Reason #5: The synchronicity of e-mail as a receiver

As we saw in last week’s blog, relying on an asynchronous mode of communication (ie: e-mail) to communicate a synchronous (ie: urgent) message, as a sender, is going to let you down at some stage. Relying on e-mail as the channel for urgent communications as a receiver is also problematic.

One of the huge benefits of e-mail is that it puts you, as the recipient, in control of when you choose to read and/or deal with incoming messages. Realising that e-mail should never be relied upon for ‘real time’ or ‘urgent’ communications is very, very liberating. As a recipient, you get to read new e-mail when it suits you, depending on whatever else is happening in your workday. Plus you get to choose when, how or even if you will reply to each message.

In reality, e-mail really puts both the sender and the recipient in positions of control, as long as they recognise that the cost of that control is a potential delay between sending and reading. And yet, for something we have so much control over, many people feel they are at the mercy of e-mail. They feel pressured to read and respond to their e-mail almost as soon as it arrives. But e-mail is not urgent (or it shouldn’t be).

So, what if the message is actually urgent? What if there is a truly urgent situation or issue where the sender needs you, the recipient, to provide an immediate response or action? Ask yourself, what do you do when you send an urgent e-mail but get no response? Do you send another e-mail and then another?  Or do you quickly realise that, in these instances, e-mail is not the right answer, regardless of how well it is written and that another method (such as the phone or face-to-face contact), would be more appropriate.

Of course, these days text messages can often be used for urgent messages as they are received on a mobile phone, rather than a computer. But that only works if the receiver has their mobile phone with them at the time!

Bottom line is that we should use a synchronous mode of communication when sending messages that require a synchronous or ‘live’ conversation. Understanding this (and getting those you’re in regular contact with to also understand it) will give you great peace of mind and help you restore e-mail to its rightful position as an excellent method of asynchronous communication. You can happily ignore what used to be interruptions from e-mail and leave it till your designated times for checking it, knowing that nothing urgent should arrive via that channel. Anything urgent will, instead, reach you by a more suitable (ie: synchronous) method.

One popular way to get that understanding is to simply add a line to the signature block of every e-mail you send saying something like;

P.S. “I am not always at my desk but I do check my e-mail 3 or 4 times per day. If your matter is truly urgent, please contact me directly on my mobile number – 0413 830 772.” 

You can modify this suggested sentence to suit your preference and environment. This helps to educate people about how you handle e-mail, trains them in what to expect when communicating with you and manages their expectations about how promptly (or not) who will respond to their messages.

Why not try it over the next week and see how it works for you?

So that’s the fifth of the 7 reasons to NOT use e-mail for urgent messages. Our next blog post will look at another reason why e-mail (as a digital mode) is not the best mode for communicating urgent messages (which require auditory and/or visual modes).

All the best,

Steuart Snooks