what to do when your staff is misusing email

Ever had the frustrating feeling of reading a long, convoluted email and wondering, “Why didn’t this person just pick up the phone?” Or seeing someone take offense to an email that sounded abrasive, even if the sender didn’t intend it that way?

If you manage a team, chances are good that you’ve seen people making some bad choices when it comes to how they use email. At Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about some of the most common email problems and what to do if you see them on your team. You can read it here.

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. LadyHope*

    Regarding #3, I once a new-ish coworker who constantly complained that “nobody told me that!!” (“that” being things both my boss and I had definitely told her.) So one day something came up and she again complained that she hadn’t been given the information. I told her it had been in a company-wide email. “Oh, I didn’t read it. It didn’t look important. ”

    My head nearly exploded. Don’t whine that nobody tells you things when you are ignoring one of our prime methods of communication!

    1. Ama*

      I used to work with a bunch of postdocs who only stayed at the university I worked at for 1-2 years. We were very clear at the start of the year (it was both announced at the in-person orientation and on the start up checklist that was printed out for them) that their university assigned email was our primary form of communicating important school news and policies, and that if they wanted to continue using another email they needed to forward the university email to their account (some of the internal systems actually couldn’t send to a non university email). Every year there was one person who we’d find out late in the year had never bothered to do this, usually after they bitched at us about not telling them of some policy change that had been announced via email three times.

      1. Ama*

        Oh, and I forgot — one of the worst offenders in this regard (it was March of the academic year before it became clear she didn’t check her university email), would send me an email at 11 PM in the evening and follow up at 9:30 AM as if I had left her hanging for weeks.

        1. Kelly L.*

          There’s someone I deal with regularly who will send me a hair-on-fire email, I’ll reply with the answer/solution via email that same day, and then the next day she’ll call me with her hair on fire wanting the answer. Gah! You emailed me! I replied to your email an hour later! If you were expecting an important email, wouldn’t you…check your email?

    2. Sabrina*

      On the flip side of that, I joined a team at my current company and they didn’t add me to the department email distribution list. So I literally wasn’t being told all the important stuff, meeting notices, etc. It took my boss two months to figure out I wasn’t on it.

    3. MJ*

      There’s a woman in my department (IT!) who set up an auto-reply to the effect of, “I find e-mail distracting and annoying, and I only open Outlook twice a day, at 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., so don’t expect a reply unless it’s around one of those times.” I guess someone alerted her manager, because it only lasted about a month and then suddenly she started responding to e-mails again.

      Another coworker is famous for immediately calling anyone who IMs her a quick question; it drives people completely bonkers.

      1. Windchime*

        We have someone on our team who doesn’t check email at all, even when he is on-call. Anytime someone says, “Did you see the email I sent about [x]”, he will reply, “What email?” Because he never checks it.

        His voicemail light has also been on for months, before someone suggests that we call him. He doesn’t know how to check voicemail.

      2. Mackenzie*

        Outlook has been making my computer crash (not “get slow” or “hang” but full on kernel panic) for the last 2 weeks. I start it up, go through what’s there, and quit out, every couple hours or so.

        Your coworker is actually *right* when it comes to productivity though. Constantly checking email every 3 minutes when the stupid thing goes “ding” again and again for the hundreds of emails you get every day, about 6 of which actually matter… huge productivity killer. I’ve seen “only check email 2-3 times per day” on “how to be more productive at work” tip lists.

  2. Kirsten*

    I’m definitely someone who would prefer to email all the time instead of talking on the phone, so I have to be really conscious of making sure I am picking up the phone when needed. I find sending a brief summary email after a conversation helps in a lot of instances.

    1. Kyrielle*

      I am, too, but it’s also frustrating to me when someone wants to take a complicated problem to the phone, but each phase of the discussion requires time for me to review code, find old emails, read things, etc. I’d much rather do that in a more asynchronous way (such as email or IM) than on the phone, because doing it on the phone, I have to ask them to wait while I look some stuff up (and 90% of the time, they don’t – they try to engage in social chat or move forward before I’ve found my reference). Argh.

      Just because it’s complicated doesn’t always make a phone call right either.

      1. Arbynka*

        I have been there. On the phone with someone – oh, it is in this document, read it. I open it and read, hear the person breathing on other end, it is weird. So I say – can I call you back when I finish reading and they say, no it’s OK, I’ll wait.

