It feels to me like email is the most overused form of communication in the workplace today. I’ve focused a lot on this recently, with a post about how bad email can ruin your team and a guide to writing more effective emails as a leader.
While this site isn’t really meant to be focused on email, email seems to be a crutch that is leaned on by leaders and organisations almost everywhere. It’s easy to see why this happens.
Processing emails makes us feel like we’re doing something
When you go through your email inbox, you probably categorise the list, right? Urgent, not urgent, no need to respond, funny cat video, reply-all email from someone making a private joke with someone else you don’t know…
Then you write replies to the emails that need them. Once you have hit send, that email has been “processed” and you have accomplished something, right? Not necessarily.
There are several potential issues with the task you have just “completed”.
- Your hastily concocted reply may not have all the required information, forcing the reader to question themselves, read and re-read the email to see whether they’ve missed something. Ultimately this will result in a back and forth of questions and answers.
- Your reply raises questions for the reader to respond to. Therefore, no work has really been completed at all. You have simply added a delay in solving the problem by forcing the reader to create their own response.
Choosing the right communication method
Email is an overused form of communication, for sure. However, it does facilitate communication across timezones and allows persistent storage of conversations that can be referenced for later use.
What we need to do is choose more appropriate forms of communication depending on the purpose that we require and the circumstance. We also need to take into account the location where we choose to communicate. Don’t lay someone off using a personal phone call in the middle of an open-plan office! (It happens – I’ve seen and heard it myself).
As a leader this is critically important, in order for your team to do their best work and for you to spend your time doing what you’re meant to be doing…leading!
Communication methods – simple rules to follow
- Would the person you are communicating with like everyone else to hear what you’re saying? If the answer is no, then consider choosing a private location
- Is your communication urgent? If the answer is yes, then consider using real-time methods of communication other than email
- Is your communication relating to sensitive information such as salary or performance? If yes, then consider having these difficult discussions face to face, or by video call if you’re in different locations
- Will this communication require discussion? If yes, then shortcut the back and forth emailing and tackle it with real-time communication
- Will your communication possibly result in conflict? If yes, then consider approaching this communication in-person or with real-time communication to avoid misinterpretation and to clear issues up quickly.
The following table is also a useful guide to choosing the right communication method, depending on the circumstance. So use it to help you communicate more effectively!