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We all know that email is quick, inexpensive and convenient. Therefore, it saves time and money, and should always be the preferred communication channel. But wait, if that's true, then why do many senior executives and managers believe that email may actually hamper productivity? Part of using email effectively is therefore, knowing when not to use email, or in other words, when to take that conversation offline. Consider taking a conversation offline if the message is long and complex and additional discussion will be necessary.
For example, a supervisor who is giving you feedback on your work performance. A face to face discussion would be much more valuable. Or the information is highly confidential. For example, providing your manager with information about a sexual harassment case. That email message can be shared in a forward and a copy is permanently on hard drive. Do you want an easily accessible paper trail? Consider if immediate input is needed. People are not always going to be in front of their computers, staring at their inbox, just waiting for that next email message to pop up.
So if you have a pressing question or urgent matter to discuss, maybe talking to the person by phone or face to face would be more timely. What if the situation is emotionally charged or someone could easily misunderstand your intended tone? Often, we feel comfortable writing someone offensive emails saying things that we would never say face to face. For example, you saw your coworker use the last of the computer paper and didn't refill it. Going back to your computer and sending an email message may seem easier and more impersonal than confronting the person directly.
And the last point to consider if taking the conversation offline is a good idea, is when you sense that the email discussion is starting to deteriorate. The following two examples show how this can happen. In the first example, the original email asked about the resume format that HR was promoting. Two people were in the To field and 11 were copied. Ten messages later, after people felt attacked, hurt feelings were expressed, and everyone was tired of reading the back and forth messages, one of the managers finally responded with this.
Seems like a lot of people have great input on this topic and some understandably strong feelings. This may be one of those times when it's better for staff to discuss this as a group in person. I'm sure we all know the limitations of email when dealing with sensitive issues. Please let me know how I can assist with this. Thank you. In other words, let's take this offline, because we are obviously not reaching a solution with email. A second example is a situation that resulted in 12 email messages during an eight hour period, with eight other reading these with the reply all.
Each message showing more frustration that the last. Because the four people directly involved didn't realize they were discussing two different people. Each named Albert, but the last names were never included. At the end of the day, one of the main recipients responded with, perhaps the four of should have a conversation tomorrow at 3:30 after the three o'clock meeting, as email is not working. Again, let's take this conversation offline is the message that is being sent loudly and clearly.
Proactively addressing potentially damaging or inflammatory situations face to face or on the telephone is a good idea. Face to face, we read body language and make eye contact. We can ask questions and get immediate responses. All of these things can help us more quickly recognize and resolve problems in real time. You can defuse the situations more quickly and even build more positive long-term relationships with those involved. So before you send that next email message, analyze if the situation is complex, or confidential, urgent, is or could be emotionally charged, or is deteriorating.
If so, that more personalized offline conversation may be a better choice.
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