The Email Swirl & Face-to-face Meetings

Just write an email, right?  Document your meetings.  Follow-up with colleagues.  Disagree.  State your opinion.  Get corrected by your colleagues.  State your opinion again.  The cycle almost never ends well.  Have you found yourself in this situation?

This is common business email dialogue and I’ve seen it in every organization.  My question:  is it productive?

I’m writing this article because I observed this behavior within my department several days ago.  The two parties that were involved became so emotional in email that it almost ruined a working relationship.  My answer to this problem?  I asked both of them to meet with me together and in-person.  Stop the email.  Start the in person dialog and work through the issue professionally.

What happened?  Initially, both parties let off some proverbial steam.  In the first few seconds, it felt that tensions were high.  After I had each party discuss the business issue from their perspective, I restated their opinions from my perspective.  I felt that I had to moderate a bit.  Then, a funny thing happened.  Since they were now listening to me (a third party), they started to realize that they were in alignment on the issue, but had been miscommunicating via email.  Now, here’s the funny part.  These two individuals sit no more than 20 feet from each other in the office.

So what’s my point?  My point is that email is only one form of communication.  There are so many benefits to building relationships, holding in person meetings, and using the RIGHT type of communication at the right time.  Email definitely has its time and place.  I love a well written email as much as the rest of us do.  But, before you write that 3rd email response on the same topic, consider meeting the individual in person.  Picking up the phone can also be just as effective.

Before you write me off as old fashioned, here are some of the benefits that I observed from face-to-face meetings:

  1. Relationships, by nature, allow team members to hold each other accountable.  No one wants to disappoint a close colleague or friend.
  2. Read body language
  3. Learn more about each other and the business issue(s) that are at hand
  4. Collaborate and establish trust
  5. Involve other team members that may be able to add to the discussion or help to solve the problem

Here are some statistics from a 2009 survey that Forbes conducted.  It gives you a nice overview of the perceived in-person meeting benefits of others.

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Follow the Leader

My wife stumbled across these cute ducks today after a rain storm in D.C.  As I looked at this picture, I drew a parallel to business leadership.  Maybe I was thinking “follow the leader”?  Then, I found myself thinking about the leadership team within my organization.

In business, leadership can be much like these ducks.  Let’s take a look at the parallels that I drew:

  • Leadership:  Many of these ducks will become the leader one day.  It is important that they learn how to follow a good leader.  In some cases, you might learn what NOT to do from a bad leader.  Both can be effective.
  • Development:  Each of these ducks will require nurturing in order to see their full potential.  In this case, it is probably survival, but in business isn’t it also?  Employees require development, training opportunities, and assignments which will allow them to reach their full potential.  Professional development is also a key factor in retaining good employees.
  • Organization & Process:  These ducks travel in a line.  Perhaps this is for safety and security?  Good business leaders need to establish clear process to ensure clear responsibilities and deliver effectively.  If one duck goes rogue, it could endanger the entire group.  Think Snowden and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Take a look around at your leadership.  Are you leading, or are you being led?