October 17, 2010 in Business

E-mail exchanges are great, but shouldn’t be only method

Jan Quintrall
 

I love e-mail, simply love it. It is my favorite way to communicate. It saves time, as I can send my entire board of directors a quick update in minutes rather than making 15 phone calls.

I can shoot a quick, funny comment to my daughter and make her smile. I can offer insightful commentary on a current event to my husband and know I will receive a response from him that will make me smile. What a wondrous tool.

But last week I hated it. Several incidents made me shun my previous feeling about e-mail.

First, I needed to undo a football ticket purchase, as I had myself in the wrong city on the wrong week. No problem, I thought. After all, I had done the original transaction over the Internet, so surely there would be an easy way to undo it. And then I fell into auto responding e-mail hell. Each request I made generated an automatic response, and one or two of them actually made sense.

They supplied me with a phone number to call, but darn it, I just wanted a simple e-mail solution. I am still trying to get this figured out, and now I have a person I need to call. So I have to set aside who knows how much uninterrupted time to make that call, leave messages and re-explain my situation to who knows how many people before I get this settled.

The second incident was a pet peeve I would usually brush off, but it happened again amid all my other e-mail challenges. Someone hit the “reply to all” button and, not so subtly, insulted half the group of recipients. Of course they closed the paragraph with LOL (laughing out loud) as if to make the insult less nasty. Some people seem to think they can tell you that you and those who think like you are the stupidest people on earth, then add LOL to the end of the spew. Does this make it all better? Even after the ascendance of e-mail as the primary business communication tool, this lack of social awareness and ethics amazes me still! No, LOL or any other such smirking e-mail or text comment does not remove the sting. It is not akin to delivering a comment with a smile — it simply does not work the same way.

The last incident was the most interesting, upon reflection. There is a person I exchange e-mail and text messages with in large numbers. We have been working closely on a big project and shoot each other information many times each day. I know he has his Blackberry with him and he knows I have my Droid knock-off with me at all times. When we are together we both are guilty of checking messages a couple of times every 15 minutes.

But it is a wonderful relationship. We exchange necessary information quickly and productively. We get a lot done, and I consider us a pair of very effective people. So one day last week when he quit responding to my messages within minutes, I feared first that something was wrong, and second that I had offended him and he was angry.

Several events changed my relationship with my e-mail partner, and I spent some time reflecting on why I was so distressed about the sudden change in how we connected. But when I stepped back and looked at all three of the week’s incidents, I came to some conclusions about e-mail and how we use it.

• E-mail is just one part of a relationship with a human or a business. It can’t take the place of other kinds of connections.

• Just because it serves me well does not mean it works for everyone or every situation.

• It is wonderful for facts, figures or short messages, but not for problem solving or news that requires a human touch.

• If you are always connected and everyone knows it, when you stop responding, it is akin to ignoring someone sitting across the table.

• If I’m being ignored by someone, there might be more important things happening in their life than whatever it is that I think is critical. In the case of my e-mail buddy, adding child number three to the family was a life event that took all his attention.

E-mail and other forms of electronic communication are wonderful ways to reach your customers and business partners, but don’t forget they are human beings, too. Slowing down for a visit or a phone call sometimes may be necessary to maintain a strong and healthy relationship.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at jquintrall@spokane.bbb.org.


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