I recently posted a discussion in the LinkedIn CIO group, stating: “Studies show up to 93% of all communication is nonverbal. This can be further broken down to 55% through nonverbal elements like facial expressions, gestures and posture, and 38% in vocal elements like pitch, speed and volume. By communicating via email or text, you are filtering out 93% of the communication. It’s not surprising how often we deal with miscommunications caused by email. By communicating via phone, you are filtering out 55% of the communication. The only way you can get 100% communication is to be physically present with the person. I realize this is not always possible. In the event you can’t meet in person, leverage a web camera. You may not be able to see their posture, but you can definitely learn a lot by seeing their facial expressions. (Stats from Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages)”
The response was awesome, but not all responders agreed with me. A few ripped me for taking Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s research out to context; which I agree that I was using the stats to make a point and probably moved a little into the gray area.
The comments came in from around the world. IT professionals that deal with multiple cultures and time zones defended email. I also noticed that the responses defending email depended on the industry. In more transaction and non-relationship based industries, email was defended. Depending on the industry, the dependence on email varied quite a bit.
One of my favorite comments came from Christian Willoch – Manager, Internal IT at Centric, where he posted:
“I recently ran a 2-year development project where I was the Product Owner. We used Scrum as the method. The developers were in Sri Lanka and the stakeholders were in 5 different European countries.
During the project kick-off, I made clear one rule of communication: Email is *not* allowed in this project. All types of communication should be done through whatever other appropriate channel is available and is dependent on the nature of the communication (one-to-one, discussions, meetings, clarifications, information, etc.). So we extensively used tools like Skype, Yammer, Confluence (a wiki with great collaborative power), Jira (issue/story tool with same collaborative power as Confluence), phone, face2face, Cisco video conference.
I pushed it as far as I could, and it worked like a charm. Never have I run a project so efficiently from a communications point of view.
And I observed a big paradox:
In the consumer world, email is decreasing rapidly as a communication channel, replaced by other collaborative tools (ever tried to send an email to your young children? Even telefax or good old “snail mail” would get a quicker response…).
But once we move into the corporate world, email is the standard method of communication. And getting enterprises to move into more social and collaborative tools is extremely challenging.
Be aware, though. The near-future employee may not even know what email is.
Who misses the telefax? 😉
Kudos to Chris! Scrum is designed to help improve communications. We can discuss that in another blog.
Personally, I believe as data and analytics are changing how organizations make decisions, it's imperative that IT professionals step back from the computer and interact with the business. The effectiveness of requirements gathering will skyrocket and lead to successful projects if we improve our communication skills and learn to actively listen, which I believe is not possible with email. If we, as a group, work hard to improve our soft skills, we can lead our organizations to innovation and profitability.
So for the next week, stop and consider how you are using email. Is it the best way to communicate? Or could you build rapport and be more effective by picking up the phone? Or, better yet, walk down the hall and meet in person whenever possible?