        1. Kyrielle*

          It is weird, but if they’d stick to breathing and waiting, I’d deal. It’s when they expect to chat about kids, or work, or go on to the next bullet point while I’m reading and formulating my response that I really get frustrated with the whole process.

            1. Kelly L.*

              (While I’m searching for stuff. Not while I’m asking someone to search stuff for me. That would be rude.)

          1. Arbynka*

            See I am funny that way. I prefer chit chat when I am reading. While on the phone. I am fine with people sitting in my office waiting, while I do stuff. But I do not like it on the phone. Gets me nervous.

          2. OhNo*

            I learned work phone etiquette working in customer service, so now I have it ingrained in my head that there should never be dead space in a phone conversation – if I am doing something, I should be narrating my process to the person on the other end of the line.

            In practice, I know this is annoying as all get out if you don’t care, but I can’t seem to stop myself. It does keep the other person from distracting me by trying to chit-chat while I’m reading something important, though.

            1. Arbynka*

              I usually say – I am still reading, finished the first page etc. But it still leaves lot of silence.

      2. Liz*

        Another benefit of email: all parties have a record of what was discussed and why.

        It’s so frustrating to try to remember something and then discover the detailed email thread dissolved mid-discussion because someone decided to call back with an answer rather than replying.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Oh yes! If you are giving me detailed information that is complex, and you do it verbally, I have to write it down as you go or remember it until I can.

          Please email it. Then I can reread it, find it when I search on keywords, etc. Email makes a great external memory bank.

  3. Arbynka*

    Couple of weeks ago email. On Monday. Can you translate this for me ? I wrote back – it depends on when you need it. I have other responsibilities so I cannot do it right away. I can possibly finish it by next Wednesday. No response. Crickets chirping. Next Monday 10 am reply – today by noon would be great. Sigh.

  4. Adam*

    My preferences of email vs. phone (with people I actually want to talk to) is about a 50/50 split. So I gauge my emails by length. If explaining the situation requires more than two to three solid paragraphs of writing I consider that my cue to go and actually talk to the person, unless I’m purposely writing that long explanation to have a written record with a time stamp that can be referred to after the fact.

    1. Beezus*

      I frequently provide people with long email explanations of procedure specifically so they have it in writing to reference later, so they will refer to it before picking up the phone to call me with a question, or so I can refer them to it instead of going back through it in detail again. “I emailed you an explanation of how our system applies transit times to inbound shipments several weeks ago, probably sometime in November. Can you see if you can find that email, and if not, let me know and I will resend it.” I have a few people who definitely will not remember complicated information if I provide it verbally, but will keep it for reference (either because they were good at it to begin with, or because I trained them to do it by not making it easy for them to do otherwise.)

      1. cuppa*

        Yes! I really appreciate this. I tend to take decent notes, but it always makes me feel better when I have a written communication to make sure I didn’t miss or mis-interpret something.

    2. azvlr*

      This is a good rule of thumb for me going forward. I actually put communications on my development plan because I am not quite getting it right – having moved from a job where my communication was generally to one person at a time and more of FYI type things to having to spell out complex ideas and make sure the right people all get them.

      I tend to be a little slow in forming my thoughts and so prefer email because it allows me to say precisely what I’m trying to say. The really bad flip side of this is that I spend too much time drafting emails.

      I tried something the other day that seemed to be well received. We are in the beginning stages of a project, so I wanted to put my rough ideas out there for others to feed off of, but wanted to get just get the darn email done. My teammates tend to be very literal, so I added a disclaimer that this was just me putting out rough ideas and not to read too much into it.

      Email for things that needed to be documented (project-related), phone for things you do NOT on record such as “I need some advice on how to interact with Jane.”

    3. Mackenzie*

      Weird. I consider complexity to be a reason to go TO email rather than to the person directly. In email I can get it all neatly laid out, they can read along, refer back to the previous paragraph for details as they formulate their answer… In person, I’m likely to get an answer to a question I wasn’t asking because they cut me off halfway through the question rather than wait for the details.

