Email Can Hurt Your Career: 5 Tools for Better Communication Skills

Email Can Hurt Your Career: Develop Better Communication Skills With These 5 Other Tools

This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ

When we think about all the ways we have to communicate with each other, and there are a bunch of them in the workplace setting, most communication modalities offer some possibility of messaging beyond the words we say.

Face-to-face communication, which has the biggest communication bandwidth, for example, lets us stuff a whole lot more information than just words into our message. When we communicate face-to-face we’ve also got tone of voice, body language and two-way interactivity to assist in getting our message across. And if our message goes wrong, all those things help us quickly make adjustments to fix the misunderstandings and soothe any emotional reactions that may interfere our communication.

That doesn’t happen with email. Email communication is just the words. It lacks the tone of voice, body language and two-way interactivity that make face-to-face communication so desirable. Yes, you can occasionally have tone of voice in an email. But unfortunately, the tone of voice that occurs in most emails is a bad tone of voice.


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Email is the weakest of all the communication modalities we have available to us. It stops us from connecting and building relationships and from keeping people aligned and accountable. And yet, for most leaders, email is how they largely interact with employees, peers and bosses.

Now, I’m not presuming that you’ll never send another email again as long as you live. Email often works just fine for updates, assignments, quick check-ins about a project, or conveying some sort of data back and forth. But these are typically unemotional communications. And that’s not true of every communication we have.

We’ve all written an email where, when we checked it just prior to sending, we said to ourselves, “Gee, maybe this is a little too harsh. I should probably come back and rewrite this later.” That impulse to dial back or soften the communication is a pretty good signal that there’s an emotional element in that communication. And when emotions become engaged, communications often go awry. If there is any chance that the person on the receiving end of your email may have an emotional reaction to your message, especially a negative reaction, don’t send the email. Choose a different method of communication.

Another test whether to send or not to send when it comes to email is asking yourself if you’d be comfortable having an unfriendly lawyer have access to the email communication. If the answer is “No,” then don’t send the email. Choose a different method of communication.

We know face-to-face communication works great, but it isn’t always possible, especially in remote working situations. So what other communication modalities can we use? Video conferencing is a pretty good choice. It absolutely offers tone of voice and two-way interactivity. And depending on the quality of the video conferencing technology you’re using, you can even incorporate body language. If you’re using a full-on military grade Cisco TelePresence then you’re getting pretty close to a hologram from Star Trek. If you’re using a web cam on Skype, you may see a head. If you’re using, FaceTime on your iPhone, again, you’ll get a head. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

Video conferencing is often a very natural step and it’s amazing the extent to which I see super high-tech companies still not get on to video chat because they’re a little bit scared of it. This is one very simple way to get something approximating face-to-face conversations.

The phone is another decent communication option. There’s no body language on the phone, but we do have two-way interactivity and tone of voice.

Then we have texting and instant messaging and IM’ing. These don’t offer body language or tone of voice, but the plus of it is they do offer two-way interactivity because the messaging goes back and forth pretty quickly. When you’re chatting with somebody, even if you’re typing or dictating, you’re still chatting. It’s still going back and forth.

Voicemail is actually one of my favorite methods of communication. I know it seems like such a last decade kind of technology. And while it doesn’t offer two-way interactivity or body language, voice mail does offer tone of voice. If you send an email that says, “Bob, I need to talk to you right away,” you leave Bob open to all kinds of interpretations as to why you might need to see him. But if he gets a voice mail instead, even one that uses the same exact words, if it’s delivered in a jovial tone, or a stern tone, or whatever kind of tone, Bob’s going to have a much more accurate understanding about the kind of meeting he’s in for. And that can make all the difference for whether Bob shows up to that meeting receptive to communicating or on the defensive and shut down to communicating.

So the next time you have something to say, pick up the phone, have a video chat or leave a message. Choose a communication modality that lets you use more than words and that will allow you to make corrections. Even if you only substitute 10 to 20 percent of your emails with a phone call or a Skype or FaceTime video chat, it will start to make your relationships significantly better and it reduces the risk of a lot of communication missteps.

Posted by Mark Murphy on 29 June, 2016 Communication Skills, Forbes, no_cat, no_recent, sb_ad_30, sb_ad_5 |
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