Posted by Sophie Knox on 13 March 2014
Email has so many advantages: information delivered in an instant; documentation cemented in your inbox; communication with colleagues in other time zones. But the major problem with email these days is its overuse. Some conversations are just not made for online. Sometimes you need to engage with a person, or at least pick up the phone, to achieve the best results.
Email can be a very poor medium when trying to resolve interpersonal problems, so if you have an issue with a work colleague, try to keep your communications face to face – even consider having a third party in the room for the sake of adjudication.
Here are some other instances when email is not the right medium.
When you’re mad
Anger triggers stress hormones, and stress takes you out of your normal, level-headed reaction zone. Wait a few hours, or even a day, to allow yourself to cool off, then figure out the best way to reply.
When you are criticising or delivering bad news
In this instance, hiding behind email can provide a false sense of bravado. We say things we would never have the courage to say in person – a sign we should not be saying them at all. Delivering negative news or constructive feedback is never easy, but when you do it in person you at least have the advantage of using body language, reading visual cues and possibly resolving the issue there and then.
Even if you need to put the communication in writing, deliver the first blow by phone or in a meeting. Put yourself in the receiver’s shoes and make a negative experience as positive as possible.
When the issue is ambiguous
A message can often get lost in translation when delivered by email – voice inflection and tone are absent, and there’s no opportunity for interjections from the receiving party. Deal with issues that could be misconstrued face to face without having to go into damage control after the fallout of a misunderstood email.
When you’re asking someone to perform a task
It’s never good to be on the receiving end of an email outlining all the things someone else would like you to do, especially a colleague to whom you do not report. Obviously, the email format is a useful way to document action items, but before you start firing off orders, you should pick up the phone or head to the person’s desk and give them due warning about what’s coming. Give them verbal notice that you’d like them to take on certain tasks and they’ll be far more willing to do so once the email arrives.
If there’s something you need to say that’s important to you and the business, there’s a good chance the person on the receiving end genuinely wants to hear it from you in person, not via email.