Email Productivity
How to be more efficient in written communications

We tend to underestimate the impact of what we write
(From E-mail at the workplace)

An old adage states that "we are the owners of what we keep to ourselves and the slaves of what we say", but if we adapt it to e-mail, we understand better the impact that they can have: We are the owners of what we say orally and slaves of what we write, as is demonstrated by the different effects that a verbal work discussion has compared to the same discussion via e-mail. Although oral messages can make us feel bad momentarily, they are forgotten more easily than written messages.

Written words remain as if carved in stone. They seem to resound, and fire up our feelings more strongly than oral messages. Also, we relive those feelings every time we read them. They are files that remember what was done to us and what that made us feel.

This allows us to understand why most work discussions via e-mail can be so unproductive, particularly if we want to convey emotions and messages that are difficult to communicate, even orally.  For example, if we complain in writing to a workmate, it is very likely that the relationship will suffer. Recipients tend to interpret the feelings they read and speculate about more strongly, thus making them perceive as a scream what would have been a perfectly tolerable observation.

Whenever I ask what bothers people more of a work-related reprimand via e-mail, they always answer: "That it was in writing. Why didn’t he/she come to my post, or why didn’t he/she call to talk about it?  Don’t they trust me or aren’t I worth a more direct communication?"

Communication is the tool to build trust among work teams, but it can also destroy it. Our messages, oral or written, are channels through which team members interact, therefore, it is very difficult for people to flow in their team if they feel mistreated in their communications. Or on the other hand, it can be predicted that people will give their best effort if communication with the team is productive.

Communication and attention are the essential components of relationships. We feel we are truly communicating with someone when we get their best attention and they listen to us. But when we feel we are not being paid attention, we feel ignored.  So when we communicate, what matters is what we make our interlocutors feel with the way we communicate, which explains that people can more easily forget what we say or give to them, but not what we make them feel. 

The way to give a correct message can have counterproductive effects, particularly if it is in writing, so many of the unproductive e-mail discussions that take place in companies could be avoided. People are willing to accept many of the issues they receive in writing if they were delivered orally.

Of course, I imagine that right now you are thinking that those e-mail discussions are justified because they also cover the company’s need to leave a written record of what is said, and you are right, because many times it is essential to document communication processes.

However, e-mail communication in companies would be more efficient if work teams emphasized documenting the agreements and learning experiences that were obtained more quickly through telephone or face-to-face conversations.

In order to have productive and efficient written discussions or clarifications, people must have better writing skills to compensate the non-verbal clues that we normally use in face-to-face or telephone communication.

(Fragment from E-mail at the workplace by Juan Carlos Jimenez. See it at Google Books).

Are we aware of how we use e-mail at workplace?


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We tend to underestimate the impact of what we write



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