Join the Conversation: Could Greater Use of E-Mail Help?

E-mail has been blamed for interfering with human interaction in the office, but the problems behind miscommunication run deeper. It isn’t the mode of communication so much as the content, or lack thereof, that’s the problem.

Only 11 percent of executives successfully preserve their colleagues’ self-esteem and display empathy demonstrating interpersonal diplomacy, according to Development Dimensions International (DDI)’s, “Driving Workplace Performance Through High-Quality Conversations: What leaders must do every day to be effective.” Front-line leaders fair only slightly better in these areas.

The study, based on DDI assessment center findings, shows that a whopping 90 percent of executives act before checking their understanding of an issue, and are ineffective at inviting ideas from others.

Common missteps that leaders at all levels of an organization trip through—what DDI calls the 7 Interaction Sins—include:

  • Jumping straight to fixing the problem
  • One-size-fits-all approaches
  • Avoiding the tough issues
  • Inconsistent application across different contexts
  • Influencing through the facts only
  • Spotting opportunity for change but not engaging others
  • Neglecting to coach in the moment

Contrary to popular belief, I think greater use of e-mail communication, especially prior to meetings, could enhance understanding between co-workers. I’ve been to too many meetings in which the loudest and most aggressive voices, rather than the smartest and most innovative, get heard. The meeting becomes a competition to simply be heard rather than a chance to compare and combine ideas. What if a meeting to generate new ideas began two to three weeks in advance with an e-mail to participants asking that they submit their top three ideas a few days before the meeting? Then, at the meeting, the leader could call on those he or she feels had the most worthy ideas, rather than just opening up “the floor” to a free-for-all.

Similarly, at the beginning of each month, a group or department leader could ask employees to e-mail him or her their top individual and group goals for the month. Or, at the end of each month, employees could be asked to e-mail their supervisor their greatest accomplishment, or an area they feel they personally, or as a group, fell short on.

Better communication isn’t simply about more face-to-face meetings, but about more targeted, organized, and meaningful interactions. Targeted use of e-mail is one of the tools you can use to accomplish this.

How can trainers and learning executives teach work groups and their leaders to enhance communications? How do you make face-to-face interactions between co-workers more m