Whenever I complain about email, I remember how it used to be and am grateful I no longer have to wait days (or even weeks) for a simple response to a question. With email I seldom have to worry about the message getting mis-delivered or lost (by the way, if someone claims they didn’t get your email, it’s statistically likely it’s either in their Spam file, or they’re fibbing to you.) Yes, I’m old enough to remember when snail mail was a real thing, and a surprising amount of real business still got accomplished.
See, back in the day, you needed to think about what you wanted to communicate to someone. Often you wrote or typed your message, gave that letter to someone (usually a secretary or admin professional) who proofed it, typed it up neatly and posted it for you.
And if you changed your mind, you could run downstairs before the end of the day and pull the envelope from the outgoing mail pile and save yourself some embarrassment. Plus, it cost money for postage, causing you to balance the cost of sending a message (even if it was only like a quarter an envelope) with the potential benefit.
But that’s why I miss it. The fact that it took a long time to craft a letter, and it took work to send it—often the reason people give for preferring email—was one of the best things about using traditional mail. I actually want to give praise for snail mail. Why?
It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.
You had to carefully consider your message before sending it to the receiver. Was it worth the time and trouble? Did it look professional? Did it cover everything you wanted to say, since you couldn’t simply send four more messages the same day to fill in the blanks? And finally, you had plenty of time to ask yourself… is that really what I want to say?
No one is suggesting that we go back to the Pony Express. But that mindset is something we could use a little more in our culture. Our messages should look professional, contain everything we want to say in a way that credits our best thinking and professionalism, and is the result of actually (you know) thinking about what you want to say and giving you the chance to think twice and calm down before hitting “send”.
People judge us by our email, and the speed at which it arrives isn’t the only criteria. So, give that a though the next time you’re about to hit the “reply” button…
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Marshall Goldsmith calls him “one of the unique voices to listen to in the virtual workplace”. He works with organizations around the world to help people use technology to lead people and projects and build productive human connections in an increasingly remote and virtual work environment.