The one email that can cost or save you hours of work (and tears)

I’ve been deliberating whether to write this post. Because it is a bit of a rant.

It’s about communication. The kind of communication that saves pain, confusion, conflict, and hours of work.

Ok, so today’s world of work is unpredictable. We live and work in a world where information bombards us at a ridiculous rate and plans change weekly, sometimes daily, even hourly. What we need isn’t bombproof planning, but agility and flexibility to dodge bullets and think fast on our feet.

I get that.

But how much of our curveballs are genuinely unpredictable? And how much is just down to bad communication?

Take a friend of mine this week, who turned up to do a day shift only to find an email sent during his off days telling him he’d been swapped to nights.

Or another friend who found out completely by accident, that she was on a volunteer rota, thankfully before the event actually happened.

Or the extra 20 hours of painstaking work I put in over the summer, making corrections to my manuscript, after an overly formal edit job had been done and sent straight to the typesetters.

Or indeed the shock of opening up a second round of proofs to find that the 20 hours’ worth of corrections had been substituted with a scarily inaccurate find and replace job.

Not to mention the extra time it took to reword the profuse swearing that came flying off my fingertips into a serious, concerned, professional ‘we need to talk’ email.

One thoughtful bit of communication would have made all the difference. 

If I had just had a heads up on that second proof, something along the lines of “Hey, bad news. We made some mistakes but we’re working to fix them. Don’t worry, it will be right by the time it goes to print, and here’s how I propose we proceed…” that would have saved me a couple of hours of email rage, where I could be working on fixing the problem rather than raging about how on earth this could have happened.

If my friend had had a call or even text, to say that his shift had been swapped, he could have easily rearranged his schedule and had some sleep before his night shift.

If my other friend had had an email to say that she was on the rota, there would have been no surprise, no close shave of nearly letting a whole bunch of people down.

Indeed if the copyeditor had stopped to check whether my manuscript actually needed a textbook grammar makeover (that must have been a huge job for them!) it would have saved us all a ton of blood, sweat and tears.

Much of our frustration around change isn’t around change itself. It’s around the way it’s communicated (or not!) 

We can deal with change so much better when we know it’s coming. When we get a heads up to prepare us for the incoming curveball, crisis or muck up – we can be ready, best foot forward, arms open, ready to tackle whatever comes our way.

But when it’s thrown at us like a virtual hand grenade wrapped up in an innocuous email, it doesn’t just cost us emotionally – in frustration, confusion or rage. It costs us our productivity – the extra work we end up doing or redoing, the time we spend on the back foot, in firefighting mode, which always takes more energy and gives us less in return.

It costs us in our working relationships – in resentment, in conflict, in faith lost, in erosion of trust and team spirit, and the depletion in motivation, when we feel undervalued, overlooked or dismissed. And the ridiculous thing is, no one is out to get us. We’re not at war. The people we work with are not our enemy. My editors, when I get to speak to them, are actually really lovely.

How much extra work do we create when we fail to communicate well?

And how much more productive would we be, if we stopped to give each other a thoughtful heads up more often?

Over to you. Have you experienced email rage or unnecessary workload as a result of poor communication? Or is it just me? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

  • Barbara (Another Gorgeous Day)

    I find the email communication assumption very annoying i.e. when someone says “but I sent you an email”. We should not assume that just because we have sent an email the communication has been done, the recipient may not have had a chance to read it yet. Which in this world of so many emails is more and more common. I think we should all stop assuming that just because we have sent an email the communication has been done. And then accusing the poor recipient for not reading it.

    • Agreed Barbara! A simple sentence added to the end of urgent emails asking the recipient to confirm receipt helps, yet a telephone call is often quicker still.

      • Absolutely. There have been times I have chased an email “just to check tech gremlins haven’t hijacked them” and occasionally I get a “oh gosh I haven’t seen that, thanks for checking!” Anything that adds clarity and reduces guesswork and mind-reading is always helpful.

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