I hate corporate email.
Everyone in my team now knows that I rarely read emails unless
(a) there are from a client
(b) the subject is screaming for my personal attention
To me corporate email corrupts ones mind, body and soul … and destroys culture of teams. Blackberry and other PDAs accelerate that decent into hell.
If you think I am wierd to think so … read on.
Let me ask you three questions …
#1. Look into your inbox now and count what % of those unread emails are critical to read/reply within the next 48 hours? “Critical” being, if you don’t reply something serious will transpire … and you won’t get another opportunity to handle this issue.
(a) Less than 20% (b) 20-50% (c) 50-80% (d) 80+%
#2. Have you ever received or written a rude/hurting mail on any issue … that would have never been said if there was a face-2-face or live conversation on the topic?
(a) Yes (b) No
#3. If you have nothing to do for a moment either at work, or at home, do you find yourself checking to see if there are any new emails?
(a) Yes (b) No
If you answered (c) or (d), (a) and (a) … there in lies your answer.
Email instead of being an enabler of producticity and communication for (remote) teams … has now become work itself. It is not uncommon to find a lot of people now filling time by answering email at times … almost like an addiction of smoking or biting nails. Often times teams copy all they want on every other email … almost a FYI … and each of those email creates three more. The moments of quiet contemplation that can not only help one think, but also rest a busy mind in the middle of a tiring day … are now eaten up by constant chatter of the inbox. For some of you like me who get 150-200 emails a day … even the simple task of glancing through all and deleting can take an hour or two per day.
Once you respond to emails quickly or check / answer on weekends or use a BlackBerry to communicate where ever you are … it either sets the expectation for your teams to behave similarly or expect the same from you at all time. Thus creating a viscious circle where more and more emails flood your inbox requiring more and more urgent attention. I know some friends who now carry thier BlackBerry’s to bed and check mail first thing in the morning.
The other dimension of the email disease is the rude or CYA behaviour it seems to create in seemingly decent and ordinarily responsible people. I have often wondered about this both for the rude mails I received and ones I wrote.
A recent article in NYTimes.com by Daniel Goleman (Author of Emotional Intelligence) called “Flame First, Think Later: New Clues to E-Mail Misbehavior” published on February 20th, 2007 is highly recommended on this topic.
To quote the key parts –
Flaming (on email) has a technical name, the “online disinhibition effect,” which psychologists apply to the many ways people behave with less restraint in cyberspace.
In a 2004 article in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior, John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., suggested that several psychological factors lead to online disinhibition:
– the anonymity of a Web pseudonym
– invisibility to others
– the time lag between sending an e-mail message and getting feedback
– the exaggerated sense of self from being alone
– the lack of any online authority figure
The emerging field of social neuroscience, the study of what goes on in the brains and bodies of two interacting people, offers clues into the neural mechanics behind flaming.
This work points to a design flaw inherent in the interface between the brain’s social circuitry and the online world. In face-to-face interaction, the brain reads a continual cascade of emotional signs and social cues, instantaneously using them to guide our next move so that the encounter goes well. Much of this social guidance occurs in circuitry centered on the orbitofrontal cortex, a center for empathy. This cortex uses that social scan to help make sure that what we do next will keep the interaction on track.
So as the article says, online channels of communication create a unique “uninhibition” effect that messes up the way one behaves. I have also observed the excessive usage of email for critical issues or ongoing conversations allows people in your team to develop CYA attitudes as they can always say “I wrote an email to you on this topic”. Sure, it is not only burried in my inbox with 700 other silly emails, but it is so much easier for you to just write to me about the issue than face me or happily shift the burden of responsibility on me with the click of a button.
In summary … ask yourself why you respond to all your emails so quickly (or at all) and how excessive use of email in teams can lead to more communication problems than less. Are there ways you can reduce the use of email for time critical or sensitive issues in your lives? Can you limit the constant need to check mail and reply back as a filler during the day? Can you re-set expectations for people around you on what email can be used for and what it can’t?
It worked for me …