It was in 1987 when I had my first encounter with email. At that time I was working at a small company where one of my tasks was to select and implement a new administrative IT system. After a careful selection process, we implemented a mini computer system that could do all we needed. As a bonus, the system came with a piece of office software that allowed us to do word processing, to make spreadsheets and to send email.
That email software was something with a high gadget level; we could now send messages to each other! It was a time where outside email communication was still impossible, and the most recent innovation we implemented was a fax machine. We worked in an office where everybody could see each other, so it made no sense to send an email message to the person next to you. As such, we never really used the email function.
What a difference 30 years makes. Nowadays everybody is connected and we don’t care if someone is sitting next to us, we’ll mail them anyway. Better even, with the click of a mouse, we include the entire office and some partners in a CC. Now everybody is informed and we have properly communicated.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”George Bernard Shaw
Communication is one of the cornerstones of successful collaboration and it should be open, transparent and inclusive. However, in my observation, most of the teams and partnerships that falter do so because their communication went sour along the way. People live in their computers and devices and send email for every kind of communication while forgetting about the person on the other side.
Even though email is convenient, it is one of the worst means of effective communication. There is a good chance that the recipient is reading your message in a different way than you intended it. It lacks true interactivity as well as immediate feedback that in-person contact can bring you. Simply to understand if your message is understood the way you meant it, is more difficult in an online conversation than it is in a phone, video or face to face conversation.
Email has its purposes though. When for instance working with colleagues, clients or partners on the other side of the world, it can be a very helpful tool to bridge the time differences. Also to confirm decisions, official announcements and for massive communication, email can be helpful.
When you choose to use email, keep in mind that the person receiving your email might be in a different mood than you when sending it. Keep your emails short and to the point. Consider to start off with the question or point you want to make before elaborating on the situation at hand. This way the recipient already knows what to look for in your message.
However, before you send your next email, remember that most people are just one phone call away!
PS: Have that feeling that you receive too much email? Then realize this interesting fact: the amount of email you receive is directly connected to the amount of email you sent!