  5. Amanda*

    I generally prefer email, but not long ago we worked with a vendor whose main contact person seemed to do a lot of “thinking aloud” in her emails. It wasn’t a case where picking up the phone was necessary; it was a case where she didn’t understand the art of writing concisely.

    I will say reading her emails did help emphasize how helpful bulleted lists can be, and to assess my own emails if they start getting too long to see if all that information needs to be there, and if it does, if maybe it’s better to set up a meeting.

    1. Darth Admin*

      “…a vendor whose main contact person seemed to do a lot of “thinking aloud” in her emails”
      omg so much this. I have a coworker whose every email seems to start and end mid-thought. The word salad is so impenetrable that I frequently find myself just filing the messages away and waiting to see if I truly need it. So frustrating.

  6. Clever Name*

    #2: So, as a person who likes to get right to the point, how does one compose an email that doesn’t strike people as brusque or abrasive? What are some examples of “email small-talk” that don’t strike people as inane. Or am I the only one who thinks talking about the weather or asking after someone’s family via email seems inane and disingenuous? This is something that I obviously struggle with.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think you need to do email small-talk. I think it’s more about not sending emails that consist solely of this:

      “Send me the Franks file.”

      And rather:

      “Hey Jane, could you send me the Franks file sometime today? Thank you!”

        1. Kelly L.*

          I’m so used to tacking a social-lubricant “thank you” onto things, I sometimes thank people for me doing them a favor!

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        Heavy sigh… There are two managers in my company who have email duels. Both are brusque, and they take turns offending each other. Neither means to be rude. I wish they worked for me so I could force them to sit in the same room and talk.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Gah, there used to be two people in my old university department who would get into email duels with each other, too. They held incompatible views on how things in the school should be done, and they were both competitive to prove themselves right. Once their exchanges would become heated enough that they were mutually indignant with one another, one or the other of them would start BCCing me on the exchange so that I could see how ridiculous the other one was. I would try to talk to each of them about how to maybe approach things differently, but it never worked; I just ended up in the middle for no good reason.

      2. Definitely anon for this!*

        THIS! I have a district manager that is horrible with email. Our location is among the 3-4 highest volume stores and the few of us at that level have surpassed their structure for increasing staff (so we continue to grow, for now, and cannot get an answer on what “magic number” will earn us more staff).

        We routinely get emails that just state “Don’t get more than 2 weeks behind on your weekly teapot counts.” Which is frustrating because 1. We know that is the expectation 2. It is not among the legally required mountains of paperwork we -have- to get done to keep our license 3. We count teapots whenever we can, but prioritize customers and legal requirements first 4. We are already doing more tasks at our location vs others, so our workload is higher though only number of teapots sold counts toward staff level determination 5. We are operating at full capacity almost every minute we are open 6. We have been constantly training new staff for about 2 years 7. We are in our busy season 8. When someone is out, we almost always end up working short as we have very limited ability to get those hours covered.

        Would it really kill her to instead write “I know you guys are busy, but can you try to stay less than two weeks behind on your teapot counts?”

    2. Brightwanderer*

      I don’t think anyone needs to talk about the weather in their emails. Unless that’s what you want to talk about. It’s more like, “There was a mistake in the file you sent, send it again,” vs “Hey, looks like there was a problem with the file, can you send it again?”

    3. TOC*

      If I’m adding pleasantries I usually stick with something vague: “I hope you’re enjoying the beautiful weather this week” or “Have a great weekend.”

      Yes, it’s inane, but no more so than small talk. Our social convention is that we ask, “How are you?” at the beginning of a conversation even if we don’t really care about the answer. It’s just an expected “lubricant” and following the norm tends to go over well even if you personally think it’s silly.

      I think “small talk” is even more important in email because it’s harder to convey a friendly tone in writing versus in a conversation.

    4. Adam*

      If I haven’t contacted someone in a long while I’ll usually include some variation of “Hope you’re doing well.”

      Otherwise Dear [name] or Good afternoon is small talk enough for me.

    5. Gem*

      My method:

      Write my email out as I would normally. Then go back, add a ‘hope you’re well’, or ‘I hope you had a good weekend/I hope you have a good weekend’ depending on the day. Things like that. It doesn’t always come naturally to me (though if I’m in a back and forth with someone its easier as we’ll have got a chain of small talk going too), but I’m also aware of the good nature it fosters on both sides, and so I make sure I always make time to do it.

