Email stinks

I’ve lost count of the number of misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and attenuated outcomes I’ve brought into being via the tips of my fingers.  No, I’m not talking about mediocre blog posts, I’m speaking to the thousands of emails I send each year. 

When it comes to the pursuit of creative outcomes, email stinks.  I wrote a few weeks ago about the debilitating effect of sarcasm in a creative workplace.  In that same context, email has its problems, too.  With email, not only is it difficult to discern whether sarcasm is at play, but it’s also hard to confidently parse out things like humor, fear, anger, defensiveness, kindness, curiosity… you get the picture.  And the give and take of a healthy in-person conversation becomes at best a somewhat disjointed verbal volley, at worst a damaging pissing match.

The solution?  Whenever possible, talk.  By phone, Skype, or even in person.  Talk.  Listen.  Talk some more.  Digest. 

It’s so much better to talk in person.  It is truly an imperative for teams and organizations pursuing any kind of creative outcome.  Email simply can’t deliver the critical nuances which help shepherd a process along to greatness.  And as critical as it is to talk directly with people within your own organization, it’s even more critical to do so with folks who sit beyond the confines of your four walls.  While it’s even harder to find ways to talk face-to-face with “outsiders”, you have to try, because you can’t rely on things like a shared culture or mission to provide the mutual trust which bridge the inherent deficits of email conversation.

Of course, for messages which need a scale of delivery, email is still one of the only tools at our disposal, but hopefully that will change soon.  Myself, I receive something over 300 emails a day, and I send something like 50. 

Emailing is a necessary evil, but if you commit to talking more and emailing less, then I will, too.

2 thoughts on “Email stinks

  1. You wrote: “When it comes to the pursuit of creative outcomes, email stinks.”
    In my opinion … most activities – creative or not – are not well served by email. In my own field of executive recruiting, we (clients, candidates and recruiters) are discussing people’s qualitative attributes, chemistry between human beings, “gut instinct” and other such highly nuanced topics. I remain surprised at how much email is relied upon as the vehicle for communication, and how difficult it is sometimes to catch clients (and candidates) on the phone.

  2. I agree that email is not only imperfect but a hinderance in tasks that require creation and collaboration, but think to globally condemn it is going a bit far.
    Email isnt only beneficial for scale but provides several other benefits too – not least of which is the process of writing something down and turning abstract thoughts or conversations into concrete sentences.
    While not sexy a significant amount of work at a company involves just getting everyone on the same page regarding factual things like due dates, roles, etc.. Frequently email is the best (though annoying) way to do this.

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