CareerBuilder Menu Search Search

What's Better: Send an E-mail or Talk Face-to-Face?

By Kerry Patterson, co-author of the national bestseller, 'Crucial Confrontations'

  • Email

In today's well-connected world, hi-tech gadgets and gizmos can help us communicate more easily. Technology has made communication nearly instantaneous, incredibly convenient and enormously accessible. But has it somehow made us less effective communicators? Should we monitor our method of communication more carefully? Does it really affect our messages?

The answer to all of these question is "Yes" -- especially when you consider that many of us are already far too savvy at finding ways to avoid face-to-face conversations that involve strong emotions or high stakes.

When it comes to resolving broken promises, violated expectations or bad behavior with someone at work, resorting to hi-tech methods like e-mail, voice mail or text messages can amplify our problems.

For example, a subordinate leaves a vague excuse on your voice mail after missing a key deadline, or a colleague e-mails your error-filled report to your boss instead of confronting you directly.

According to a recent survey by VitalSmarts, a corporate training company, more than 87 percent of those polled admit that using hi-tech means to resolve a workplace confrontation has not been effective in their experience. Moreover, 89 percent say e-mail, text messaging and voice mail can get in the way of good workplace relationships.

Even though the majority of respondents agree that we shouldn't be so indirect in our communication with co-workers, the question remains: When does ease and security trump the need to talk face-to-face?

Regardless of the circumstances, people should think twice before pushing the "send" button and consider what they want long term -- even if the way to get there isn't always the easiest.

Anytime non-verbal signals are important in deciphering the message, the news is particularly bad or sensitive, negative feedback is being delivered or differing opinions will ensue, face-to-face communication is a must. Consider the following:

Giving delicate feedback.
Good example: You meet one-on-one to tell someone he has a hygiene problem. Any delicate or controversial conversation requires a tête-à-tête.
Bad example: You send a group e-mail to the whole team and announce, "One of you really needs to bathe more often."

Working through a long-standing gripe.
Good example: You set aside a time and calmly and professionally discuss something that has you concerned.
Bad example: You e-mail a list of 'The Top 10 Reasons Everyone Despises You.'

Confronting someone who has not delivered on a promise.
Good example: As soon as you find out someone has let you down, you factually describe what you expected and what you got. You don't wait and let it fester.
Bad example: You send this person a text message that asks: "How come you aren't as reliable as most people around here?"

Delivering a controversial message.
Good example: You're going to reject a direct report's proposal -- one she has worked on for months. She deserves a complete explanation as well as an opportunity to engage in two-way dialogue.
Bad example: You leave her a voice mail saying, "Remember that proposal you came up with? Well, we rejected it. By the way, don't forget the boss's birthday lunch this afternoon."

Delivering bad news.
Good example: When letting someone go, you treat the bad news as bad news. You allow the other person to show their concern and emotions.
Bad example: You send a singing e-card -- "Ta-da ta-da ta-ta: You no longer work here!"

Kerry Patterson is co-author of the New York Times bestsellers 'Crucial C

Last Updated: 24/09/2007 - 3:50 PM


Article Reprints
Permission must be obtained from CareerBuilder.com to reprint any of its articles. Please send a request to reprints@careerbuilder.com.