When I talk with business leaders about the importance of effective communication, I stress how critical it is to choose the best context and setting for the message. If you want to praise someone for a job well done, you want as many ears as possible to hear it so that you are communicating to a wider audience that this is the kind of work you value. Conversely, if you need to correct someone’s work, you need to do so in a setting that allows for them to question your feedback, respond to it, and take notes about what they will do differently next time.
Those who know me well know where this is going. Why on earth do otherwise intelligent leaders use email to communicate critical information? I must rant a bit here. Yes email is fast, hit a few keys and send it on its way. But the one thing you cannot control with an email message is the context in which it is read. The proliferation of hand-held devices has made this situation much, much worse.
People are now reading and reacting to emails in any of the following situations (and a few more):
- at their desk in their office (good),
- waiting for meetings to start (maybe okay)
- on the subway, metro or in the carpool (bad)
- standing in line at the grocery store (bad)
- during dinner (definitely bad)
- before they go to bed (really bad)
- first thing they do in the morning after getting out of bed (bad bad bad)
I could go on, but you get my drift. If you cannot predict the circumstances under which someone is reading the email, do not use it for anything other than factual, unambiguous information. Build time into your day for direct, face-to-face interactions for those messages that need to be clarified and reacted to. And please don’t say you don’t have time. Sorting out endless threads of garbled emails and the subsequent problems caused by the massive miscommunication is a far greater drain on your time and productivity than a few simple conversations.
Okay, rant over.