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November 22,  2017

Divert Disaster, Delete that Email
and Dialogue


By Lorie Reichel-Howe

Founder of Conversations in the Workplace

While email has made workplace communication efficient, there are times when face-to-face conversations (whether in-person or virtual via a screen) are needed.  At these times, defaulting to email is risky and may result in workplace nightmares.


When Technology Leads to Trouble


Who doesn’t love moving issues, problems and grievances off of a work desk? While auto correct protects us from grammatical errors, there is no technology discernment checker that alerts us when emailing is inappropriate and a conversation is necessary.


Email is your enemy when communicating concerns with a coworker or manager, when addressing performance issues or when discussing a complex or contentious topic. Conversations trump technology and derail disaster when giving reprimands and getting someone back on track.


Never email a colleague when you are in conflict. While confident of your ability to hide your frustration and anger, it’s next to impossible to compose a message presenting your case without releasing emotions. Sending email when you are angry or frustrated invites gossip and misunderstanding to move in and multiply. The words we compose while facing a computer screen, we would never say to someone in person. Impulsive mouse-to-mouse combat leads to workplace word wars and leaves a trail of HR violations.


Email Limitations and Liabilities


Email is devoid of context and human beings communicate through body language, expression and voice. Tone is difficult to interpret and easily misinterpreted without hearing the inflection of someone’s voice. Stop and reflect on the number of times you read an email and questioned ‘Why is this person so angry?’ when in fact, that’s just the way you read the message. Much of what we interpret is based on our current and ever-changing mood.


Yes, it can be challenging, awkward and difficult to talk to others about concerns, performance gaps and needed improvements. Even so, defaulting to email in an attempt to prevent coming across frustrated and angry is risky and dangerous. Instead of averting conflict, you may unintentionally, while undiscerningly, start a workplace war.


Train Employees How to Communicate


Employees need clarity on when conversations trump email. Expecting today’s tech savvy culture to know when to walk away from a computer and when to engage in dialogue is a faulty assumption.


In addition, expecting employees to have the skills to effectively communicate when issues and emotions arise, is a breeding ground for frustration, disappointment and resentment. While effective communication in resolving issues is foundational for career success, in times of conflict, we do not arise to our expectations, we fall to the level of our training. Telling is not teaching. Training employees to communicate concerns while expressing their desire for others to be more successful, builds trust and partnership. Given that 65-80% of performance problems result from strained relationships – not from deficits in individual employees’ skill or motivation (Daniel Dana, Ph.D., Managing Differences), communication training is an investment with strong returns.


When people are trained to effectively communicate concerns, they will have the courage to delete their email, approach a coworker or supervisor, and ask for a ten-­‐minute conversation. I wonder how many misunderstandings are averted when two colleagues determine not to email and instead talk together.


In Closing

Email is a powerful and useful business tool when used for the right purpose. When you address performance concern or complex and contentious topics via email, you light a dynamite fuse.  To prevent an explosion, blow out the flame, walk away from your email screen and request a conversation with the person with whom you have a concern. In doing this, you will divert disaster by dialoguing.


About the Author

Lorie Reichel Howe is founder of Conversations in the Workplace. She leverages over 20 years of expertise in communication and relationship management. She equips managers and teams to have “safe conversations” – transformative dialogue that uncovers hidden workplace issues. Whether issues are challenging team dynamics, mismanaged expectations or good old-fashioned bad behavior, “safe conversations” foster greater innovation, inclusion and collaboration within organizations. 


Learn more about Lorie’s impact at

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