How many emails do you send a day? How many do you receive? How often are your emails misunderstood? How can you make your email communication more effective?
This week, two of my clients described situations in which they were repeatedly expending a lot of time and energy because of being misunderstood and an exchange of emails was to blame.
Email is a highly effective communication tool when used well. However it’s ripe for problems. What are the pitfalls to avoid?
- Tackling an issue where emotion is involved
- Resolving differences of opinion
- Giving bad news
- Including the wrong people
- Sharing information you don’t want forwarded.
Why we fall into the pits: These pitfalls probably seem obvious but I can’t tell you how often I see people doing all of the above by email. Why do we fall into these “pits” so frequently?
- Email (or texting) is fast and easy, so we approach it with speed and tend not to give it as much thoughtful reflection as we might give something we were putting on paper.
- It’s easier to use email on emotional issues because it allows us to avoid the emotional response we might fear (either our own or the other person’s).
- Emailing is a solo activity and so we tend to sit inside ourselves rather than in connection with the receiver. If we were face to face or even on the phone we’d at least have to take the other person more into consideration.
- We’re so busy, we’re multitasking when we’re emailing or thinking about the next thing to do so we’re not giving the email our full attention.
Mindfulness: Recently I read a blog post about a course on mindfulness called Search Inside Yourself offered at Google. Apparently, the folks at Google are so stressed by the fast pace and astronomical expectations that they need skills to manage that stress. (True for all of us?)
One of the elements taught is mindful emailing to avoid the risks and unintended consequences of stressed people reacting to assumptions they make from misinterpreted emails. When you’re a leader, this risk intensifies. The blog didn’t explain how to write mindful emais, but I’ve got some thoughts.
Mindfulness involves being completely attentive. So mindful emailing seems to me to involve attending to the whole context of that email, not just the specific content.
Mindful Emailing: For each email, I could consider all of what I know, all of what the recipient knows, what I might want them to know, what they might want to hear, who else might read it. It involves the framing of the issue, the data, the context, the emotions. I could pay careful attention to how I could be misunderstood based on the differences in all of the above, the gap between where I am and where my recipient is.
Finding time for this: Okay, I hear you saying, “I get 500 emails a day. As it is I’m constantly behind on my email. How can I possibly do that for each email?”
You can’t. But how much time does a misunderstood email take to rectify? So a pause before you write, and another pause before you hit send could be a valuable investment of your time.
Before you compose an email, take 10 seconds to envision the recipient and where they’ll be (metaphorically) when they read the email.
Before you hit send, take another 10 seconds to envision the recipient again and imagine how they might interpret your email. (Or mis-interpret it.) Rewrite if necessary. If the gap is to big, pick up the phone, or if possible, walk down the hall.
ROI: Twenty seconds of mindfulness now might save you hours of time later.
Which emails might it be worth your while to spend an extra 20 seconds on today?