Thursday, December 08, 2011

The "E-Mail Effect" — And Its Impact

The subject is old, but this is possibly a new — or at least a different — perspective on it. The issue is what I call the "e-mail effect." It relates to the words you use or the reaction you elicit when e-mailing on a sensitive (or even a not-so-sensitive) subject.

Here is an example of an e-mail exchange between two people: "Are you prepared for the meeting tomorrow?" Answer: "I think so." Reply: "You THINK so? I hope so! Well, send me what you prepared!"

You can almost feel the anxiety level rising in that exchange. The "I think so" might have been a totally innocent comment echoing full preparation, but it could also suggest that there was doubt about just how thorough the preparation was.

Here is the point, according to the book HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life), by Dov Seidman: "Technology connects us more than ever before, but those connections are more fractured and incomplete than we are accustomed to. Missing are many of the clues [such as body language and facial expressions that] we need to fully decode the intentions of others."

Before the era of email, blogs, Facebook and Twitter — and particularly if we were communicating in person, over the phone or via handwritten letters — "the pace of information flow allowed enough time for even time-sensitive writing to receive a modicum of consideration before being sent. Not so with the various gizmos and gadgets we now find strapped to our belts or planted on our desks," says Seidman.

He calls it the Expectation of Response Factor. I would call it the Expectation of the IMMEDIATE Response Factor: a hasty reply is often desired — or required — over a more thoughtful response, delivered after due deliberation. Either way, the Response Factor influences the quality of our communication…and not always in a positive way. Electronically, the vibes are harder to interpret. Miscommunications can occur. Improper conclusions can be drawn.

That’s why I try to avoid discussing sensitive or complex issues via e-mail exchanges. I want to encourage more dynamism and give-and-take — and less pressure.

Of course, people can be taught to communicate more effectively electronically by learning to be sensitive to the agenda on the other side of the table. Nevertheless, for critical discussions, nothing beats a face-to-face encounter.

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