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Why Email is Good For Us

post # 112 — June 19, 2006 — a Careers, Client Relations, General post

One of my past clients wrote to me as follows:

I’m planning a lecture to my staff and selected clients on the issue of e-mail versus personal contact (phone or face to face). Clearly the generations – boomers, xers and y’s relate quite differently to e-mail. Are we hiding behind our e-mails both internally and externally? I advocate we are increasingly.

I love being paradoxical, controversial and counter-intuitive, so even though it’s traditional to bemoan the increasing use of email, let me (just for the heck of it) take the other side and try to make the case (my points are serious here) why using email is INCREASING our abilities to connect:

a) You can type, re-type and re-re-type an email until it says what you want, the way you want it. Done right, there are none of the ambiguities of human speech ( “What I meant to say was..”) Email can promote clarity

b) You can ask a friend or a spouse or anyone else to help you say it right. Try doing THAT in the real world. Email can promote collaboration and friendship

c) You can keep five or six (or more) conversations going at once without anyone feeling slighted that you do not have all your focus on them alone. Email means you can make everyone feel special.

d) You can keep track of what people said and hold them to their promises. Email can promote honesty.

e) Email removes the visual, body-language, verbal-accent cues that we over-rely on when reacting to other people: email can promote the importance of reason and logic, and reduces bias due to gender, racial or national background or appearance. It is profoundly democratic and politically important.

f) Email allows us to think before we react, thereby promoting less stress, thoughtless comments and knee-jerk reactions. It allows people who are not naturally quick at interpreting other people’s remarks to reflect and respond with greater emotional intelligence. Email can facilitate good relationship interactions and language.

Seriously, folks, beyond the clichés that we have all heard, what do you think the strengths and weaknesses of email have been. How is it really changing us for the better AND for the worse?


Brad Farris said:

Good things about email:

1. It makes it easy to move documents from almost anyone to almost anyone.

2. There are those who will never return my phone call, who will always return my email.

3. It’s precise (written) communication, that leaves an audit trail (”… On June 20 you said…”). (Similar to David’s point d above.)

4. It allows for more asynchronous communication. Remember when we had to use voice mail for that? Sometimes it took hours to go through them all and you could only go through them serially. Email is much more effective than voice mail was.

5. The tools to create, process and read email are getting better and better. I can create a task reminder or calendar entry right from an email an retain all the background info that I need.

6. Because of all these reasons I really believe it enables me to get more done.

What don’t I like:

1. As Ahmet said, it’s fast, sometimes too fast.

2. Because if its ubiquity it gets used for things it shouldn’t. There are better tools for collaboration, meeting planning and group communication. But everyone understands email so we use it when we shouldn’t.

3. Without discipline it can get out of control. We need to process it like we do paper where we handle it once and either act on it, file it or delete it. Otherwise it can be a real time sink.

All that said, our kids will think of it like we think of phone service. It’s a must have communication tool.

posted on June 20, 2006

Doug Fletcher said:

David: Email is a great productivity tool but it isn’t right for every scenario. The +’s outweigh the -’s in my opinion for the reasons you laid out. But it takes practice to be proficient at it – its another important business skill that must be learned. Email is great for the high-volume exchange of information. In an hour, you can communicate with a dozen people via email versus 3 or 4 by phone. And, in our business where we have customers in Europe and Asia, email is very convenient with the different time zones and many clients write English well even if they can’t speak it very well. For important client conversations, I prefer telephone or in person but use email for setting these meetings up. All in all, I think email is wonderful. But, I refuse to become a slave to it and do not own a Blackberry. When I leave the office, email is over until tomorrow morning. It’s important for me to draw boundaries between my work and my personal life.

posted on June 20, 2006

Ahmet Dogramaci said:

Hi David, I agree that overall email has been good for interaction. However, like any other tool its usefullness depends on the person using it. I have seen many messages written hastily. The fact that it removes visual and verbal clues sometimes complicates issues if you do not take the time to write in detail. Especially email lists where people who do not know each other, interaction quickly becomes nasty over disagreements. I believe email is very effective for professional purposes, but for personal matters I believe direct interaction is always better.

posted on June 20, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Yes, Ahmet, yes.

But think of all the NEW possibilities it has created. Like waking up in the morning, when you are on the road, to find a message from your spouse telling you that you are the most wonderful person in the world and that you are truly loved.

Nothing can beat THAT feeling! Even if it is not “direct” communication.

posted on June 20, 2006

Bill Peper said:

As with most technological advances, e-mail has both positive and negative aspects.

The main positives, in my experience, are the ability to reach busy people and provide links to useful information on the Internet. Many fewer executives screen their e-mails as effectively as their office assistants screen their telephone time. With the advent of blackberries, access can be nearly instantaneous—even during meetings.

Another advantage involves the removal of the time constraints that hamper traditional modes of communication. The odds that my twin brother and I are both available and able to talk during the course of a work day are slim, yet we can communicate frequently.

I send out a daily e-mail to approximately 80 people, and that is a huge added value and benefit to my “personal brand.” It also has made collaboration/editing and document delivery much more efficient.

The major downside of e-mail is that it is often used as a substitute for a more personalized message or a telephone call. Some messages seem much harsher than intended. And e-mails can last forever, making an imprudent statement very costly.

As with all communication methods, prudence is required.

posted on June 20, 2006

Dennis King said:

Putting aside benefits of both reading/writing a language and information velocity, e-mail allows us the opportunity to work asynchonously. To put it simply, if text/instant messaging is the Blink! side then e-mail is the Think! side of the equation.

That opportunity to pause, reflect upon, and craft our communications is good for us and may improve our ability to communicate clearly.

posted on June 21, 2006