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EMAIL: THE UPS AND DOWNS
We can't live without it, but we're paying a
By Kate (July, 2003)
You click away on your keyboard and in minutes you have sent
information, documents, and pictures. No longer do work schedules
need to be altered in order to be available for phone conversations
with business associates in different countries or time zones. Email
is definitely one of the best business advantages in the computer
Or is it?
Do you find yourself avoiding answering your telephone, letting your
voice mail answer in your place? Do you respond to your phone
messages via email? Do you avoid passing on bad news by phone,
opting instead to send an email? Do you sit behind your desk and
rely on email communication to manage your staff?
Do not misunderstand me; I rely on email and agree that it is a
wonderful business tool, but has this tool become abused? As email
users, each of us is charged with making sure we don't misuse it so
that it becomes a negative means of communication. For all the
benefits of email, there are at least three major drawbacks.
First and foremost is how impersonal business communication is
becoming. Remember when, in the not-so-distant past, information was
exchanged on the telephone or in person? These conversations often
included a comment or two about family, friends, or world events. A
few chuckles exchanged along with facts and figures. Remember how
more connected to that other person you felt, how those few extra
minutes worked to cement your relationship?
Black letters on a white background often fail to pass on the humor
of a voice, and fingers don't seem to have the minutes available to
type the few seconds of anecdotes the voices used to exchange.
Second, as managers we need to be aware of the length of time spent
on writing, answering, and clarifying emails. Do you or your staff
spend precious moments composing lengthy emails in an attempt to
accomplish the impossible: an email so clear that there is no room
for misunderstanding or questions? Go back through your inboxes and
count how many emails were written in response to the original one
sent or received.
I have a doozy that I put on the bulletin board above my computer to
remind me that email is not always effective. What started as a
simple question sent to three people ended up as a twelve-times
forwarded message. By the time the last response was sent, the email
now had nothing to do with the original question. During the course
of the forwarding process, people started firing off responses
because they felt they had to defend themselves. As the email grew,
so did the number of people in the "CC" box.
Five hours later the question still had not been answered, but the
tension level had soared. Productivity was down as employees spent
their time discussing each response as it was added.
All of this could have been avoided had anyone, including myself,
talked to the people involved rather than emailing -- a conversation
where questions could be asked and answered within minutes, not
still left unanswered after several hours.
Finally, have you ever sent an email to a group of addresses, then
realized seconds after hitting "send" that one or two
should not have been included? Frantically you search for an "unsend"
button, knowing it doesn't exist but hoping, just this once, you can
You put your head in your hands, utter an expletive or two under
your breath, then wait for the fallout. But the damage is done, and
when the messages start filling your inbox, you avoid them,
rationalizing that no one knows how often you read your email so the
senders don't know you know they're there.
Yet every time you go to your inbox they're still there, calling out
to be read.
AHA! You've got it! You don't have to face these people; you can
email a response and stay safely hidden behind your office walls!
Email is an effective business communication tool? I guess it
depends on the situation.
Note: Web expert Brett King looks at email from another angle
-- one that could seriously hurt your business. To read is take on
the subject, click on "Tech Topics."
(Note:Any business or industry topics you'd like to see Kate
write about? Email her at email@example.com.)