by Dr. Wesley Carter
Ask any professional and they will tell you that email is indispensable. Email serves a vital role in the operation process. Unlike live conversations, email enables individuals to rehearse messages before actually communicating to the recipient(s). In addition, email functions as a tool for communication, documentation, archiving, dissemination, invitations, tracking, and organizing.
However, the overreliance on text and email may be negatively influencing interpersonal relationships between professionals. Email simply does not have the potential to replace all communication mediums. There are at least five situations where email is not a very communication medium; debates, emotionally charged messages, private conversations, negotiations, and media richness needs.
The Rule of Six. If more than six emails are exchanged about the same topic between two people, within the same day, it is time to make a phone call. When numerous emails are exchanged within a relatively short period of time, email has outlived its usefulness and a voice-to-voice conversation is a more effective communication tool.
Context-sensitive messages. When the context of an email can be negatively misinterpreted, it is wise to make a phone call. Disagreements and misunderstandings can escalate quickly when emails are perceived negatively or too rigidly. In fact, emotionally charged communications may be exacerbated by email. A phone call provides both parties with the opportunity to clarify points and resolve issues in real-time.
Privacy Needs: One should never assume an email message is private. Electronic communications are never truly private. Most employers have the legal right to access any and all communication that occurs through company property. Truly private messages should never be relegated to email. If an email could be negatively perceived by organizational leadership or law enforcement, it should not be created.
Negotiations. Email is not effective tool for facilitating negotiations. However, after the terms have been negotiated, email is an excellent documentation tool. In a successful negotiation, each party feels fairly heard, represented, and compensated. Unfortunately, the lack of social cues inherent in email communication may not provide each party with enough information to perceive the negotiation positively.
Media richness requirements. Face-to-face communication is considered rich media, whereas text communication, such as email, is considered lean media. The classification of communication modes based on richness and leanness refers to the capacity for accessing social cues via a communication medium. It is easier to share social cues through face-to-face communication than email. Ideally, individuals should meet face-to-face when starting a new working relationship to negotiate the rules of engagement. However, face-to-face meetings are often impractical. In those instances where face-to-face communication is not possible, voice-to-voice conversation is the next best alternative. Email should only be utilized to kick-off new relationship if face-to-face and voice-to-voice are unavailable.
Before typing the next email, individuals should pause and evaluate whether email is the most effective medium to communicate the intended message. Taking a few seconds on the front end could save time, money, and relationships. It is an investment well worth the consideration.
Dr. Wesley Carter authors a weekly business column in The Charlotte Post newspaper. Carter holds a Doctor of Management (DM) degree from the University of Phoenix with an emphasis in Organizational Leadership, an MBA from the Babcock Graduate School of Management at Wake Forest University, and a B.A in Management from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This information may not be copied or shared without permission from Dr. Wesley Carter. If you have a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (704) 992-1211. This article originally appeared in the Charlotte Post.