It was a comedy of errors, trying to set dates for a series of workshops.
A typo in my email kicked it off. Buried in a long list of available dates was “Wednesday, June 25.” Weeks later, the client replied with his choice of dates. Including Wednesday, June 25. Yes, you’re right, June 25 is not a Wednesday.
What followed? A flurry of emails, including one that said Wednesday’s not the 25th…it’s the 24th. Yes, we were moving in the wrong direction.
By the time we got it all sorted out and put dates on the calendar, I was thinking, “Why didn’t we just have a conversation to start with, instead of all this back-and-forth via email?”
Why don’t we have a conversation?
It’s a good question for all of us, isn’t it? I just had a similar experience with a corporate admin setting appointments for executive coaching.
She asked, in an email, for my availability; I replied with all the possibilities. She responded by choosing a time and date that wasn’t on that list. And we exchanged I-don’t-know-how-many emails before we finally got the sessions nailed down.
Is this sounding familiar? It would have been a whole lot easier to talk directly about the session schedule.
Why don’t we have a conversation?
A website contact form came in the other day. Young woman’s looking to schedule some training, she’s just collecting information, and her main question is, “How much does it cost?”
My main question is, “For what?” Is it a lunch-and-learn or a day-long program? For seven people or 47? Is there potential for ongoing development or is it a one-off? Who’s the audience anyway, what do they need to learn and how can I best help them do it?
Sounds like the kind of thing that needs to be sorted out, doesn’t it? And not by just replying to an email and throwing out a number.
Why don’t we have a conversation?
No matter what business you’re in, I’m betting this all sounds familiar. Email’s long since become the default for interaction with customers and colleagues and everyone else.
At big companies, people notoriously send emails to individuals sitting right down the hall or across the room.
Younger people gravitate toward texting instead; many millennials never answer their phone, and some don’t even listen to voicemails. Sure, you can call them—you’ll get a text in return. If you’re lucky.
There are some advantages to typing versus talking. But, oh, what we give up!
The choice: convenience or communication?
Some of us skip the conversation and send an email or text because it’s quick. No need for niceties. “Hello.” “How are you?” “What’s new in your world?”
With our fingers flying, we get right down to what needs to be said, sign off (or not), and move on to the next item on our to-do list. Not a moment wasted in idle chit-chat. There’s no arguing about how easy that is.
And when it comes to convenience, asynchronous is a wonderful thing. You can shoot me an email or a text when you first think about it. Or when you can carve out a moment from the mountain of other things you have to do today.
Then I can respond when it suits me—and my busy day. You may get impatient for a reply, but theoretically, I can control my time by answering emails and texts when I’m good and ready.
Productivity gurus often recommend scheduling email replies two or three times a day, rather than getting sucked into immediate action on someone else’s agenda.
Exchanges that aren’t time-bound are easier for all of us, and close to essential for teams that work in different time zones.
We give up a lot when we take the more convenient approach to communication. Yes, we can impart information screen-to-screen. But there’s so much missing, isn’t there?
Those easy-to-send messages may well be misinterpreted. I snapped the other night when an email showed up that was dismissive, insulting and rude by design. Or, could it be she’d just tapped a quick note into her phone in the middle of some other pressing activity?
Whatever—I ascribed meaning to the tone I “heard” in that email. And let’s just say it didn’t do anything to bolster my relationship with the sender. You’ve been there, right?
Setting aside possible miscommunication, it turns out the time-and-convenience factor is often overrated.
Instead of taking a few minutes to call somebody, we opt for a fast text or email to save time. Then there’s a misunderstanding. And we eat up way more time than we would have spent on a call, trying to unscramble the egg.
It might have made sense to talk in real time. Maybe even in person (now there’s a red-hot idea).
Let’s have a conversation.
I’ve been playing with the words as I thought through what I wanted to say to you here. Communication…connection…conversation.
