To Hit Send on that Email – or Not?

It has happened to all of us … I am certain of this. In fact, I am convinced it has happened to us more than a few times. We received an email that rocks us at our core and we immediately reacted. We quickly typed out a response and feverishly pressed send. Mission accomplished … or was it?

Although email allows us to quickly communicate with our colleagues, it can be a challenging communication platform. Whether we are initiating or responding to an email, the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill reminds us that, “Miscommunication can easily occur when people have different expectations about the messages that they send and receive.”

In my own experience, I utilize email regularly for its ease of use, but I have colleagues who would prefer to have in-person conversations to discuss the same items. Is one method of communicating right and the other wrong? I don’t think so; both are effective means to convey an important message. However, it may be worth reconsidering when it would be better to avoid pressing send.

Here are some things to consider before sending an email

Think about the recipient of the message. Some of my peers love communicating through email. They have a set schedule for checking their email messages throughout the day which allows them to work without interruptions for extended periods of time. For these individuals, an email message is an extremely effective means of communication. On the other hand, I have peers who need to hear one’s voice in order to engage in meaningful conversation. This may not be my preference, but my commitment to creating an inclusive work environment challenges me to think on how I can set aside time to have a conversation with those individuals who find exchanging emails somewhat overwhelming.

Think about the tone of the message. One of the challenges of email communication is the inability to modulate one’s voice. The lack of inflection in our voices can lead to a seemingly emotionless and cold email. For many of us, I suspect this is not our intent, but it is important to consider whether or not we are capable of communicating using written text in a non-offensive manner. The question is not rooted in whether or not we believe the message is offensive, rather, we have to think about whether the recipient will be offended. Doing this successfully may not be as easy as it sounds. Given this, it is important to recognize there are some messages that are best communicated with our audible voice.

Think about the length of the message. Long, information-dense emails are hard to read. The essence of the message may be good, but there may be too many words. This can lead to confusion and may ultimately lead to the need for a conversation to resolve the discussion topic. If the conversation is inevitable, perhaps one should skip the email and just have the conversation.

In our places of work, we should be intentional in thinking twice before pressing send. Email is good, but sometimes it is better to have a friendly conversation with our peers.

Dawn M. Wayman is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a diversity and inclusion practitioner at the National Institutes of Health NIH), is a graduate of Morgan State University and the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and her Master of Health Science degree in Epidemiology, respectively. In 2017, Ms. Wayman joined the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) as a Diversity and Inclusion Strategist. In this role, Ms. Wayman serves as a consultant to multiple Institutes and Centers providing assistance to them in developing and executing their representational diversity and inclusion strategies. You can read her posts here.

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Avatar photo Leah Anderson

thanks for raising such important points here! with the number of communication channels available to us, I do think it’s our shared responsibility to make sure we’re using the right one for the right message.