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Email – does it help or hurt communication at work?

Do you ever wonder how much time is being consumed by email communication? It is time that we stop and evaluate whether email is helping or hurting the communication in our organization. Management and employee email boxes clogged with needless cc’s and people hiding behind email to avoid meaningful communication with people. Hundreds and thousands of hours of productivity are being lost. Here are some thoughts on how to correct this situation.

When employees complain about communication, what do they really mean?

Do you wonder some times why people complain about communication and yet you feel that you provide more than enough communication? Why is it that something we do so much of, generally is done so poorly? With all the emails we send, surely people cannot say they don’t get communicated with!

People would think more highly of your company communication if they received timely information from their boss about what was going on in the company and how they are performing against expectations. Of course that assumes that their leader is actually informed of key information, so they could pass it along. One person recently commented, “I think my boss has a vision for where he wants our department to go and how I can help, but he just hasn’t shared it with me yet.” Are you keeping your expectations a secret hoping they will pick up your hints or perhaps read your mind?

Stop and quantify the email problem

Think of how many emails you receive each day. One manager recently complained, “I get at least 160 emails a day in my inbox, most of which are copies of emails sent to others just because my people think I need to be informed.” Aside from the spam (unwanted emails) that you quickly delete each morning, examine the other emails in your inbox. How many are of specific benefit to you – they contain information you need and want or require input or a decision from you that is key to the business?

Of the messages in your inbox, how many are so lengthy that you decide not to bother reading them at all? How many messages are you needlessly copied on just to keep you in the loop? Now quantify the wasted time you spend on the unnecessary email you have, multiply it by the hourly rate of pay you earn and multiply that by the 220 working days in a year, and multiply that number by 3 which represents the value you could have added to your company if you were not wasting your time with email.

Leaders who may hide behind email rather than really connect with people

Email makes it easy for people to hide. Let’s face it, some face-to-face discussions are uncomfortable – it is much easier to sit and compose an email, press send and move on to our next email. People are craving more connections with others, not less. Get away from your computer and talk to people. In many cases a longer email takes longer to write and send than a telephone call or drop in visit would take. We know that 38% of effective communication is tone and emphasis and 55% is body language. That means that email is missing 93% of the effectiveness in communication. No wonder people feel that communication is poor.

Email is meant to send brief factual information or send documents. It is not designed to be effective in persuasion, conflict resolution, problem solving or performance feedback. For these purposes you must either call or visit to accomplish your objective.

Our need for control may hurt our productivity

Do you wonder why you receive so many cc’s in your email? It could be that you have given the signal that you want to be “Kept in the loop.” You are being kept in the loop all right – the loop of lost productivity. You think you are having more control when in reality you are less in control. You time is being controlled by others by including you in their distribution list. Recognize this as a sign that you may not have fully delegated the authority and responsibility to others. Get on with delegation and unchain yourself from the false perception of control you have created.

Tips to help you turn this problem around and make email more effective:

Decide the objective of your communication and ensure email is the best medium for your message

Try to reduce your email usage and either call or go see people to improve communication

Get more comfortable with face to face communication – consider taking some training or coaching

Put your expectation or objective in the subject line or at the beginning of your message – use specific language, not words that can be misunderstood

Keep your emails short – 2 inches or less on your screen – if they are longer, either convert it into a letter, or better yet pick up the phone or go see the person

Watch how many back and forths there are – lots of replies indicates that it would have been faster to just call or visit the person

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