In a day and an age in both our professional and personal lives where email (and texting) is considered an acceptable form of communication regardless of whether we’re communicating with our virtual teams or a colleague down the hall. It’s become acceptable practice to shoot off a quick email rather than pick up the phone and have a ‘real’ conversation.
Whilst the convenience is king (or queen) we’re losing the art of conversation, or more importantly the art of Courageous Conversations. Many, don’t have the courage to have a hard conversation, and through avoidance (try to) initiate a hard conversation via email. And that’s where the real trouble begins
Trying to have a hard conversation via email is like trying to construct a partially built IKEA flatpack without instructions OR an allen key. It’s confusing and messy. You’ll both have different ideas on where to start or when you’re finished, and you can’t get a tight enough commitment to keep everything from eventually falling apart again.
There’s no opportunity for interruption, to seek or gain clarity, you can’t see the others reaction and adjust your approach/tone accordingly, we can’t test our assumptions. All we have is the text in front of us, and not a lot to go on. Just the story we’re telling ourselves
That’s before even getting into misinterpretation, misunderstanding and ambiguity. Hitting send and then finding out information afterwards. And there’s always that ‘Forward’ button that can be used in the heat of the moment (with some choice comments). Let’s also not forget the unnecessary ‘cc’ for when things are getting really ‘serious’, and we need to make sure so-and-so’s manager really knows what’s going on.
In short email is not a substitute for conversations. It’s not a dialogue, it’s a series of monologue.
So, what can we do instead, when email is the norm but you really need to have a REAL conversation?
Well, its starts with building trust. The time to build trust, is not at the time you’re wanting to have a courageous conversation. There’s a few (quite a few) steps in between.
The first conversation over the phone or video (for virtual teams) SHOULD NOT be the conversation you’re going to be having about a particular process, system, structure or behaviour.
Build a relationship with your colleague/Team member/manager. If they’re down the hall, go walk over and talk to them about pretty much anything that’s mutual territory. Your team is virtual/interstate. Terrific, pick up the phone and check in with how they’re going? Use video conferencing, even better. The relationships that we create are small actions that build over time.
Leave the email to maintain day-to-day tasks, but start building those relationships the good ol’ fashioned way.