great at project clarification, super to confirm or ask a question, but it is NOT a relationship tool. If there are issues in a project, an account, a relationship – something is wrong – do not use email to try and fix, address or even clarify. It will only worsen the situation.
Encourage your team members to schedule time to talk face to face or if that can’t happen there is this great thing called a phone they can use. Yes, the harder the conversation is or on the more likely email is not the right approach or tool. It makes the one sending the message feel good, accomplished, done – but whoever is getting it well that is where the trouble starts.
Imagine getting an email “Subject: Your Life – first sentence, I wanted to inform you that you have cancer and are going to die. While we feel horrible about this, please be aware there is nothing we can do.” Well people contact clients on mortal issues to their accounts everyday via email. Same with team members critical to the success of a business.
Email is not a conversation – it is a one way messaging tool that breeds a false sense of relationship and care.
2. Creates Misunderstandings Instantly – “Can you tell John to stop yelling at me?” Excuse me? “Well his emails are all in capital letters and I am not sure why he is yelling at me and I am about to just call it quits and walk from this job…”
This was a real conversation between an employee and me. They were very upset and felt belittled, angry, hurt. So I took the person and we walked (yes walked) 47 steps to John’s office and I asked, “are you mad at Russ?” John (57 years old) – No, why? “Well you keep sending him emails with all the words capital. “ He started laughing and was like “no man, I can’t see the letters if I don’t and what the heck if I was mad I’d walk down and have a face to face conversation. “
Yes, this really happens everyday. People get an email and they take it in many different ways. People look for meaning in any and everything. Even spelling someone’s name wrong or get the wrong title can trigger this “end of days” emotion and reaction.
I tell people all the time to have thicker skin when reading/dealing with email. To pick up the phone or walk over and say, “hey, what are you trying to say, do, get across???” and have a conversation. Really share. Really listen. Really hold a conversation.
Years ago I was assigned to an account to be a copy writer/ project manager. So I wrote some copy for a new reward program and sent it to the president of the client division I was working with (via fax, this was pre-email) to review. He wrote across the top of the copy page and faxed back “THIS SUCKS!” I laughed and told my boss at the time. He freaked out with a whole “we need to hold an emergency meeting and review the client relationship and strategy. This maybe them sending us a message that they are leaving us…” I said, “Wait, can’t I simply call the client and talk with him?”
When I called I said, “Hi, I’m David and I just want to find out what Sucks? The whole thing? Me? Us?” The client started laughing and said – “no I hated the headline everything else was great...”
In the world of email imagine I had responded with an email that was more in line with my bosses feelings “we have spent years developing our skills and ability, we take great offense to being told we suck, no it is you who sucks…” Actually the way it went we ended up with a better relationship and the program grew.
Email is not good for sharing intent, emotion or clear understanding. It really is a muddy pool with much of the picture of the sender missing from the story.
3. Gives A False Sense Of Doing Your Job – How many times have you heard the old “wow I’m busy I have like 300 emails to get through…” Email is not a result, it is not a business, and it is not revenue. It is also this false sense that people are “getting things done” and in many ways it’s like yelling to the wind that makes people forget what their business is really about - results.
Email is not a job, it is not even a requirement, right or qualification of a job. It's a tool – and like someone running around the office with an Ax would be a concern so should people using email to be his or her job or weapon of choice.
When teammates start to use email to bash others or bring issues to light in a group you need to stop them and get to the root issues. I find that when a business team uses email to address a problem (either a person or a situation) I feel like they are chicken, just not that committed, want to play at being a professional but not do the heavy lifting. It is so easy to craft a painful email vs. hold a painful face-to-face conversation. Which helps more? For me it's the conversation, because that is a human-to-human interaction vs. human to computer to human one.
Our careers are based on relationships, experiences and who we are as a person. Email is not a good way to show this depth, this trust, this care from who you are and what value you bring. You can't see peoples eyes of see their body language.
Email is so easy, so fast - but it has long term impact when the topic is tough or the emotion is deep.
So think about the person, think about the impact, think and about what the email could do to your relationship. If there is any doubt – stop and don’t send it. If there is real need than make the hard call, set up the time to talk. Because if that will not work then why the heck do you think an email would? Remember you want a result not a "there I sent the email now I'm done.."
Now lets talk about this twitter thing...