In a previous job I had a line manager who always used to communicate with me and the rest of the team by email. Rarely did he speak to us face to face about important or for that matter, less important things.
Email has become something of the medium of choice in the workplace; it’s fast, easy and flexible and we can use it to communicate with anyone, in any place and at any time. But does this mean it’s always the right or most effective way to communicate?
What feels like on a monthly basis, we get new technologies rising out of the ether that become new mediums for communicating but, despite the fact that it never improves or evolves, email remains the favoured means of communication in the workplace. It certainly isn’t dead by any means.
If you consider the amount of work that email generates though, I can never understand why nor can I remember life without it but somehow we managed … perhaps we talked to people instead.
For starters, email is very rarely, if ever, linked to other systems we use. It works on a ‘standalone’ basis and instead we have to transfer useful information into other technologies we use to manage our tasks – online calendar, client database, for example.
That’s before we think about the impact it has on our working relationships. I know for certain that the team I worked with had little respect for, and felt disrespected by a manager who rarely approached us face to face.
Email is a great tool to use at the right time and in the right situations. It is no substitute for communicating with someone face to face in ensuring we build working relationships, trust and engagement.
It’s so important to find the balance between using email to save time and taking a personal approach. A solid foundation for communication that recognises when it’s appropriate to send an email and when it’s the right time to talk face to face does wonders for interpersonal relationships.
The alternative is the risk of keeping staff at arm’s length so that they feel alienated and disrespected, not to mention the kind of things we often fail to think about when we send emails. What kind of a tone is likely to be assumed by the employee who reads your message, how will they interpret it, is it clear or ambiguous?
My advice is to use email to supplement, not to replace other forms of communication, perhaps to confirm a face to face discussion or to prompt the need for such a discussion. When it comes to giving feedback, establishing understanding and talking about performance, it’s a big NO.
By using email as his preferred means of communication, my line manager missed out on so many opportunities to explore ideas with the team, win them over in a difficult situation or to learn from them. We would have appreciated and understood him far more and vice versa if he had only taken the time out to talk to us.