Email Doesn't Suck, People Suck At Using Email
I hear people say all the time, "email sucks as a communication tool, we should stop using it.". To me that's like saying, "speaking to each other sucks, and a terrible way to communicate."
Have you ever talked to someone that doesn't make sense, is too verbose, or maybe is so callous it's difficult to communicate with them. They are a poor verbal communicator and aren't using the medium well, and haven't learned how to use speech. Send them to a public speaking or debate class, and they will improve speaking.
It's the same with email! Email is amazing, and changed the way we communicate but of course is overused and more often misused. It's not about stopping using email, it's about when to use it, and how to use it in concert with other communication mediums.
Good Communication is an Art, Not a Science.
Knowing when to use email, the phone and IM is an art, which takes a thoughtful, proactive and common sense approach. They are ALL great forms of communication if used properly and in concert. I started my sales career with only phone and in-person visits, without good communication, you fail in sales. Even back then it was an art to figure out the right ratio between visiting a customer and talking via phone. I'd make fifty calls a day, warm up leads, get them through the process a bit, then visit the small few that were qualified in need and budget. Imagine if I visited fifty before qualifying them? I would of never sold anything.
All forms of modern communication caught on or were widely adopted because they all work for specific situations. But unfortunately they are misused or used in under the wrong circumstances. Here are some important characteristics of each that will help you decide when to use each.
- Most people use their Inbox as a ToDo list
- Have a longer life, emails can sit in an inbox for a weeks
- You have very little of their attention
- People are most bold, or willing to state true emotions, create conflict and generally be more brave.
- Easily ignored
- Immediate communication only, "need to know now"
- Single topic
- Has no life, dies within minutes of messaging
- You have medium their attention
- People less bold, less likely to give true feelings, avoid conflict
- NOT easily ignored
- The only way to read between the lines in communication
- Great for multi-topics
- Has no life but subjects linger longer in memory
- You have their full attention
- People are least bold or likely to create conflict, most compromising. When I had really bad news in sales, I always visiting customers or called them.
- Easily ignored
How To Use Each?
All three forms of communication fit perfectly together, and should ALL be used. BUT are absolutely an art and something that needs to be thoughtfully considered and mastered over time. They can be used separately or together but if you do not use all three and use them effectively, if will substantially stunt your career.
I need to get a hold of someone on an important subject. You sent them an email with a brief but thorough description of the topic, problem or question. They are not responding. You then use IM or phone to force their attention to the email, but because the email can be written in long form and lives forever, it can be referenced and re-read. Using phone and email together are essential in this example.
Need quick response to move forward. IM is perfect here, you can see when someone is online, the message pops up in their face and they can continue viewing facebook while answering you.
Need to close a sale. Email the proposal in detail, with an attachment but of course they aren't responding. I have two techniques I've always used, I forward the same email bi-weekly, "just wanted to make sure you got this" and calling them first thing in the morning and in the last hour of the day. I know statistically they are in meetings all day and are mostly likely at their desk during those times. I'll make 50 phone calls, until they finally pick up. Then I refer to the email.
Perhaps the most important skill is to know when an email conversation should be "escalated" to a phone call. There are three email situations where this needs to happen.
- Brainstorming. I've found that brainstorming via email is a terrible idea and gets wildly out of control Smaller subjects work but not big ones.
- Discussion thread has exceeded 4 or 5 replies. Most of the time it's time to conclude the discussion via phone.
- Emotions are flaring. Because people are most bold in email and context is not always understood, if it's getting heated, get the hell off email and on the phone. You'll save everyone a lot of anguish.
Please use common sense and be thoughtful about how all three forms of incredibly useful each form of communication can be.