You’ve got to know something right away.

I love technology!

Actually, I’m more like a technology geek with one careful distinction. I love technology with a purpose not just technology for technology’s sake.

But not all technology is good technology; at least not all applications of technology are beneficial.

A prime example of that would be when you think you can run your company and do all your communications via email and/or text. You can’t!

Here’s why.

You can’t read tone when you read email. In other words, you can’t see all the nonverbal clues you’re sending when they don’t see you. And nonverbal communication is the largest part of communications. Some experts have pegged the various aspects of nonverbal communication at 70% or more of the way we truly communicate with one another.

Is there a good place for emails and texts? Yes!

It’s great for staying in quick contact with techs in the field and even documenting a path of communication within the office. It’s a great way to send restocking orders to suppliers.

But have you ever had an ongoing email conversation in which you and the person you’re emailing ratchet up the hostility with each response you bounce off each other? I’m sure you have.

I just witnessed this with two close friends who were copying me on their emails. With every email, the tone got nastier and more personal. It was a cascading vortex of bad communication in full anger mode.

One friend accusing the other of being cheap and the other for being nuts and on and on it went. Now, it wasn’t as personally nasty as our illustrious presidential candidates were getting in their personal attacks fueled by 140-character assassination, but pretty close.

These are two guys who work out side-by-side each day at the same gym for the 15 years I’ve known them. You’d think it would have stopped before the email war had broken out.

What was needed was a phone call if a face-to-face wasn’t possible. That’s where I stepped in and got them both on a phone call and we got everyone to be heard and ended the spiral of miscommunication.

Think this isn’t like what happens at your company both internally and externally? You’re wrong. Now you may be texting vs. emailing but the danger still exists.

I’d suggest that much of the email that gets rocketed back and forth with an ever-rising edge can be nipped in the bud if you stop emailing or texting and just pick up the phone or better yet have a face-to-face talk happen sooner rather than later.


A war of words

Hey, why so much emailing and texting to one another anyway? I mean really sometimes the people emailing are in the next office or even worse the next cubicle.

I suspect much of the interoffice emailing is an attempt to avoid face-to-face confrontation if it’s something you feel might spark contention. Although, I believe it’s more a desire to avoid interaction. And that’s a shame. One of the biggest reasons people go to work beyond their paycheck is to belong to a group and interact.

Is our technology isolating us more and more so that an email, a text or even a Facebook post now passes for communication? I think it does. However, it’s not always productive and it’s certainly not a replacement for face time or even phone time.

Also, it’s clear we’re all busier. Technology helps us communicate quickly but not effectively. It gets worse when we’re tempted to do broadcast emails that reach many people. This is especially so at larger companies. Most times mass emails get the same reaction as mass meetings. Those attending mass meetings tend to think to themselves, “This meeting isn’t about me. It must be about the others.” And this is what recipients of mass emails think too.

I know how fast an email conversation can become a war of words because I have experienced it with my own email communications. It’s easy to keep firing off emails to people and feel the tone we read into them makes our blood pressure rise. That’s why I try to adhere to my own rule of thumb, which is if I haven’t been able to successfully and clearly communicate with someone within two emails I will set up a quick phone call.

A phone call doesn’t address all the ways we nonverbally communicate with one another, but it does allow me to better address what I’m trying to say in email by being able to add in the right tone and inflection with my voice. It allows for a connection on a higher level.

One thing that is becoming screamingly clear is the speed of our communications and the miscommunications it carries in our 24-hour-a-day world. Even how fast we reply to an email has repercussions because we crave immediate responses from an immediate medium. That’s once again why the tone can turn hostile quickly.

If you want to get better at the art and hazards of email, read: “The Tyranny of e-mail: The four-thousand-year journey to your inbox” by John Freeman.

As far as I can tell, email and texting are here to stay so you might as well get good at the dos and the don’ts of a more personal message and find a way to have one less war to fight at your workplace.


This article was originally titled “Text and email wars” in the October 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.