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E-mail or E-vile?

17 August 2012

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Once upon a time people only communicated by talking to each other.  Then we developed the skills to write down ideas that could be read to others.  This was an elite skill for the select few for thousands of years. 

Literacy as we know took off in the 1900’s, email was introduced in the 1990’s and the Internet only became mainstream in 1999.

So in the space of a hundred years for the first time in history we are able to communicate with anyone in the world in an instant!!

Writing down ideas and information has always been a responsible task.  You only have to look at old manuscripts to see the care an attention that was given to the written word. 

When sending a message that could take two months to reach its destination by foot or horseback and another two months to get a reply, it was important that information in your message would still be relevant after all that time.

Instant communication is not new. In 1970 I worked in Air Traffic Control and the efficient system that was in place of dedicated telephone lines and telex machines to send out flight movement information, had been in place since before the Second World War. 

Every message sent and received had a specific purpose.  For example; aircraft take off time, position and arrival time messages were only sent to the person responsible for the next action who received their instructions moments after sending.

Modern technology means anyone can now track this information live on their phone.  The air traffic communication is not any faster that it was way back over sixty years ago, all that has changed is more people have access to that information.

In business people used to talk to each other and only sent letters to pass on important information for a specific purpose.  These letters were carefully crafted and often were the result of three or four drafts.

People knew that by signing a letter they were taking responsibility for the contents of that letter.  Sometimes hours were spent making sure the message was clear and specific.

When the fax machine was launched in the 80’s I was working with Xerox.  What fun we had standing next to this ‘cutting edge technology’ waiting for the weird noise to change and signal that a connection had been made!!

Sometimes it would take 5 minutes to get the connection and the pages would ‘race’ through at a speed of 3 pages a minute (as long as the connection did not break in which case the dial up wait would begin again!). 

When you take into consideration the time needed to edit and type these pages, this was still a long process compared to the speed of email today.

What was revolutionary about the fax machine was for the first time ever companies had the ability to transmit illustrations, drawings, building plans, and photos quickly and cost effectively.  Previously these had to be sent by hand via post or courier taking up to a few days.

Up until only a few years ago people understood that when they sent written correspondence they were taking responsibility for their action and would be held accountable for what they had written.

So what is happening with email communication?

We now are able to write down without any though or consideration what is in our mind as send it instantly to as many people as we want. 

The benefits of this are massive for sharing information and knowledge on a global scale however within companies some thought has to be taken of how emails are being used to pass on information.

People often will hide behind email without understanding they are doing this. 

Lets look at the different ways to hide behind emails.

Avoiding face-to-face contact.

How often do you know that you really should go a talk to someone in your company about something and the thought of doing so makes you feel uncomfortable and you decide, “I’ll just send them an email”

Even though they only sit two minutes away you don’t really want to have to talk about this with them so it’s easier to send an email.

Who is that easier for you or the person receiving the message?  Will they really understand the point you want to make just by reading your words? 

We know only 20% to 30% of the information we communicate is in the words we use the other 70% to 80% comes from voice tone and body posture.

How can you expect someone to understand exactly what you mean in your email without seeing you and listening to your voice tone?

In fact I have no way of knowing how you will read this article in your own head!

How much time would it save a company that instead of taking time to construct emails, even if they felt initially uncomfortable, people just walked over and had a chat with someone or if they were not in the same office just pick up the phone and speak!!

Copying everyone in!!

If you had to type 15 letters and then stand beside a fax machine and send them to 15 different numbers this could take a day of your time.

For you to spend that amount of time on something, unless it was a vital part of your job, you would not last very long in your job as you would be seen as wasting time.

So why is it that people are happy to waste the time of others copying them into emails that are not relevant to them?  Just because we can send information instantly does not mean that that we should not still value the quality of that information and the frequency with which we share it!

Some people use the ‘copy in” method to prove to others that they are doing their job.  If someone spends time letting people know what they are doing how much time are they wasting that could used more productively just getting on with their job!!!

Believing that by just sending an email people get their message!

Just because someone has sent an email does not mean that the people receiving it have acted on it.  Communication is a two way process and until you have evidence that others have received, read and acted you have no way of knowing if the email was ever opened.

How often do you hear people say  “yes they all know about this I have sent them an email” How can they know?  What evidence do they have that others have received this? 

Yes email is fantastic at letting people know things quickly however when people get overloaded with irrelevant information they will often overlook the important messages that are specifically for them.

So is e-mail e-vile? 

Of course not, however it is important to consider email as one way of communicating and not the only way. 

Think back to how hard and time consuming the process of sending written information used to be.

Just because the method of sending is now easy and quick does not mean that the old rules of the value of what you are sending and to whom need not apply.










































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