    6. VictoriaHR*

      I’m autistic so I *hate* small talk and avoid it whenever I conceivably can without being rude. I’ve trained myself to put it in emails though. I use a lot of exclamation points to indicate excitement/energy (which is commonly done at my workplace, so it’s not outside the norm). So for example:

      “Hi Ann! Thanks for following up. I’ll be able to send that over to you by close of business tomorrow. Does that work for you? Happy Monday! VictoriaHR”

    7. Gwen*

      Agreed with the above, and I think it also depends on knowing your audience. There’s a lot of email back and forth in my team, so I’m not bothered by one of my teammates emailing me just “Bob wants more copy for this, can you write a quick intro?” where I might feel that it was overly brusque from an external source or even a coworker in another department that I don’t usually work closely with.

      1. TOC*

        Yeah, it’s definitely a “know your audience” thing. I don’t usually bother with pleasantries if it’s someone with whom I work very closely and/or we’ve been in contact a lot lately. I don’t open e-mails to my teammates or boss with small talk and I don’t expect them to do it for me.

    8. Sadsack*

      I, too, get right to the point, but I try to be nice about it. I never write, “Hope you are well,” or the like in an email. If I have been going back and forth quite a few times in an exchange, I might write, “Have a good weekend,” or whatever at the end. Typically, I don’t do this though. However, I make sure to please and thank you where ever possible, and also include a deadline if I am requesting something, such as, “Mary, can you please provide the cost center that I should use for Blahblahblah? I have a deadline of Feb. 15, so not a rush,” or “I need this by end of Friday — Sorry for the last minute request!”

  7. LaSharron*

    I am team email, because written information for the most part stops miscommunication. When information is conveyed verbally it’s “you didn’t say that” or “I thought you meant the spreadsheet was supposed to be in this format” or “the deadline was TODAY?” I learned the hard way that with some, even if it’s complicated, having things in writing is the only option.

    1. JM in England*

      +1

      It also means that you’ve a written record should there be any disagreements later on.

      1. Jessa*

        This. Especially in offices where there’s a tendency to have people that say “I was never told x,” or “I did x, when Sam actually did x,” or worse “I told you to do y,” when you know darned well it either never happened, or you were told to do B.

        I want email as confirmation. Even if there’s a phone call, follow up emails are a must, when you work with unreliable people or glory hogs.

    2. Kelly L.*

      And it’s searchable. I hate when I know I was told something, am trying to search for it to confirm that, and then realize it was just said verbally and can’t just be “pulled up”!

      1. Windchime*

        That’s why, after long phone conversations, I send a confirmation email. “Per our conversation, I will start collating the TPS reports and just put on one cover sheet, effective today. Thanks for the clarfication. ~Windchime”. It saves a lot of grief later when the other person says, “I said TWO cover sheets!”

    3. HR Manager*

      This is why you can then do a follow-up confirmation via email to confirm everyone’s understandings. The initial discussion and back and forth that may be needed though, should be face to face.

      I’m a big believer in email follow-ups, and CYA is most definitely needed when there is a history of lack of accountability. But CYA/email for everything can cause problems as well (e.g., 10 emails with everyone’s own opinion on what should be done can just be distraction and noise when a decision needs to be made).

  8. some1*

    Related question: how do you deal with a co-worker who sends you an email and immediately or very soon after comes to your desk and wants to tell you what they emailed? (For the record I respond to all emails as soon as I can and I respond asking for clarification if I don’t understand something.)

    1. Natalie*

      Run away from your desk the minute you see their email pop up?

      (I don’t have any advice but I did have a co-worker like this and it drove me batty.)

      1. LBK*

        I now bequeath unto you my time-tested and proven method for escaping from people in the office: keep a water bottle at your desk that’s never quite full. If you see someone coming you want to avoid or someone is talking endlessly and you can’t get out of the conversation, just get up to “refill” your water bottle.

        I use this tactic to protect my sanity from the unending whine stream that projects across the cube wall at me. Probably would’ve quit and/or stabbed someone with a letter opener by now without it.

        1. KJR*

          I do this! There’s a lovely lady in accounting who likes to come down to my office and tell me loooong stories about her grandkids. After about 3 minutes I grab my water bottle and start walking out of my office with it, all the while smiling and nodding. We part ways at the water cooler, it works great!

