How reliant are you on email as a means of communication? Do you choose how to communicate with your clients and your team, or are you unconsciously emailing, whatever the situation? This piece will share some explanations of email’s pervasiveness, what we gain from non-email communication and then suggest some ways to break the spell.
The two issues with email are: that it is seductive because the problems associated with it come disguised as benefits. And secondly, the more you use email, the less practice you get at non-email means of communication.
The problems are disguised as benefits
Speed: email delivers messages fast. But this is a somewhat deceptive benefit. It just delivers fast. That’s all. Because when is a message truly delivered? It’s not when you’ve sent it. It’s not even when it’s been received. This is just technology speaking to itself. It’s when it is read and the impact is felt. And guess what. You will never see or hear the full reaction. You will at best receive a reply.
Ease: email is easy. Another deceptive benefit. It’s convenient. And it’s easy to do poorly. But it’s not easy communication. Ever tried to write a short email? Ever tried to get emotions across in an email? Email is surprisingly emotion resistant and very accepting of long form content.
Convenience: how many emails do your clients receive? Which ones do they read? Where are you? There is a growing trend towards chopping down time spent on looking at email in favour of other things, like thinking, reading and talking with colleagues. With this trend comes prioritisation of email. Not to mention junk filters etc.
The more reliance on email, the less practice of other means of communication.
And with less practice, you can easily start to believe you’re not as good at these. And this could increase anxiety and fear around those non-email means of communication. To the point where you forget they exist. In fact this is the bigger reason to consider your communication emphasis. Because when you practice non-email communication, you become better and more confident in other areas critical to your personal and professional growth, such as presentations, meetings and networking.
Here’s what’s going rusty, the skills we are neglecting, when we rely on email too much.
Spontaneity: we have to respond in the moment to what is coming back to us. We have to listen. We have to have a conversation where we may get asked things we don’t know the answer to.
Disruptiveness: we are being more interruptive with other means of communication. We are immediate, because we are there.
Vulnerability: we are putting ourselves out there. There’s no screen or keyboard. This is a bigger risk. We may say the wrong thing. And this may attract rejection.
By protecting ourselves from the above things, we don’t get any better at them when it comes to communication situations. In fact, we risk getting much worse. And even more reliant on email.
So what can you do? Here are some ideas as to how to break an email strangle hold:
- Create more awareness. Get a conversation going around the current behaviour within your business. What does your communication mix currently look like? What are you using more or less of? What are you using in any given situation? What works well and what works less well. What could be working better?
- Expand horizons. What is the range of communication scenarios encountered and what is the full range of options to address them? How appropriate is each against each situation? What are the benefits of alternatives to email? Create a charter and have it visible somewhere. If people can see they have choices, they will be encouraged to take them. Create experiments and see what happens. Why not create a budget line for postage and give your team a minimum spend target to hit? Or encourage them to run up a phone bill!
- Address any development areas.What do your people need, to feel more confident using non-email communication? By supporting their growth, you develop them into better presenters, better networkers and better communicators, all of which increases their personal growth and their ability to grow your business.
I’m not against email by the way. It has made our lives easier. It’s made us faster, more organised and better at monitoring the impact of our communications. The problem is, email has done this for everyone. And the combination of convenience and universal availability is potentially harmful to effective communication, particularly when we equate ‘pushing a button ‘with the belief that a communication has happened. We need to bring our ‘selves’ to communication, because the technology simply won’t do the whole job by itself.
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