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Stop Sending All That E-Mail

Think About The Importance Of What You’re Sending Before You Hit Enter.

By Steve Schumacher

The Wall Street Journal reports that the average employee today receives 228 emails per day and spends nearly 50 percent of their time each day managing their email. That is an increase of nearly 50 percent since 2007.

The speed and comprehensiveness of electronic communication is a huge plus, but at what cost?

The price we are paying for all of this email communication is an increase in misunderstanding and a drop in our ability to maintain focus.

If you’re like me, many times you’ve gotten an email and then sent it on to a friend asking “What the heck are they talking about?”

Communication between human beings happens three ways:

  • Visual message – this is body language. How the message looks. It accounts for 58 percent of communication.
  • Vocal message – this is the volume, speed and tone of the message. It accounts for 35 percent of communication.
  • Verbal message – the actual words we choose. It accounts for only 7 percent of communication.

So, what does that mean when it comes to email? It means, that using email allows us to communicate with only 7 percent effectiveness.

Words on a screen convey very little of exactly what we are trying to communicate. The non-verbals don’t exist in email, yet they account for over 90 percent of how communication happens.

Have you had someone send you an email, then see you in the hallway and ask, “Hey, did you get that email?” or you call them and they say, “I can’t talk; I’m sending you an email about that.”

We have become a world of keyboard and computer operators, when it comes to communication. We send out text messages, email blasts, CC everyone on meaningless information, and constantly fight with keeping our inbox at a reasonable level.

Heaven forbid we take a vacation and dread coming back to hundreds, if not thousands of emails.

Therefore, how do we maintain the value of email and at the same time minimize the misunderstandings that go with it?

  • Think about how you communicate with others.

Are you sending everything over email? How much of your time do you actually spend talking about issues on the phone or in person?

How many hours a day do you spend managing your email, either at work or at home? I had a young man in a workshop who said he and his wife regularly text each other in their house to see whose turn it is to take care of their crying baby.

  • Think about how important your message is.

If what you are trying to communicate is very important, try to at least get on the phone.

If it is vital that people understand what you are saying right away, try to speak to them in person. That way, people get all three parts of communication – visual, vocal and verbal.

  • Think about the costs of misunderstandings.

Before you send that email, ask yourself, “What is going to happen if this message is misunderstood?”

If the person that gets that email might go in the wrong direction or take action you didn’t intend, speak to them in person about it.

Let them ask questions and seek clarification. Keep in mind, if you’re the boss, people won’t usually tell you they don’t understand what you’re saying.

They don’t want to look stupid in front of you. Never ASSUME someone understands what you are saying simply because they say they understand.

  • Use powerful subject lines.

Too often, I see people use subject lines that do not create a sense of urgency for the reader. There are too many FYI’s used in subject lines. Use headlines like newspapers and magazines do. Grab the reader’s attention.

I work with one company where the CEO gives his quarterly company updates over a webcam to all employees. He could have made it much easier on himself by simply sending out a quarterly email.

He knows the power of communicating where people can see and hear him. There are a lot of tools available to communicate in person online. Use them when you have to tell your people something important.

Am I saying stop sending email? Absolutely not. The value of fast communication that has a huge scope is tremendous.

What I am saying is that when you use email to communicate too much, you are setting you and your employees up for a lot of misunderstanding and frustration.

Take some time to gauge the importance of what you are communicating before you add another email to everyone’s inbox.