The Dangers of Electronic Communication

Communicating Too Much By Email May Cause A Lot Of Misunderstandings.

By Steve Schumacher

I was speaking to a senior manager recently and asked him if he feels like he communicates enough with his employees. He said to me “Oh yes, I am constantly sending them emails.” When I asked him how much time he spends in face-to-face communication with his employees, he said, “Not much, unless there is a problem.”

A few days later, I happened to be talking to several of that same senior manager’s employees and casually asked them how well their boss communicates with them.

Without hesitation, they said that he is constantly sending them emails with assignments and direction, but they are very difficult to understand. They forward those emails to each other to try to see if their colleagues understand what their boss is saying.

When I asked them why they do not ask the senior manager to clarify his emails, they told me they did not want to look stupid in front of him.

Wherever I go, I find similar situations when it comes to managers communicating with their employees. The manager thinks that he is communicating effectively by sending out a lot of emails, yet employees are easily confused by a lot of words on a screen and are hesitant to be straight with their boss for fear of coming across as incompetent.

Bosses tend to use email to communicate a great deal because it is quick, efficient, and they can send the same information to a lot of people at the same time. What so many managers do not realize is that effective communication must go beyond the written word.

Words alone only account for 7 percent of communication.

Study after study has shown that effective communication between people comes through body language and tone of voice. In fact, 93 percent of communication happens through non-verbals. Phrases like “read between the lines” and “your actions speak louder than words” attest to that fact.

Take time to talk face-to-face.
I see too many managers sending far too many emails, regardless of the importance of what they are trying to say. Everyone is busy and it is easy and quick just to send out emails instead of taking the time to talk to someone in person, or on the phone. Think about this – research says that about 60 percent of the emails we send are to people that are within 50 yd. of us.

Gauge the importance of your message.
Remember, to the receiver, every message on their computer screen looks the same - words on a screen. So, the important information about budget cutbacks looks the same as the latest news about the company picnic. Take a moment and assess how you primarily communicate with people. If it is almost all by email, try to start gauging the importance of each piece of communication you are sending. If it is very important, and the risk of misunderstanding is high, try to get face-to-face or on the phone.

I know one CEO of a major international company who gets on a webcam to give his quarterly company updates with all employees. Yes, he could have an assistant type up his report and send an email to all employees. That would be very efficient and quick. However, he understands the importance of his employees seeing his body language as he speaks.

Communication happens with the receiver, not the sender.
Effective communication only happens when the receiver fully understands it, not when the communication is sent. I have heard so many managers say “But, I sent them an email about it!” Emails do not equal effective communication. You must give the receiver the opportunity to ask questions and clarify what you are saying. That is best done face-to-face.

Perception is reality.
As a manager, one of your primary responsibilities is to communicate effectively with everyone in your organization. Your perception of your communication ability is not necessarily how others perceive it. In order to understand how you communicate, you must ask for feedback from the people you communicate with. Be careful when you ask. Most people will not want to hurt your feelings, so they will tell you what they think you want to hear. In order to get honest feedback on your communication ability, you must be sincere in your request, thank the person for the feedback, and then act on that feedback.

In this world of 24/7 communication, and emails coming at us constantly, it is vital that you take time out to assess your communication style and make any necessary adjustments. By reducing the number of emails you send, and increasing the time you spend in face-to-face discussions, you will cut down on misunderstandings, increase productivity, and build a greater relationship with everyone you deal with.

Do Your Communications Have Room For Improvement?

Every leader has room for improvement in the way they communicate with both their superiors and employees. The fast-paced workplace environment and immediate but impersonal nature of electronic communication has diminished many leaders' ability to effectively convey their message, gain valuable feedback and lead their organization.

Surveys often show employees are concerned with the quality of communications in the workplace. Many feel companies give lip service and are not sincere in the messages they communicate. Others feel the only way information is imparted is through memos on bulletin boards. Still others feel instructions or policies are vague and difficult to interpret and follow.

This is important to recognize because ineffective communication begets poor cooperation and internal coordination, decreased productivity, and increased tension, absenteeism and turnover. Voids in communication are then filled with extremely damaging gossip and rumors. These repercussions seriously undermine a leader's efforts to facilitate change within their organization, a crucial ability in today's business climate.

By Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.