I once worked on a project where two members of the project team, communicated solely by email.
More absurdly, these two actually sat in the same pod.
The email communication was borne out of a dysfunctional work culture, where the “Blame Game” played a major role in terrifying staff into documenting every single piece of communication, for fear that if something went wrong, they wanted to be able to prove it wasn’t their fault.
There could have been other contributing factors ( I was working with engineers, and in some instances personality quirks meant they found it easier to communicate via email, then stand up and have a quick chat over the top of their cubicle).
One particular morning, these two were engaged in a lengthy and verbose debate on firewall configuration, and no less than five ‘ reply all’ emails had been sent to the project team as a whole.
Email, while it serves its purpose, doesn’t have the ability to convey the correct tone, and in the absence of voice inflection and facial expressions can leave room for interpretation, and often can upset people because they misread the text, or interpret it in a way that wasn’t intended by the writer.
I walked over to the cubicle where these two sat, and asked them to stand up and ‘talk about it’ face to face.
“If you have to hit ‘reply all’ more than once GOYA, and talk about it.!” I advised them.
“GOYA?” they responded.
“Yes, GOYA – Get Off Your Ass. stand up and have a chat, you’ll be able to resolve it quicker than writing long winded email replies.”
And so they did. A few minutes of diagrams on a white board and a lot of techno babble, they’d solved the problem they thought they had, and the discussion revealed that they actually were thinking the same thing, they just both expressed it differently.
Moral of the story, email is a limited form of a communication, and yes it serves it’s purpose, but it should not be relied on when attempting to resolve complex issues or convey complex ideas.
You really do need to tailor your communication to your audience and choose the most appropriate method to convey your subject matter.