Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What Does Email Even Stand For?

Did you know that MIT developed the first email system in 1961?! I just looked up the word email on wikipedia and realized I had no real idea how email was developed. I instantly started to feel guilty! Almost all of our business communication (aka money) now revolves around email, and I've been taking it for granted. But what else have I been taking for granted...what have we been taking for granted...

Perhaps, we've forgotten why we're sending emails in the first place. I have a firm belief that as humans we are strongly instinctual animals. I have made it a point over the last year to listen to my gut, and it turns out, it's usually right. I went to a high school that had a laptop program, so I was using outlook at the age of 14, but nothing in that world would prepare me for the way that I've witnessed organizations and the people who work for them use email (or internal electronic mail systems).

You might think I'm being a little dramatic, but then again, there is no class on how often check your email. Am I supposed to check every email I get right when I get it? What is a proper timeline for response? Does a quicker more detailed response mean that I am doing a better job at my...job? Of course, each situation is different, there are priority settings on email, and the answers to those questions come with experience. But experience takes time, and time is money! Do you see where I'm going with this? I've witnessed colleagues and peers on the verge of insanity due to their overflowing inboxes. I've seen the negative energy that is created in the office from receiving too many emails from a vendor/rep, not enough from a client, or just plain tasteless shit talking from co-workers. But most of all, I've seen the crazy way that email leads to miscommunications. Which in business, results in a lack of trust, setting the two (or 100) parties involved into a state of negative competition instead of collaboration.

Seth Godin has created an email check list that you can read by clicking this link...but thought I would skip to the very last thing on his list and share it with you: If I had to pay 42 cent to send this email, would I? 

I can answer that question for about 50% of the emails you send. No. I remember being an intern and wondering why people were emailing each other when they worked 5 desks away? It just didn't seem like something my ancestors would do. And not to sound obvious but there is something inherently human about communicating that cannot be replaced by words on a screen. Body language, facial expressions, distinct tones in our voice, allow us to turn that interaction into a form of art. The results are always the same, we either succeed with the goal we set out to accomplish by communicating, or we fail, there is no middle ground, a "maybe" almost always becomes a "no". Yet, we constantly choose the least human form of communication that leaves so much room for wiggle. 

Do you like me? circle one...yes, no, maybe...would you date someone that circled "maybe"? Would you trust someone enough to do business with them if they circled "maybe"?

With that being said, I have two hopes and dreams (thoughts) for the future of communication in the office place. The first, and the most simple, is that we are strong enough and courageous enough to put our fears of failure/embarrassment in the past and talk face to face as much as possible. Imagine the impact that would have on your business relationships. Make the extra effort, and stop sending 5 emails to schedule a meeting. Of course location is also a factor in this business equation, so face to face communication is not always possible. So my second hope/thought is that in order to reduce the amount of the "message" that becomes lost in translation by email communication, we begin a paradigm shift towards video messaging, or video email messages, something we can already utilize on our mobile devices. I'm just wondering who will come out with it first....Apple or Microsoft? 

Make sure you check out Seth Godin's email check list that I linked above, it should give you some solid advice and a good chuckle or two. 

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