Four Times You Shouldn't Send an Email

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Email is the default communication medium for many professionals. I spend a good part of my workday writing and reading email messages. Email is usually a perfectly fine way to communicate with your colleagues and clients. In some situations, though, I've found that email is the wrong tool to use.

1. Don't send an email if a situation is urgent.

If you need someone to do something quickly, email is a poor choice. The internet is not instantaneous. The other person may be doing something else. In short, the person may not read and respond to your message until its too late. When time is short, use another communication option--such as an instant message (IM), a text message (SMS), or a phone call.

2. Don't send an email when miscommunication is occurring.

When you and the other person don't seem to be communicating clearly by email, it's pointless to continue using that medium to clarify. Instead, pick up the phone, start a video chat, or walk down the hall to have a real-time conversation.

3. Don't send an email when there is conflict.

When you read an email message, you're only seeing the other person's typed words. You're missing the vocal and visual cues of face-to-face communication. You make assumptions (often incorrectly) about the other person's meaning and motives. The other person is in the same boat when they read your email reply. A cycle of back and forth email messages tend to exacerbate and escalate the conflict. The best medium for resolving conflict is through face-to-face conversation. If you and the other person are too far away from each other to meet physically, try to meet virtually using a video conferencing application.

4. Don't send an email if the subject is complicated.

If you try to communicate about a complex subject using email, the probability is high that you'll fail. You could spend way too much time writing a long mail message that is too detailed for readers to quickly comprehend, or you might write a short email message that oversimplifies the issue and leaves out important nuances. Complex subjects are also likely to raise unanticipated questions and concerns for readers. Complicated problems need two-way communication in real time. Instead of sending an email, think about holding a physical or virtual meeting instead.

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