Section 4.3

The Limitations of Email

Don’t overestimate the utility of e-mail. In this electronic age, people sometimes fail to recognize the value of spoken communication. Preferring e-mail, they avoid face-to-face or phone conversations. This strategy is unwise, because spoken communications are a valuable way to develop and cement professional relationships that can help you throughout your career.

Also, be sensible about the types of subjects you try to address through e-mail. For communications about really important issues — an imminent major deadline, for example — don’t assume an e-mail will be enough. In such cases, try phoning instead of or in addition to e-mailing. You can’t always be certain that people will see and respond to e-mail quickly, especially if they travel a lot or receive dozens of e-mail messages a day.

Finally, if you sense that an e-mail dialogue is becoming confrontational, stop communicating about the topic online and have a phone conversation — or, even better — a face-to-face discussion with the person. It is much harder to communicate effectively about sensitive topics through the medium of the computer than it is in person or over the phone. By talking things through, you are more likely to keep a situation from spiraling out of control.