I would like to discuss an “Art” that we are all at risk of losing, because we just don’t seem to using it anymore.
The “Art” I am referring to here is the Art of Communication.
In my view, technology has allowed the speed of communication to be increased, but not necessarily the quality.
With our current pace of life we have forgotten how important it is to think through and plan our messages, and our emotional response. The speed of communication afforded to us through technology, has many feeling threatened. As a result, we are mostly reacting from our reptilian brain.
This pace of life is eliciting a purely fight or flight response within us. We fire off emails to each other, barely taking the time to read them over before sending them. We very rarely engage in any upfront thinking of our intention behind the message we are sending. We don’t reflect on how it will be interpreted by others. This often leads to offices full of the “Walking emotionally wounded.”
“Email is a widely used tool for business communications, but a 2013 survey by Sendmail, Inc., found that it has caused tension, confusion, or other negative consequences for 64 percent of working professionals.” (https://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/EmailCommunication.htm). We have perverted the use of email, which was only intended to be a supplementary form of communication.
We have perverted it by trying to replace all forms of human-to-human interaction with it. Heaven forbid we pick up the phone or walk over to someone’s desk. We seem to have forgotten these “prehistoric” modes of communication. “Oh but I sent you an email!” has become our mantra.
Email has become the bane of our lives. However it is here to stay… So with that said, I think it’s important that we instil some communication values and guidelines on how to “effectively” use this tool. Especially if we want to preserve our team’s productivity and rapport.
Here are my personal communication values and top guidelines for using email as a communication tool.
- Email is a supplementary communication tool: Email should not be used to replace verbal / face to face communication. It is always better to talk to someone than to send them an email. If this is not physically possible please use the host of tech tools now available to us, Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp video. Being able to see someone when you are communicating eases the process, leads to better understanding, and builds stronger relationships.
- Respond with the end in mind: Don’t fire off that email without carefully considering the message you are trying to send and the response you are wanting to elicit. Choose every word carefully, keep in mind who you are sending this message to and why? Always remember that we are all people first, we feel! We act on those feelings. When planning your message start by identifying the emotion you want to elicit. Review your message from an emotional point of view.
- Email should never be used to communicate urgent information: This is what Phones, or at the very least WhatsApp message, are for. If you are needing to use an email to communicate something that requires prompt attention, please give the recipient a heads up. You can do this by either using WhatsApp or going completely old school and actually calling them.
- Emails should never be longer than four lines: Anything longer means you should find another way to send this message, like a conversation! People do not read long emails, it’s that simple. It takes a huge amount of mental effort to focus on a long and detailed email. If you have to use email for messages like this please chunk your information and contextualise it. And for goodness sakes use bullet points.
- Use the subject line to your advantage: Your subject line should not only serve as a headline (similar to what you see in a newspaper) but should also inform the recipient of the action that needs to be taken and the priority of the message.
- Use instructions like:
- For your Action;
- For your Review;
- For your information/attention
- Assign a priority rating. Choose between high, medium, or low priority. Or come up with team specific ratings like a “code red” for something urgent or even a “code pink” for those inevitable office memes that do the rounds.
- Remember the basic etiquette rules:
- Check and recheck your tone. We can so easily misconstrue ourselves over email;
- Never respond in anger;
- Never share anything confidential;
- Never use it to insult another person;
- Check the recipient/s before clicking sending;
- Blind Copy (unless being used to protect people’s information) is a disaster waiting to happen. If you find yourself in the position of wanting to blind copy other members of your team or leadership, check your intentions? This is a big red flag that speaks to a lack of transparency within the team. Instead try to understand and work through why you and your team members are lacking transparency… I feel a values centred conversation coming on;
- What is important and urgent to you may not hold the same meaning for someone else. Following up with a different communication tool is important. If you are not getting a response via email try a phone call or sometimes it’s even as simple as walking over to the person, whom often times is sitting right next you;
- Email is not a venting tool;
- Please, Thank you, Punctuation and Grammar should never be sacrificed. What a waste of all time in English class if we don’t use it;
- Learn to use Outlook to your advantage. If you are sending an email for someone to action assign them a task instead. It can be set up with reminders etc. which make following up a breeze. Enabling yourself to use outlook more productively is as simple as pushing F1. You will be amazed by what you can learn;
My final pointers on effective communication especially when it’s via email, is that communication is the creation of meaning between two or more people. There is always a sender and receiver. They are not the same person. They hold unique world views, which they use, mostly unconsciously, to interpret your message. So when you are the sender of a message it is your job to facilitate the process of shared meaning construction and understanding. If someone is not understanding you, it is because you are not communicating it in a way in which they understand. This means that you need to find another way to communicate in order to gain understanding.
Lastly, please stop responding from your reptilian brain. Get your Amygdala out of the way, engage your pre-frontal cortex, and as Eric Berne (Transactional Analysis) would say respond in the Adult state.