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5 Things You Should Never Communicate Through Email

When email first emerged as a productivity tool, the hope was that it would make communication more efficient, allowing us to spend less time getting our point across. However, we underestimated humankind’s ability to fill up time saved with the very activities that technology was supposed to streamline.

In short, email often allows us to communicate more — not better. As a result, the internet is littered with tips for checking it less, and lists of reasons to avoid emailing at certain times, or advice about how quickly we should respond, etc. However, the best way to save time and confusion might just be to take some conversations offline entirely.

email tips
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Here are a few instances in which you should consider stepping away from the computer rather than hitting send.

  1. When you’re delivering bad news…

It’s not easy to pass on bad news, especially when you need to deliver it to your boss or manager. But, there are some ways to minimize the difficulty. First of all, don’t put it off or shrink away – you need to take responsibility here and explain the situation thoroughly. Delivering bad news by email isn’t a good idea because it suggests that you’re actually doing the opposite of “owning it.” It reads as if you’re avoiding the conversation, and that you’re too fearful, embarrassed, or even too immature, to belly up to the difficult chat. So, when you’ve got bad news to deliver, do it in person.

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  1. When you’re not totally sure what you want to say…

In general, it’s good to strive to be proactive rather than reactive. Unfortunately, email lends itself to the latter. We feel pressured to clear our inboxes, and most emails necessitate responses. So, sometimes, even when we aren’t fully sure how we’d like to respond, our fingers start typing anyway. Instead, take a beat when you need to take one. Seek out more information about the topic at hand, in person, rather than responding before you really know what you think and what you’d like to say.

  1. If you find yourself agonizing about tone…

Most of us can think back on a time when we’ve leaned on email in order to avoid having a difficult conversation. The idea is that this medium affords us the opportunity to write an email that will hit the other person just exactly the way we’re hoping it will. But, too often that’s actually not what happens. The first thing that suffers is our efficiency – crafting a perfectly worded email takes so much time! Then, the other person often doesn’t read our email the way we intended anyway. So, if you find yourself agonizing about tone when constructing an email, ask yourself if it might make more sense to handle this conversation face-to-face.

  1. If it’s between the hours of about 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.…

It’s harder to think clearly when you’re tired, and emotions can run high when you’re in this state as well. So, if you’re sitting at home, and if it’s waaaay after hours, consider hitting the hay rather than the send button. Draft an email instead, if it helps you to get the problem off of your mind, and then read it over in the morning before finalizing, when you’ll have a fresher perspective.

  1. When you’re asking for a raise…

Certain conversations are meant to be had in person. If you’re looking to negotiate a raise, for example, PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide can provide you with some really helpful tips for preparing for, and eventually navigating, a conversation with the powers that be. However, this is not the kind of request you want to make by email, mainly because you want to make it clear that this is an issue that you take seriously. Also, you want to be available to answer questions about your request. Sending an email could send the wrong message. Take the time to meet in person under these circumstances.

Tell Us What You Think

When do you avoid using email to communicate? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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Andy Manning
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Andy Manning

When I send an email I’m not sure about , before I start writing I make sure the Receipients list is cleared/empty to make sure it’s not sent my accident. Then I sleep on it and come back in the morning , and either edit and send or just delete it!

Also, it’s never a good time to send an email if you’ve had a couple of beers or wines!

Paul
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Paul

I am not sure I agree about the bad news email. I will always strive to meet my boss face to face regarding bad news, but I often send an email first to let him (or her, as the case may be) know as soon as possible that we have an issue. Face to face meetings are frequently not easy to arrange on short notice.

G.P.W
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G.P.W

I do agree that the two replies above mine are an exception to the rule. Sometimes you have to use email if you need to speak with your manager about something that is critical to your position, and in the regards to bad news. If they are rarely available, I would just choose my words wisely, keep it short and to the point. I try not to use too many words trying to explain myself via email as well. I feel that can also work against a person. I fortunately am able to go to manager as he is normally… Read more »

Cliff
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Cliff

While I agree that in general you shouldn’t ask for a raise via email, I recently had to do so (albeit as part of a larger change in my position) because the supervisor that I needed to discuss it with was unable to meet with me 1-on-1 for a period of 6 weeks (or more!) – and time was getting short. I had wanted to begin the discussion in April but ended up having to email about it in early June since the new fiscal year for us begins on July 1. It still won’t take effect tomorrow, but at… Read more »

China
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China

I recently received an extremely low increase, I spoke to the manager about it and he told me it was all he could do because of heirarchy approval and we could discuss it with HR but to detail our conversation in an email. I felt leary about it. any thoughts? we are not all at the same location

Kevin
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Kevin

Great advice! I especially like that you pointed out a couple of warning lights on our emotional dashboard that should clearly signal us to slow down and think about it before we write anything (and possibly even consider not writing anything at all but rather have a face-to-face discussion at a later time). If you can’t seem to put it into words in an email, it probably doesn’t belong in an email!

G.P.W
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G.P.W

Here is another tip, when in doubt, and if you are not sure if you should send an email or not, then it’s probably safer to just back away from the computer. When you hit send, just remember that there is not a “cancel email” button to get your email back before the recipiant that you sent it to reads it. I have done so many crazy things when I was younger and just starting out in the working world that I really ended up regretting. Emailing subordinates and colleagues things that I should not have is at the top… Read more »

G.P.W
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G.P.W

I Completely agree with these emailing tips. I never send an email when I am upset about something. Usually it ends up being something that sounds, and is trivial compared to what I know my manager would want to hear. When I stand back, look at the big picture, and get a better prespective on everything, it turns out that what I wanted to send usually ends up resolving itself or I will take matters in my own hands to resolve it as diplomatically as I can. If you almost always think before emailing when you are upset about something.… Read more »

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