When Not to Send an Email

September 30, 2015

Connect Member

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In today’s world, we express ourselves through so many different technological channels that we have to decide, with every communication, the best mode of transmitting an idea, thought, or question. In turn, this has added an extra decision to every interaction we have.

Some communications do not take much thought. For instance, I know that the best way to get a response from my kids is by texting them. At the office, coworkers often successfully work out everyday issues by using email, while a hiring manager would want to see and speak to a prospective candidate. It is when the decision about which line of communication to take is not so obvious that we have a choice to make.

The truth is, it’s often easier to stay behind a computer and email someone than it is to speak to them face-to-face. You can say things that you might be hesitant to say otherwise. However, there are lost opportunities when you forego a conversation for electronic exchanges. My rule is that the tougher the communication, the more important it is to do it in person.

I was recently witness to an employer letting a key staff member go with a termination email. It is understandable — who wouldn’t want to handle such an uncomfortable task in that way? But the bottom line is that it didn’t really go well. As one might predict, the terminated employee was very upset and left searching for better closure. An in-person meeting and proper exit interview might have avoided the drawn-out, hostile exchanges.

So when is it necessary to “use your words”? The following scenarios are examples of when email will just not cut it:

  • You don’t know the person and you want to establish a connection. For example, if you’ve met someone at a networking event and you want to follow up and request a meeting, they are much more likely to respond to a follow-up phone call (or two) rather than an email.
  • The issue at hand is serious or complex. I believe the termination example above gives credence to this point. There are so many difficult conversations that can be misconstrued. If a communication could go seriously wrong, it warrants a conversation.
  • Body language will better help show your passion or convey your message. Why do sales reps travel to meet with their customers? They have an opportunity to share their enthusiasm for their products and to engage using language that extends beyond words on a screen. Their physical energy can literally affect the outcome.
  • The discussion is likely to have a heavy amount of follow-up Q&A. Think of that project that you’ve tried to complete via email that becomes a flurry of back and forth discussion with no real end in sight. Those projects are more suited to meetings, with email used to reinforce the meeting decisions.
  • You are looking for someone’s involvement in a specific project or engagement. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I filled my workshop only after I got on the phone and asked people to come.” Sometimes online marketing just can’t compete with a phone call.

Although there is no doubt to the benefits of technology in today’s business world, there is still something about good old-fashioned human interaction that cannot be replaced. During my time in corporate America, I’ve found that the more you practice in-person verbal communication, the more you will actually stand out.

Michelle M. Perkins is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.

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