We recently got an email from a client that was terse, short, and confusing. We started typing a reply, but realized that we were making assumptions about what the client meant, and responding in a way that might cause tension in what has always been a good working relationship. So we picked up the phone and called the client to find out what was up.
Good thing, too – because both the client and our team were making assumptions and reacting to issues that weren’t really a problem. In today’s fast-moving work environment, where most communications happen via email, and even text, this is becoming more and more common.
And this wasn’t an isolated incident. We’ve got another client who sends terrible emails. Every single one feels like a rebuke or a demand, and they are often sent at 5:00 am because he’s a busy guy and does most of his emailing and organizing before his day gets too busy. So our team wakes up to what feels like letter bombs many mornings. But if you call him to talk it through, you realize that 90 percent of the time, he’s just coming across as angry because he is banging through his to-do list and not taking the time to craft a lovely note.
So, what’s the answer? In our business, we are making more of an effort to move conversations about billing, strategy, and relationship issues off email (and text) and onto the phone, or even better, in-person meetings. And, we’re asking our teams to take a breath, ask a colleague for their take, and bring in some help if an email communication seems harsh, unprofessional, or like something is wrong with the relationship. Typically, one of the principals will follow up with a phone call when that is the case.
Email has obviously revolutionized the way we work – and it certainly has its place. But there is enormous opportunity for misunderstanding, as people read tone or their own bias into an email, and it can quickly depersonalize a relationship. When written communication totally replaces conversations, you run the risk of weakening good business relationships, and in the end, you want to work with people you like and trust.
So commit yourself and your team to more frequent phone calls and in-person meetings in 2019. Your business relationships will only improve!
For more on this important topic, check out this great article from Forbes.