May 29, 2013
Email is likely your top communication tool at work, adding up to 75% or more of your communications. Sometimes you do email well, other times, not so much. Much has been written about the nasty-gram emails that circulate around the office, killing off relationships along with your professional reputation.
Most of you are too smart for that gaffe under normal circumstances. You've learned to save it to draft, think it over, and never hit Send. But there's another gaffe that you can easily make and it's the biggest one of all: Threaded Relationships.
By this, I mean that you transmute a real-time relationship into an endless email thread of asynchronous existence. This often happens in your project work, especially if information plays a big part of it. You start out building up a work relationship via meetings or phone calls, and at some point, the threaded relationship starts.
Instead of picking up the phone, you reply to an email (or a thread). Instead of having a chance or scheduled meeting, you craft an email status report and throw it over the fence. Your ePartner falls into that rhythm with you and the thread(s) begin. Eventually, your entire set of information transactions lives in an Inbox or folder. You feel smugly efficient, thinking that the other people at work are wasting valuable time having conversations, often riddled with small talk. And then it happens.
A seven layer thread (an original note with six back-and-forth RE's) turns into a misunderstanding. Sometimes capital letters, question marks and passive-aggressive smiley faces are used. The subject line is so outdated, it reads like a line of RE: RE: RE: code. User frustration sets in, as you and your pen pal grown tired of having to cursor down six feet to review the thread prior to answering the last "HUH?" reply.
Even worse, thread relationships start to build up latency. At first, you are quick on the reply, answering emails in an hour or two. Then, you or your partner shift to four hours or more for our replies. At some point, work-time email requests are answered over a glass (or two) of wine at 9pm and the language gets a little pointed. Eventually, you have to forward previously sent emails to jog a reply. And resentment starts to build up.
Then, the worst can happen. Our common sense mutually fades, and you both start to lob nasty-grams at each other. You assume that given your email volume going on, there are shock absorbers that can smooth over the biggest bumps. And that's when the threaded relationships descends into a bad one - usually culminating in a scathing set of emails that finally lead to a real-time fight. And when you get to that point, you wonder how such a thing could happen!?
Takeaway: To avoid this mistake, routinely break the thread with a phone call. Likely, you'll solve any misunderstandings quicker than you will behind your laptop. If you've fallen out of regular real-time interactions, ask yourself, "how's that working for you two?" Fall back into the habit of regular conversations, even if you decide to limit then to 15 or 30 minutes for the sake of productivity.
It makes sense that our gravest errors with technology are subtle ones that occur due to a lack of knowledge on our part. But now you know, which may just save you from your over-efficient self.
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