I’ve sent emails to people sitting just a few feet away from me.
I’m sure you know what I mean. You’re sitting at your computer, cranking out a steady stream of answers and follow-ups, feverishly plowing through that endless to-do list…
And then it happens.
One of your co-workers pops their head into your office or cubicle and says “Hey…I just got your email.”
Crap. Would it really have been that hard to get up and take the quick walk to chat in person? Do they think I was avoiding them? Or that my question wasn’t “worth” an email?
I can come up with lots of reasons why using an email was the right choice. I didn’t want to interrupt them. I need the “paper trail” the email creates. They might want to see the previous email conversation to recall the specifics of what’s being discussed. I was in a flow and getting more done. Yep, lots of reasons why email was a good way to go.
But that doesn’t mean it was the best way to go.
Tons of articles, handouts, blog posts, and workshops have been done on email etiquette. They all typically cover the many ways that email can, at times, get us in trouble or make things worse. For example, email doesn’t communicate tone or inflection very well. We simply don’t pick up the auditory and non-verbal cues that are present when speaking face-to-face. But one element of email etiquette is often left unmentioned.
Email is a far less effective way to form relationships than actually…you know…talking to someone.
The interactions we have with others are the primary way we build trust. As a manager trust is the critical component of what you do: without it you have very little chance of being successful. If you want to cultivate strong relationships with those around you consider picking up the phone or taking that short walk in these situations:
To say thank you. Saying thank you is the simplest, most effective way to recognize someone. When an employee sees you taking time out of your busy day just for the purpose of expressing appreciation for those contributions it becomes all the more meaningful. If you want to follow up with an email after the fact, so they have something to add to their “kudo’s” folder, feel free.
To “check in” with someone. Has someone experienced a personal loss? Are they struggling on a project? Have they taken on more work in the absence of a co-worker? Pick up the phone and take a moment to check in with them. Offer help and support in whatever way you can. It only takes a moment but the impact will last and last.
After conflict. It’s human nature to avoid conflict. Conflict is uncomfortable, creates self-doubt, and triggers a wide array of emotions in each of us. When conflict occurs the next interaction suddenly becomes nerve-wracking. Or we allow anger, ego, or stubbornness to extend the conflict. Whether it started via email or in person, be the bigger person and pick up the phone. If it’s in the aftermath of a highly charged situation or a minor contentious interaction, you may be able to thaw the situation quickly by asking: “It’s important to me that we work through this together. How can we do that?”
When it’s gonna sting. If you need to share information or a decision that will provoke a strong reaction or disagreement, share it in-person whenever possible.
To share good news. Did a project proposal get accepted? Is someone getting a raise, title bump, or promotion? Did the requisition for new equipment get approved? Did a sought after candidate accept the position? Taking that moment to share good news via phone or in person should be the parts of your job you look forward to. And it demonstrates you are invested in the little victories your team gets to experience regularly.
To explore “why.” It’s been said that email is great for facts, less so for opinions. Keep your emails focused on the who, what, when, and where. If the conversation turns to why it might be a cue to stop typing and start talking.
(Now it’s YOUR turn! What do you think? What are some other circumstances where a conversation is a better choice than email? Share your thoughts in the comments section below! Thanks for engaging! ~Joe)