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Monday, May 18, 2009

Email – Communication Disruption!

First … the context - I am part of an SAP implementation project which is going to Go-Live on 1st June. With the deadline approaching and loads of work to do, we all are working round the clock to meet our targets. The client team is working about 60-70 hours a week and our team is pushing up to 80-100 hours week. These timings became effective from the beginning of this month and will continue till the go-live and maybe a few days beyond it.

2 weeks after this regime of continuous work and pressure, the stress has become visibly (and audibly) evident. Voices have become louder and are generally filled with a bit of impatience and irritation. There have been several occasions when voices have gone up and there have been some small one-to-one clashes (verbal only and not lasting more than a few minutes).

The event which triggered this post - an email was sent stating a few facts, perceptions and questions. All mixed and not clearly demarcated. The receiver of the mails did not like the tone / language etc of the mail and got pissed off to various degrees. The issue was escalated to other concerned team members and project manager and director. A meeting was called and things discussed. Heated exchanges, fired tempers, clarifications etc etc etc. Meeting was over. So called 'solution' was reached.

My commentary now (finally) – At the end of the meeting, some action item was decided and was completed within a reasonable time. What I was wondering is … the issue was never resolved. B'coz there was NONE.

Who was at fault for the whole 'issue'?

Practically speaking – No One !

Really speaking – The sender of the email as well as receiver.

There is always some email etiquette one should follow about keeping the mails clear and concise and not mix different things etc. I feel those were not clearly followed in the email. The email was not vague but mixed up a few things resulting in the mess. BUT in the real world scenario …can we really be so careful. Can we go through the mental checklist every time we send an email? Its simply NOT practical! And in times of stress and high work load, it becomes all the more difficult.

Which is where I feel everyone needs to understand the 'limitation' of the email as a communication media. One should remember that email cannot convey your tone, mood and general intention of the conversation or message. The interpretation of the text in the email is highly dependent on the receiver and his mental state. The state in which all my team members are these days, any misplaced word or skipped courtesy can make an email seem to be rude or accusing.

In the case above, the sender of the email could have simply picked up the phone or simply walked up to our seat and talked to the receivers of the email about the things on his mind and cleared up the matter. No flaring up, no lost time in meeting, no lost time in cooling off after the heated meeting etc.

That's the other thing I wanted to say … don't make email the most preferred media of communication. The face-to-face meeting or an email is far better. In these times, when physical distances are often great and the email is good and economical media to communicate; I still advice to meet face to face or talk on phone if possible rather than shoot a mail which can be interpreted in different ways.

It was interesting for me. Although I was one of the parties involved, I was more of silent during all this exchange. I could see that practically speaking it was no one's fault but the situation was still stressed out. Some could hold their cool an some could not. Stress was the issue and not the email.  

So ... the next time you want to communicate something and you are writing an email. Think before you leap ... I mean ... send !

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