Maybe one reason some people seem to shy away from conversation is in the root of the word. Latin—”keeping company with.” Middle English—”living among, familiarity, intimacy.”
There’s not much intimacy in a text, is there? It might feel much more comfortable to communicate that way. And it’s still missing something. That sense of “keeping company” with the other person could be what we all need.
I’m for a shift to more real-time conversations even at the expense of convenience. How about you?
You can post a comment below to share your thoughts.
Or … we could have a conversation.
Oh how correct you are, with this !
I as you know am a fun loving smart ass and most of the time I type then ease then repeat… as I look back at my text or e-mail and think that is not what I meant or that make me look like a jerk.
It is a true art to communicate with out speaking. one you have mastered.
My rule is if you need a quick yes or no e-mail is fine any more and I am calling
ps I let this one go un-edited 🙂
Jacques, you hit on one of the main problems with texting and emailing — we think we sound like a fun-loving smart-ass. Then the person reads it and just thinks we’re an ass.
Tone of voice and facial expression and gestures convey so much in a conversation. Take those out of the equation and we’re asking for unintended consequences.
On the other hand, as you point out, when I write something I have the opportunity (whether I take it or not) to review it and correct it before I hit “send.” When I was a talk show host, I occasionally used the 7-second delay to my advantage. If I said something I wished I could take back, I could hit the DUMP button, and the previous 7 seconds would vanish into thin air, never to be heard by anyone. I sometimes wish there was a DUMP button in real life.
Yes!!!!!!! Great piece. And we are way over due for a conversation!!!
Thanks, Gina. And yes to a conversation! Next time you’re in Chicago, give a shout.
Catherine, your stories are similar to what I have experienced. In your first story about scheduling a date, the person responding did not READ what you wrote. Is this a style, not to READ what someone writes and just respond in a random manner? In your other example about someone wanting to engage you, the person requesting did not have the COURTESY (i.e, take the time) to explain her request in at least some detail. Again, is this just a style thing, or are people not being TRAINED to be thorough and courteous by putting themselves in others’ shoes? Thank you for training us to be better at business relations and more effective on the job.
My sense is people are just busy and trying to do too many things at once. Myself included, Catherine — the whole chain of miscommunication about scheduling workshops started with my typo, which my client cut and pasted into his email … and then we were off!
I also think younger people, especially, default to text. Every now and again somebody sends me an email or a website contact form and I respond by calling them on the phone. I have a feeling some people don’t dig it. And most sales coaches would probably recommend responding in the same medium they used, for the sake of rapport.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do think I’m going to prioritize actual face-to-face, or at least voice-to-voice conversation and see what happens.
Catherine, I agree 100%. There have been countless times in mid-e-mail stream that I stop and just pick up a phone. I get so much more done in 5 minutes than in 30 e-mails. It’s getting to be more of a habit with me both in business AND in my personal world.
You raise a good point, Denise. If direct, real-time communication is valuable in business — and it is — it’s really important in our personal lives. And yet I find myself often shooting off an email or a text to my sister or my SIL or to my husband, for cryin’ out loud. Because it’s quick and convenient. Except when it isn’t …
All valid points and I am certainly guilty, although I’ve actually been working on calling and answering calls more often lately.
Part of the root cause is people feel by answering the phone, someone will steal precious time from them or worse yet, try to sell them something. It’s easier to let voice mail screen the call and leave you in control of who, when, and if you want to return the call.
Your example of the incorrect date is an ideal situation to just pick up the phone and correct the issue on the spot. It’s great to have an e-mail or text so you have something in writing, but if the information exchange just causes more issues what’s the point.
You’re right, for sure, Tom, about not answering the phone for fear it’s a thinly disguised sales call. (Or maybe a sales call that’s not disguised at all.) I’ve learned that some numbers are almost certainly robocalls; I never answer those. Otherwise, I still pick up the phone. If I’m going to call someone back anyway, I might as well talk now rather than set up a game of phone tag that could go on for days!