I just read a superb post by Edward Boches at Creativity Unbound. He refers, in a funny but accurate way, to the struggle some have to stay on top of all things digital, do their jobs and maintain their lives. Read it, the post and comments are great.
Edward’s thoughts and my current work situation (we’re doing a six city PR stunt on the 20th) inspired this little rant.
I despise email. In fact I say this to my long suffering staff and almost anyone else who will listen at least 5 times a day but still, like you,I drown under a pile of it.
Why the hatred?
1) As a communicator the inability and/or unwillingness to convey tone in emails kills me. Lots of other mediums – text, Twitter etc – have the same issue but since email is the default for much business communication (at least in my world) this becomes a problem. It leads often to big time misunderstandings particularly if one party is just busy (“oh that bastard is curt”) or trying to be funny/sarcastic (“what is this idiot saying, does he not get that we are SERIOUS”). I have spent many hours cleaning up messes that trace back to someone getting pissed because they did not understand the tone of an email. Smiley faces 🙂 alone do not mitigate the problem.
2) I manage a remote team who are spread across the continent and do not work in my firm’s head office. Email is thus a great way to breed miscommunication. “Ah!” you say, “all this means is that you are a shitty communicator.” Maybe, but not most of the time.
The greatest professional tool I have learned about in the last 4 years (during which time I did an MBA) is reflective listening. When somebody tells me to “Call John and tell him no,” the first thing I do is say “Just so I am clear we’re saying no to John and you would like me to call him and tell him this,” or some such variation thereof. I used to think this was belittling people. It ain’t. It allows the other person to know you understand what they’ve said. It is really easy to practice reflective listening in conversation and in person. However, we don’t tend to do this in email exchanges (likely because speaking still takes less effort than typing for most of us). The end result is miscommunication. If you are in a managerial situation where you don’t see your team or bosses face to face very often the tendency for people to not engage in reflective listening via email is a KILLER.
3) This point segues with number two. There are times when email is a fast, easy way to communicate. It is great for this. However, the loss in productivity that accrues via the misunderstandings and fuck ups it engenders far outweigh the energy expended on dealing with more things via phone, Skype, or face to face exchanges. I think most of us, particularly those who work in spread out organizations, have simply forgotten what email is and is not good for as a comms tool.
4) The goddam culture of CC’ing irks me to the core. The CC would better be dubbed the CYA (cover your ass) in most instances. For some reason micro managers and/or their scared shitless minions have decided that all conversations should take place between many parties in the interest of “keeping us all in the loop.” Screw your loop – between seventy and ninety percent of the CC’s that I receive I have no use for.
This is not a Luddite rant. Email has great applications and all our professional lives would be markedly different without it. We need, like Don’t Call Me Steve Harper, a “recalibration” period during which time we consider how to most effectively use email. Shit is gettin too hectic!
Please, just call me. It is so much nicer and a more effective way to do business.
Do you feel the same way?