Email brings up good and not so good memories for me.
Although we were already using email at the office, the magical moment for me was when I set up an email connection at home and presto! I was able to send and receive work emails from home, thereby improving my productivity…ahh progress I thought – that was about 30 years ago.
Then there are the not so good ones. Although it has long since been taken over by SMS as humankind’s primary means of communication, email is an indispensable tool in the office. Most are normal exchanges of information, but far too many are hostile or unambiguously negative emails. These emails, otherwise known as nastygrams, have the tendency to fly whenever conflict arises, and are meant to convey maximum satisfaction. We have all sent or received one. They are time-consuming, energy-draining, and tend to only escalate the dispute. If you receive a hostile email or start writing one…
Delete the draft, close your email, and pick up the phone. This isn’t rocket science, nor is it anything new. Articles in Forbes, Fast Company, and Harvard Business Review are all singing the same music. When a face-to-face meeting isn’t optional due to time or geographical constraints, calling is the best option. But despite recommendations from the brightest minds in the business, it is still common practice to craft that perfect email proving our displeasure. On the surface it seems easier. We hide behind our digital walls to avoid direct confrontation, while still having the feeling like we got something accomplished. This is simply wrong and prolongs conflict.
The Fallacy of Email
Email is incredibly efficient when it comes to quickly exchanging information, but it falls short because communication is much more than that. To offer an example, one could use the phrase “that’s interesting.” Depending on the context and tone, that could mean that the person is genuinely interested or that what you are saying is absolute nonsense.
Along with nonverbal cues, email lacks the ability to sufficiently communicate intent. This is the core of the problem. The intent of an email may not even be hostile, even though it can be received as such. In the New York Times business bestseller Difficult Conversations, the authors describe email as a “serial monologue”.
“There’s no opportunity to interrupt for clarification, to see the other’s reaction and correct course or to test our assumptions about their intentions before locking into our interpretations and emotional reactions.”
“Difficult Conversations” reminded me that it is impossible to be sure of someone’s intentions without them being made explicit. You can only truly know your own. When you hear someone’s voice or observe facial expressions, you can gain a better understanding of the intentions of your counterpart, while email leaves the door wide open for any interpretation.
For this reason, the complex task of conflict resolution requires a more nuanced approach and it calls for a bit of courage. It does not matter whether you are upset, confused, need to give an explanation or feel that you are owed one. Suggestion: Talk it out.
As I was saying, it’s true you need a bit of courage to do this but if you do it right, you will see all the benefits. In my next article I’ll give you a few tips that will help you prepare for “the big moment”, so stay tuned…
About Paul Renaud
Paul Renaud is a Certified Executive Coach, Networking specialist, and sought-after public speaker focused on helping executives at all stages in their careers optimize their opportunities for success. To learn more, visit www.paul-renaud.com