Another Word About E-mail

Another Word About E-mail

I opened this chapter talking about e-mail, a medium that has caused us to reexamine how we communicate with one another. Consider the sheer volume of e-mail we deal with every day. In 2001, Rogen International, in conjunction with Goldhaber Research Associates, completed a study of e-mail usage in the workplace. They found that, on average, employees send twenty e-mails and receive thirty e-mails daily—amounting to about two hours of work time spent on e-mail alone.[5] I wouldn't be surprised if that number has tripled by the time you read this book.

As I noted before, e-mail has allowed us to reach more people more easily than ever before. In many ways it has greatly increased workplace efficiency—all you have to do is cc: your department and you're covered. The problem is that the other means of communication haven't gone away. You still have to check your voicemail and you still have meetings to attend. So while e-mail may save time in other areas, it has served to increase the information overload that people face today. There is also the question of quality. We have to make sure it cuts through the clutter. And while we're enthralled with the convenience and speed of e-mail, we can't neglect our responsibility in ensuring its value as a tool for effective and empathetic communication, despite its lack of visual and auditory clues.

Therefore, consider a few important guidelines when using e-mail. First, make your messages clear and to the point, and consider how it would appear in a more formal setting. Due to the nature of the medium—the format encourages speed, not quality—e-mail brings out the worst in us as writers. Second, respect the unique properties of e-mail and their effects on your tone. For example, you may think you're being succinct and direct, but others may view your message as curt and abrasive. Third, consider your audience and remember that e-mail can be easily forwarded. Finally, know when not to e-mail. Never reply to an e-mail in anger, and don't use e-mail to convey a message that would best be delivered in person.


Communications and Personality Type

While clarity, consistency, and compassion are the fundamental guideposts for effective and wise communication, we all know that the actual process is a highly nuanced undertaking. Even though we may be working toward a common aim, we're all unique individuals, each with our own distinct personality and frame of reference. Be they subtle or unmistakable, these differences inevitably affect how we process information, how we interact. In the field of organizational psychology, much research has been done on the effect of different personality styles on communication.

A personality tool commonly used in corporations is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) instrument. The MBTI instrument has its roots in the work of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who posited "archetypal" personalities—patterns of behavior that we, as humans, have fallen into since the beginning of time. Whether or not you put stock in psychometric testing and personality types, it's hard to dispute the notion that we all fall into certain similar patterns and behaviors.

Why is having an understanding of personality types important for effective and empathetic communication? It's important because all personality types have a preferred way of communicating, and that way may not be readily obvious to others. While many have an intuitive gift for reading people and immediately creating rapport, most of us don't. Let's say, for example, that you have a driving personality style. You think nothing of charging into an employee's office and barking out orders. As a result, the employee, whose personality type is very different from yours, recoils, wondering why you have to be so rude. True, you're likely being clear and consistent in what you're saying, but your approach and delivery throw up a roadblock to trust. Sure, you'll get obedience. But if you had just slowed down and spoken quietly, you'd have gone further toward gaining this person's buy-in and trust.

Do you know your dominant style and how it affects your ability to communicate with people who have different styles? Think about the misunderstandings and conflicts that might have been avoided with people at work, friends, and family if only you had a better understanding of personality types.

A word of caution, however: While the MBTI personality inventory and other instruments can help us navigate our personality differences, they can't completely capture the complexities of every individual. Appropriately and ethically used, these tools can help us to better understand why people behave and communicate the way they do. When we apply this understanding in our everyday interactions and communicate with clarity, consistency, and compassion, we have a head start in building trust.