This past week, I witnessed two managerial communication blunders that could actually have resulted in firings.
In the first, one of my managers wrote an internal memo to Jessica, our events director, with an attachment from a third source … that source being an events competitor. The attachment was an email announcing the other organization’s upcoming event. The manager wrote a few disparaging remarks about the event brochure (pointing out how our brochure was ever so much better) and quickly forwarded it to her friend and colleague Jessica. Unfortunately, our company’s email auto-fill feature opted to send it to Jessica at the other organization… the very Jessica who had sent us the original email.
In the second example, I received a note from a bank executive explaining that the finance crew, by name, had made a mistake but had since “come together in a coup” to 1) keep a client satisfied and 2) to keep it from going public. They needed “Jody” to make the necessary quorum to vote to transfer bank funds into a client’s account to cover a shortfall for a grant payment that they should have covered the week before. Than they would transfer the proper grant funds, when the grant payment actually arrived, and pull back the bank resources with no one being the wiser.
“I think you’ve sent this to the wrong Jody….” I replied. Within five minutes I had the reply, “I SO appreciate your keeping this in confidence!” I imagine the fact that I am a print journalist made this a bit more of a fervent prayer than an automatic assumption.
Given those real-time examples as a framework, here’s advice for when it’s wiser to rely on talk rather than text:
1. When you have a confidential or disparaging remark to make that you would not want recorded FOREVER in a document. Email does not evaporate after you hit “send” whereas few people actually tape telephone conversations. Also, it’s harder to call the wrong Jessica than it is to forward a message to the wrong one.
2. When you are mad or frustrated. Email is easier, yes, and we think we are avoiding a verbal confrontation when we succinctly list our complaint in an email. Unfortunately, the receiver attaches their own “tone” to that comment and will likely forward it to an average of three people before replying.
3. When you are backing out of a commitment or apologizing. You can offer an apology, but until it is accepted, the relationship is off balance. Acts of courtesy are still prized in both professional and personal settings.
4. When you answer a time-sensitive question, or need an important answer. I’ve asked for a status update and heard, one too many times, that a manager is “waiting for x to get back to me” as part of an email exchange. The next question is “have you picked up a telephone and called?” The more important the answer, the more imperative it is to have a backup communication system in place and to use both methods to reach out.
5. If you know the person on the other end has an agenda. It seems prudent to communicate by email; however, forwarded emails are easily edited. If you want to be certain that you are communicating to only one person, it’s best to pick up the phone.
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