Dave Conrad: Managers, don’t hide behind your keyboard
Dear Dave: My boss uses email too much. No matter what the news is, we will learn about it by email and not in person. The worst part is, she also uses email to scold us and let us have it if things are wrong. The messages she sends are usually not very clear and she tends to ramble on and on. I think she is afraid to tell us things in person, so she lets her computer do the talking. I am not saying that we do not make mistakes — we do. I am saying that we would rather hear what she has to say by connecting with us in person — so we can clearly understand what she is saying. — D
Dear D: My first thought is, she may believe that she is doing a great job of communicating, because she is constantly sending messages to you folks. She believes she is able to check things off her “to-do list” simply because she fired off one message after another. She has traded communication effectiveness for efficiency and is using email as a rock she can hide behind.
This problem is all too common, because the ability to send mass or singular emails out on a regular basis may be part of your company’s preferred method of communication. Your boss receives news and directives by email and she elects to do the same with her staff. She may not even realize that her emails are not effective, so she perpetuates her email cavalcade. However, she may realize she is not productive in her email practices, but she can’t stop, because she is just plain addicted to using email.
It also could be that she is intimidated by discussing some news, directives and updates that she receives from upper management, so she hides behind her keyboard and sends messages without having to confront people that may challenge what she has to say. She is finding comfort and security in using email and the company intranet has given her a means to avoid all that nasty business of actually having to talk to people face-to-face. People become quite bold — possibly, even brash — if they can let their computer do the talking. I think we have all experienced this.
I believe companies thrive on communication. Without the ability to connect with each other, serious errors could be made, people will not understand their goals and roles, and change will be even more frightening than it should be. However, communication is made up of three vital parts: the messenger, the message, and the receiver. The messenger must be intelligent, trusted, respected, and be able to use the methods and means to connect with people on a personal level. The message must be clear, concise, and contain enough meaning and information, so it can be absorbed and sense can be made of it. Finally, the receiver must be capable of understanding the message and be ready, open, and focused enough to allow the message to make sense, and to read it for what it really is.
If one or more of these three parts is weak, messages will be nothing but mindless fragments of information that do not send or sell anything of importance. The problem with email — and trust me, I use email all the time — is that the messenger may not know exactly what he or she wants to say and the message could become too long, too short, or is not specific and clear. The poor receiver may not be ready to hear what is thrust on them — nor are they always capable of reading the messages in the spirit with which they are sent. I won’t even get into the lousy grammar and atrocious spelling errors I see in many emails I receive.
I think that email is great when you need to send news fast and when you are able to construct complete communications that will be received with the desired understanding. Email is not a great communication vehicle when people — such as your boss — want to keep whipping out one piece of news after another and are trying to avoid those difficult conversations that should be done in person. In addition, emails should not be “War and Peace” endless rants and diatribes that turn people off and confuse the pejeepers out of them. Also, I think we all have heard those horror stories of people being fired by email late on Friday afternoons. If you want to talk about extreme cowardice, there you have it.
So, my perspective is that good managers talk to their people honestly, personally, and clearly. They are not communication escape artists. If you feel comfortable enough to go to your boss and discuss the problem you shared with me, I would ask for a meeting. But, do not embarrass her; and do not communicate your viewpoints by email.