Email is a lifesaver in lots of business situations, but it’s not the right channel for every message you need to send.
When you send an email message that’s hundreds of words long, few recipients will be able to dig in and give your message the time you probably feel it deserves. Unless your recipient has asked you to communicate your thoughts in full detail in an email message, there is undoubtedly a better choice of medium.
A more effective way to communicate a lengthy point of view or explanation is to talk live or meet in person. That way, you and your colleague, customer or vendor can talk through the points instead of your recipient having to integrate them one after the other in a long email message.
Email is also bad for emotionally-laden messages. There is always a better way to communicate your strong feelings than to dash off an angry email message that cannot possibly make the relationship between you and the message recipient stronger.
Here are ten times never to convey what you want to say using email.
You messed up
It can be tempting to blast out an email message that says “Hey Bozo, you screwed up that order,” but it is never a good idea. If you want to upset the person you think messed up, then an email message will undoubtedly accomplish that goal, but what good will that do? If you want the person to really hear you, choose another way to discuss the topic, and don’t place blame.
I’m unhappy with you, I’m angry, or I’m disappointed in you
It has never been a good idea to send an email message to let someone know that you’re feeling hurt, insulted or angry, but people do it every day. Adults communicate face to face or via telephone or Skype when they have something sticky or personal to say, and this is your responsibility, too.
If you hold a different opinion from one of your co-workers, that’s fine — spirited debate is a great way for incredible ideas to emerge from a team. Never use email to say “You’re wrong,” even if you feel strongly about it and even if you have facts to back up your position.
When you stomp on a co-worker and say “You’re wrong,” you’re saying “I’d rather win the battle today and lose the war by souring my relationship with my teammate than take the time to get my point across while respecting everybody’s views.”
You obviously didn’t read my message – read it again!
It’s frustrating when people don’t read your email messages, but it’s not a great team-building strategy to fire off a message that says “Obviously you haven’t read my email message.”
Here is my lengthy argument or pitch
Go ahead and compose your lengthy argument or pitch for an idea or a plan in written form, but don’t send the email message when it’s done! Arrange to talk through your pitch in real time with the person who needs to hear it.
Here’s your raise (or your performance appraisal)
Never, ever communicate your team member’s salary increase or their performance appraisal rating via email. That is the height of tackiness combined with poor leadership. This kind of communication screams for synchronous conversation.
I’m still upset about what happened
Don’t use email to say “I’m still upset about what happened last week” or to bring up old struggles and arguments. No good can come of that! Find a quiet moment to talk with your co-worker or whomever you had conflict with, and say “I want us to resolve whatever came up between us.” You’ll never improve a relationship by saying “I’m still not over what happened.”
That isn’t your decision or You don’t have the authority to do that
Sometimes when a message hits your inbox and its contents alarm you — for instance, when a co-worker has written to you and your teammates ‘I’m going to go ahead with that plan’ and you violently disagree with your teammate’s direction — pick up the phone and call. Don’t send a message that says “That isn’t your decision to make!”
I’m going to go over your head
If you feel so strongly that you plan to take your conflict to your manager or another higher-up, do it, but don’t send an email message that says “I’m going to go over your head.” That kind of message is the business equivalent of a declaration of war. Talk to your temporary adversary live, instead.
Here is the whole story (with all the details)
No one can take in a long, complicated story when it’s conveyed via email. You may think your storytelling is as clear as a bell, but your colleagues may well disagree with you. Don’t force them to ingest a long, twisting story and react to it. Find another way to get your story across!
Use email for factual issues and ordinary scheduling and status update topics. Those are the situations email is best-suited for. Save the emotional, complicated issues for live conversations where you and the people you communicate with can clear up any confusion or hurt feelings and move on. Don’t make things worse by engaging in email battles that never have a winner!