Contributed by Lorie Reichel-Howe, presenting: Coaching Managers to Become Inclusive Without Getting Crucified in San Jose, April 16th.
While email has made workplace communication efficient, there are times when face-to-face conversations are needed. At these times, defaulting to email is risky and may result in workplace nightmares.
When Technology Leads to Trouble
Who doesn’t love moving issues, problems and grievances off of a work desk? While auto correct protects us from grammatical errors, there is no technology discernment checker that alerts us when emailing is inappropriate and a conversation is necessary.
Email is your enemy when communicating concerns with a co-worker or manager, when addressing performance issues and when discussing a complex or contentious topic. Conversations trump technology and derail disaster when giving reprimands and when getting someone back on track.
Never email a colleague when you are in conflict. While confident of your ability to hide your frustration and anger, it’s next to impossible to compose a message presenting your case without releasing emotions. Sending email when you are angry or frustrated invites gossip and misunderstanding to move in and multiply. The words we compose while facing a computer screen, we would never say to someone in person. Impulsive mouse-to-mouse combat leads to workplace word wars and leaves a trail of HR violations.
Email Limitations and Liabilities
Email is devoid of context and human beings communicate through body language, expression and voice. Tone is difficult to interpret and easily misinterpreted without hearing the inflection of someone’s voice. Stop and reflect on the number of times you read an email and questioned ‘Why is this person so angry?’ when in fact, that’s just the way you read the message. Much of what we interpret is based on our current and ever-changing mood.
Yes, it can be challenging, awkward and difficult to talk to others about concerns, performance gaps and needed improvements. Even so, defaulting to email in an attempt to prevent coming across frustrated and angry is risky and dangerous. Instead of averting conflict, you may unintentionally start a workplace war!
Create Clarity: Email or Conversation
Peter Drucker hit a bull’s-eye target when he said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Regardless of your organization’s strategic planning and commitment to goals, the health of your workplace culture determines your bottom line. Employees need clarity on when conversations trump email. Discernment needs to be taught. Expecting today’s tech savvy culture to know when to walk away from a computer is a faulty assumption.
Train and Model Employees to Communicate
The way employees communicate will make or break any organization. Telling people to dialogue about concerns, without teaching them to do so, is an infraction waiting to happen. Training employees to communicate concerns while expressing their desire for others to be more successful, builds trust and partnership. Given that 65-80% of performance problems result from strained relationships – not from deficits in individual employees’ skill or motivation (Daniel Dana, Ph.D., Managing Differences), communication training is an investment with strong returns.
When people are trained to effectively communicate concerns, they will have the courage to delete their email, approach a coworker or supervisor, and ask for a ten-minute conversation. I wonder how many misunderstandings are averted when two colleagues determine not to email and instead talk together.
Email is a powerful and useful business tool when used for the right purpose. While electronic conversations are convenient and time efficient, some topics and situations are best addressed through conversations. At those times, divert disaster by deleting your drafted email and instead dialogue.
About the Author
Lorie Reichel Howe is founder of Conversations in the Workplace. She leverages over 20 years of expertise in communication and relationship management. She equips managers and teams to have “safe conversations” – transformative dialogue that uncovers hidden workplace issues. These conversations foster greater innovation, inclusion and collaboration within the organization.
Lorie will lead Next Concept HR Association’s local event, What’s Next -> Coaching Managers to Become Inclusive Without Getting Crucified (San Jose), on April 16th. Qualifies for 2.0 General HRCI Recertification Credits / 2.0 SHRM PDCs. Register here. Lorie is also a frequent speaker at HR West and contributor to Next Concept HR Magazine.