Clear is better than fast – especially with email

In the digital world, everything is instant. Instant notifications. Instant messaging. Instant downloads.

And in the world of email, we get drawn into thinking that faster is better. That a fast response means you’re giving good customer service, delivering to your boss, supporting your colleagues. That you’re on it – reliable, responsive and super productive.

Except sometimes fast isn’t better. 

I was with a friend the other day where the push for fast led her to send a rushed, unfiltered draft to her client. What followed was a barrage of confusion and disappointment when the client reacted to what he saw – all of which could have been avoided had she braved the temporary initial disappointment and made her client wait for the final version.

Another workshop delegate was caught in the middle of an email cross-fire, where emotions were riding high and the conversation was getting more and more convoluted. “It needs a meeting,” she says, “but no one’s got time for a meeting so we’re all sending emails.”

It’s easily done – the quick fire request that makes complete sense to us – but comes across totally different.

The paragraph of context that we typed in our heads but not actually on screen.

The tiny typos that are not hilarious enough to be obvious, but flip the sentence entirely, like “now” vs “not” for example.

The marathon round of email ping pong where no-one is getting ‘it’ because it turns out everyone has a different ‘it’ in mind.

The email you send to the wrong person – or the message from one client that you mistake for another and end up cancelling the wrong appointment – all because you’re trying to move too fast.

When fast comes at the expense of clear, it creates more work – and harder work.

So, next time some chases you by email – or even better before they chase – try these on for size:

The simple acknowledgement:

“Yup got it!”
“Leave it with me”
“It’s all in hand”

Sometimes when they ask ‘did you get that email?’ they genuinely just want to know if it’s arrived, so we can safely cross it off our to-do list. Perhaps a simple ‘Yup got it!’ or ‘On it!’ is enough for now.

The expectation setter:

Whether it’s an auto-response that says “we’re committed to responding to all queries within 2 days” or an individual time frame for the matter in hand, often what people want more than speed is clarity – a clear indication of when they’re likely to hear back. Once they know that they can plan accordingly:

“I’ll be looking at this on …”
“They’ll be in touch within…”
“I need to give this some thought. Let me come back to you by…”
“We’ve got some pressing deadlines to deal with right now. Let’s pick up the conversation in January.”

The negotiator

Sometimes you might need to renegotiate expectations:

“The earliest I can give this my full attention is… Does that still work for you?”
“It’s going to take a week to get a definitive answer. In the meantime, what I suggest is…”
“What I can give you before Friday is… Would that help?”
“That’s going to be too tight given what you want to achieve. Can I suggest an alternative?”

The Clear No

“I’d love to be involved, but it’s going to have to be a no.”
“My diary’s full booked for the next three weeks – sorry I can’t help this time.”
“Actually, that’s not my area – you’d be better off speaking to…”
“Just a quick note to say, I’m not going to have a chance to look at this by [your deadline]. Hope that gives you time to find someone else.”

Sometimes we delay saying no, because we want to be helpful, and instead we leave them hanging on, following up, waiting and wondering. Sometimes a clear no upfront is actually the kindest, most helpful contribution you can make. If you can’t give them what they want, at least give them the clarity of knowing where they stand – and the opportunity to find an alternative.

And finally, the 4 word email stopper:

“Let’s take this offline.”

Next time you notice emotions escalating, confusion rising or you’re tempted to end an email with “Hope that makes sense!” be the one to use these four magic words to stop that email ping pong in its tracks.

 

Is email killing your productivity? Check out the next Inbox to Zero Challenge or get in touch to talk about Getting Your Inbox to Zero and Email Etiquette workshops for your team. 

  • Great article Grace. Email appears to be quick and free, but it doesn’t convey emotion, urgency or nuances as well as a good old fashioned conversation! I actually experimented with using the telephone instead of email, and the results were surprisingly effective! I blogged about my experiences at http://www.tubblog.co.uk/2012/05/14/my-experiment-in-using-the-telephone-instead-of-e-mail/

    Thanks for a great read. “Let’s take this offline” might be the best productivity improving sentence anyone can learn!

    • Love it Richard. I even experimented with sending a video message instead of email last week! You’re right, it’s not that we have a lack of choice in ways of communicating, but sometimes we don’t choose the most appropriate way. Great post!

  • Email is probably the biggest enemy of productivity today after instant messaging, especially considering how productive we feel after we send a barrage of emails. It’s like the Brutus in Caesar’s court.

    You’re so right in saying that clear is better than fast. Fast makes us feel productive and proactive, like we took a quick step to ‘address the issue’. But it often makes things turn for worse. Clarity has always come when we have slowed down.

    When I read an email, I decide whether I want to respond. If yes, I take a couple of hours before doing so. It freaked me out earlier, but the earth doesn’t not spinning. In those hours, my mind comes up with a rational and balanced response which eliminates ambiguity or misunderstanding.

    Superb post Grace. Crisp, and insightful!

    • Exactly Vishal – fast makes us feel productive but can so often be counter productive! Thanks for sharing your habit of deliberately delaying your reply – I’ve found a similar ‘save in draft’ tactic has saved me a few times, especially when emotions are running high!

  • Pingback: Weekly Round-Up #101: Become More Confident, Sort Your Email Out and Stop The Winter Sniffles | Flipping Heck! Learning to be productive one day at a time()

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