Tim Timmons | Crawfordsville, IN

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June 13, 2021

3/7/2014 4:38:00 PM
E-mail a tool that goes both ways

Here are two statements of fact that I would argue are true and accurate.
1. E-mail is the best method of communication.
2. E-mail is the worst method of communication.
How in the name of Charles Dickens can that be, you ask?
Regarding the first statement, e-mail gives you the ability to be specific, to spell things out in writing, to confirm a detail . . .
On the second statement, an e-mail fails miserably in getting across nuances, or sentiment. It's cold, hard electronic type and is amazingly easy to misinterpret.
I can't think of many tools that have come along in the past 10 or 20 years that are so easy to use or misuse as e-mail.
There are numerous studies and reports out that list e-mail as the biggest single time waster in American business. If you've ever seen Internet and e-mail usage reports, you'll understand why. Online usage hits peaks just after 8 a.m. when people get to their desks and check e-mail, around lunch time and just before quitting time.
Is that all business? Hard to say, but I'm not that worried about how much time is spent online. We pretty much covered that topic two weeks ago on NCAA office pools. No, my soapbox is regarding the kinds of communication we try to have electronically.
Here's an easy rule of thumb: If your message could be awkward in a face to face setting, for heaven's sake do not use e-mail. If you are angry, do not use e-mail. If you aren't exactly sure how to say what it is you want to say, do not use e-mail. When in doubt, do not use e-mail.
Try this, for example:
Hi John -- Really nice job on the report.
If John isn't sure if you are trying to be sarcastic or serious, you've just given John a needless problem. In addition, if John did a nice job, a smile and pat on the back in person would mean a whole lot more. If John didn't, a sarcastic e-mail isn't likely going to correct the problem.
On the other hand:
Hi John - Just confirming the 2 p.m. meeting this afternoon. See you then.
It's quick, easy and efficient. It's also easy for John to alert you that something has changed if needed.
At the end of the day, e-mail is much like any other tool. It can be helpful or harmful. It all depends on who's using it.

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