What email problems?
The good news is we can communicate across time zones instantly; get messages while on the move quickly and cheaply at the touch of a button. But also consider the email problems: misinterpretation; compulsive checking; constant interruption; proliferation of useless messages; the stress.
We need to keep the good stuff and lose the bad stuff by understanding where the problems come from. Largely they come from us using 21st Century technology with a Stone Age brain.
Speech developed 150,000 to 300,000 years ago. It evolved as a process where we could identify any confusion by picking up non-verbal signals (facial expression, body language, tone of voice). We could then sort out the confusion with instant feedback.
So Ugg says to Grak, “You look bad.” Grak thinks Ugg means he is ugly and reaches for his club. Ugg sees this and clarifies, “No, you look ill,” before Grak scatters his brains around the cave.
With today’s technology (like an email or SMS) we not only lose the nuances of facial expression, voice and body language but we also lack the instant feedback to spot and resolve any misinterpretation. This can cause a lot of relationship problems.
So now if we add to this the compulsion of checking the new mail alert, (“Look, Ugg. Shiny thing!”) and the ease of proliferation (“Grak tell whole tribe!”) and we can start to understand why all organisations have the same problems. They are all dealing with the same compulsion, misinterpretation and proliferation.
Universal email problems
A simple example of misinterpretation: Jack emails Jill “I resent your message” (meaning “sent again”). Jill, however, reads this as “resent” as in “feeling resentful about.” She therefore goes ballistic – and as Jack is not there to see the confusion and explain what he meant, we now have a relationship problem.
Furthermore, here’s an example of proliferation. Someone emails 300 people and there are 3 “reply to all” responses. So that’s 1,200 emails. Assuming a standard time to refocus on the task of 5 minutes per email, that’s produced 6,000 minutes of unfocused work. So that’s given us 100 hours or 14 staff equivalents of totally unproductive “work.”
We cannot let this nonsense continue to impact on our lives.
How to stop email problems?
G=Goal. Be clear what you want to cause with your communication
R=Recipient. Tailor your communication to your audience
O=Output medium. Choose the right one to achieve your Goal with those Recipients.
W=Write clearly. Take care to write both legibly and to minimise misinterpretations.
If you do nothing, nothing will change.