October 18, 2011 at 7:18 am, by Carl
At both my College, Valencia, and at my church, Numinous, we’ve recently been dealing with challenging conversations. At school, these conversations include professor to professor, faculty to administration and of course, student to teacher emails. Increasingly, I have become aware over the past 2-3 years of just how impossible it is to have decent conversations through email, especially when there are tough things to say.
Things are made worse, of course, because the majority of email is spam now (and users under 25 hardly read at all)–remember my post about this? There is nothing to raise the blood to boiling than for one person to have written something hard, perhaps asking tough questions or maybe demanding some redress, and then for silence to ensue. Typically, that same person fires off a more harsh email or perhaps angrily confronts the other person, only to find out that the recipient hadn’t even read the first email.
Or, confusion reigns as misunderstanding after misunderstanding takes place. Often, that is because one of the two people read the conversation very poorly. I recently had a student send me an accusatory email because she misread what I had written. Once I pointed it out to her, she expressed her embarrassment over that and asked for my forgiveness, but imagine if I had merely fired back a harshly-worded email? Things between us would have quickly gone downhill.
Seth Godin, as usual, nailed the sentiment well when he said “When the outcome of a conversation is in doubt, don’t do it by email. And show up in person if you can. The synchronicity of face to face conversation gives you the chance to change your tone in midstream.” This certainly takes longer; often one person or the other is scared. But that’s good, really. So often, we hide behind email and allow the facelessness of it all to lead us to say things we would never say face to face.
I like email. I get to keep a record. It allows me to think deeply about my words. But that’s just it—how often do you think deeply about the words you are about to write? I do it a lot, and still sometimes figure out later that “I shouldn’t have sent that email.” It’s time for us to become willing for things to happen a bit slower, to get out from behind our desks and actually go interact with one another. The conversation may be difficult, but in the end, going for the personal conversation will actually save time by cutting through the clutter of email communication.