E-mail Patience is Not a Virtue I Possess

Comic from: http://www.cartoonstock.com
Truthfully, I’m never as impatient as I am when I’m waiting on an e-mail. I can feel my blood pressure starting to boil and that’s when I know I need to walk away. Practice some yoga breathing and just plain relax.

In college, I got in the habit (due to the newsroom I worked in) of constantly checking my e-mail, all day, every day. Then refreshing the page and checking again. This let me be the first to respond to extra shifts and therefore more money. As everyone I worked with did the same thing, it didn’t seem strange. Responses came quickly and problems got solved almost instantaneously.

In the first few places I worked after that first newsroom, the e-mail habits were the same. It was refreshing to know that responses would come quickly. That way the original e-mail could be deleted saving precious room in that every filling inbox.

Now that I’m out of journalism, I’ve found that people check e-mail even slower. Sometimes only a few times a day. This might be great for their concentration and their ability to fly through projects without interruption. Usually, this doesn’t bother me. But when I send a rather important work e-mail with a single work-related question that I feel needs answered sooner rather than later, it irks me. It also irks me because often the person isn’t someone I can just wander over to their desk and ask in person, which of course I would rather do.

As I said above, when I start to feel myself only getting more and more annoyed that the e-mail isn’t showing up with an answer, I try to just take a few breaths. Remind myself that the person might be in a meeting or might be home with a sick child. This trick seems to work, but I do have to constantly remind myself.

Does Anyone Read an Entire E-mail Anymore?

Photo from: http://www.topnews.in
I’m pretty frustrated with e-mail lately. I’ve run into countless times with co-workers and supposed customer service people, who either did not bother to read the entire e-mail I sent, or just completely ignored what I wrote in the first place.

To be fair, an e-mail I recently sent to the entire office contained 361 works and 1973 characters, not a novel. It contained very relevant information regarding an upcoming fundraiser and the requirements for participating. I sent the e-mail and had a great response. My co-workers seemed excited to participate in such a worthy cause.

Fast forward to the day before the taco lunch. No less than 10 people asked questions that were answered in the initial e-mail. I politely told them the answer was in the initial e-mail. That’s when several of them said, “Oh, I didn’t read it.” Or my favorite, “I deleted that without finishing reading it last week.”

While I wanted to scream, “I don’t write for my health, you know!” I refrained and just smiled and said next time you might want to read an e-mail I send, I don’t send office wide e-mails regularly.

The second instance of my frustration with people not reading an e-mail came from a well-known, mail order clothing company. I wrote a complaint after returning several items that not only looked nothing like what was pictured in the catalog, but didn’t match up to the provided sizing chart.

This is an excerpt from my initial e-mail: “I love most of your products and enjoys shopping in the stores, but I am finding the sizing to be ever-changing and hard to follow… Mostly, I am writing because this will be the third time I’ve had to return something because of a sizing issue and I find it very unfair that I am constantly charged $5.99 to send back something that will never fit. Please review your exchange policy.”

The response I received did not address my concerns at all.

“Thank you for your e-mail regarding your return postage. We are happy to assist you with your inquiry. We offer a pre-paid UPS return label to provide greater convenience for our customers. If you use the label and take it to UPS or drop it in a UPS box, you will not have to pay the return postage. Once your return is processed, a $5.99 charge will be deducted from your return or exchange if you used the label. You may also pay to return the merchandise using your own method such as Federal Express or United States Postal Service (USPS). Please note that return postage costs are not refunded by [COMPANY]. We assure you that you may return multiple orders within one package and use one pre-addressed UPS return label. To ensure accurate return entry, however, we do not recommend returning merchandise from more than one customer number.”

To which I replied, “This really didn’t answer my concern. Did you even read my comments?”

The second response I received credited my account the return fee and assured me my concerns were “forwarded to the proper department.” While better, the e-mail did not address my specific concerns and I just gave up.

I am concerned that in this information overload culture we’re creating that no one bothers to read or even worse read and comprehend any more. Didn’t we all learn how to do that in first grade?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution, but I’m open to suggestions.

Why is there such an aversion to the phones?

Photo from: Miami University in Oxford, Ohio
Lately, it seems everyone is blogging or talking about phone aversion at work. For those of you in an office, you know what I mean: the tendency to pen an e-mail, even if it’s convoluted instead of picking up the phone to call the person or better yet walking over to them.

In my current position, walking over to talk to the person directly isn’t always an option. I deal with people across the country, often on technical website issues. As a non-technical person, I have a hard time describing the problem. I can take all the screen shots in the world, but if I can’t explain what the problem is, then what good are the screen shots?

I would much rather call and walk the person through the process step by step over the phone when they can ask questions and I can at least get a sense that they know what I am talking about.

As for why the aversion to the phone in the first place, I understand e-mail is cheaper than a long distance phone call and that e-mail leaves a paper trail, but I think we have become so obsessed with the cost saving and documentation that we forget the person on the other end of the e-mail is just that a colleague and more importantly a person.

A great article on why e-mail is not great for communication by the editor at Pick the Brain can be found here.

The article references an equally great post by Scott Young: Don’t Use Email for Conversations.

It’s the little words that count

I am attempting not to offend or miscommunicate by learning to choose my words a bit more carefully.

In a recent e-mail I used entire, when I should have used partial. This lead to a misunderstanding for everyone who read the e-mail. After a five-minute follow-up phone call, everything was clear. While I needed to send the e-mail for documentation purposes, I would have just rather addressed the issue over the phone in the first place. As many smart people point out on a regular basis, phone call lead to so much less confusion and there’s little room for misinterpretation, unlike e-mail.

How many e-mails a day do I write without really thinking about each word? Too many to count. As a writer, I would love to write something and then be able to sit on it for an hour, or better yet a day, before publishing or hitting send. E-mail doesn’t afford that luxury.

For the time being, I intend to slowly reread every e-mail before I send it. I hope this added time will be worth it and I will miscommunicate a little less.