For many of us, email is our go-to way of connecting with colleagues and customers. In fact, communicating by email is so second-nature to us that there are times when we hit “reply” and then “send” without giving it a second thought. As leaders, it’s important that we be aware of how we’re communicating and whether our chosen channel is the most appropriate for the message we want to send. Though many of us can probably name a few dozen reasons when we should turn to email as our communication tool of choice, here are four reminders of when we shouldn’t.
1. You need to communicate lots of details that will probably require further explanation or the opportunity for people to ask questions. If this is the case, an in-person meeting would probably be best. You can still provide your meeting attendees with a follow-up doc that summarizes your main points, and you’ll eliminate a lengthy email chain of replies and questions if you take the time to address your group in person.
2. There might be a misunderstanding or miscommunication. If there’s a chance your email could be misinterpreted, or if you can already sense some tension in an email reply, resist continuing the communication online. Chances are when tensions are rising in an email exchange, they won’t be lowered with several more back-and-forths. If you can, walk over to clarify in person. If you can’t, call them to settle the confusion so you can both get back
3. You’re delivering sensitive or confidential information. As much as we’d like to think about email as a confidential medium, it isn’t always so. Private emails get forwarded or accidentally sent to the wrong people. A good rule of thumb is to never say anything in an email that you wouldn’t be comfortable reading on the front page of tomorrow’s paper or that you wouldn’t tell your grandmother!
4. You’re angry or upset. When frustrations mount or tempers flare, avoid sending anything. If you really feel the need to vent your thoughts, draft the email, then hold it for 24 hours or so. Once the situation has settled and your nerves have calmed, return to your draft. Chances are you’ll be glad you didn’t hit send. It’s always better to try and resolve conflicts in person.
Finally, be cautious about cc’ing the boss unless you’re sending out a congratulatory email. What is your reason behind copying him or her? Is it to get someone in trouble or tattletale? Are you covering your back or positioning? Avoid using email to drag your boss into the weeds or into the middle of a conflict by honestly assessing your motives for including him in the correspondence.