    2. KerryOwl*

      I have the opposite problem: I send an email to a guy in the office and he wanders over and says “I saw that you sent an email but I didn’t open it. What did you want?”

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            It’s OK, we’re family. Give my love to Masked and Caped.

            (Can you tell I’ve been waiting to use that line?)

      1. Natalie*

        My “email you and then walk over” co-worker did this, too, so I’d always get ready to go before I sent him an email. Like, I had my coat and bathroom key and was standing up when I hit send.

        At least once I could *hear him* coming down the hall as I opened the main office door. It was like being in a spy movie.

    3. Kathryn*

      If it is about something that is legitimately super time sensitive, ask if they want you to respond in email or chat about it now.

      If its an annoying long term habit, bring it up – I’d go with something like “You seem to come over here and check on many emails you write to me – I feel that I’m usually responding quickly, but do you have a need for faster turn around time?” If they’re close enough they can take a joke, I’d add “Or do you just like to try to race the email server to my desk?” and smile.

      If they are just insisting that they are your #1 urgent priority no matter what, start setting expectations clearly and then following them, “I saw your email come in, I can get you a response by the end of the day, did you need anything else?”

    4. cuppa*

      I had a staff member who did this. Drove me crazy. The only thing that pseudo-worked for me was to say, “I saw that you sent it, but I am in the middle of something and haven’t been able to read it. I will respond as soon as I can.”

  9. Gem*

    Phones are so not my thing, but I will do the phone + follow up email to confirm. Email actually scuppers us a lot – we use a ticket tracing system and some of our clients just refuse to use it and email one person instead. So when that person is out/busy doing the work of 3 other people/is dealing with an emergency, no one else can help.

    I have to write out my emails then go back and add the other small talk things in otherwise I’d be all business all the time – I’ve very task-focused, less relationship-focused, but aware enough to deal :)

  10. Julie*

    I hate the phone. Hate it. But it can make things so much easier and since I work remotely it’s one of the few ways I feel like I don’t just end up lost in someone’s inbox.

    I actually start every attempted conversation with a drafted email. Usually from the length or complexity I can tell if email is the best route or if it’s easier to take to a phone call. If I have a lot of questions with probably quick answers I take it to the phone. If the answers need an equally complex instruction, I prefer email to refer back to and the other person usually prefers email to take time to think the process through. Even if I do take it to the phone, I still refer to my draft email as a script/outline of the call so I don’t miss any steps.

  11. Mike C.*

    Man, Reply-Alls are a huge deal where I work, to the point that HR will get involved and start writing people up for continuing the chain. For context, we’re talking tens of thousands of employees across the country type messages.

    Given that our pay bands are published internally, I wish there was a function in outlook that looked at your TO/CC/BCC fields, took into account a wordcount/complexity score to figure out how long it would take to read (the former has been an option in a bunch of word processors for like 15 years), maybe factor in a percentage of emails that are deleted, and popped up a message saying:

    “This email will take approximately 5 minutes to read, costing (however much 5 minutes of time of the people you send it to is) $XXXX.XX. Do you still wish to send this message?” Attach one of those “3 seconds before the OK button activates” timers and you’re set. If nothing else, it would give some context to the costs of including a whole bunch of people in your email.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      Especially when you were included in error in the first place. I had that happen where I replied to the original sender pointing out the error, but didn’t reply all. However, some of the other recipients hadn’t noticed and kept replying all so I kept getting emails in error anyway. What do people think is the best way to respond to being included in group emails in error, to reply just to the sender or to all?

      1. Sunshine*

        I grit my teeth and get ready to delete all day.

        Another favorite of mine – people replying to all, just to yell at others for replying to all. I grit my teeth a lot.

    2. LBK*

      Unnecessary reply-alls are obnoxious, but almost worse is when you actually want to have a group thread about something and someone keeps replying just to you. How many damn times do I have to re-add the 12 other people that need to be part of this conversation before you stop deleting them off of it?

      1. Ama*

        I had a big boss once that flat out refused to use reply-all, which was extra annoying because there were usually half a dozen people who needed to know his answer to a single question. The chains would look like this:
        -Question asker cc’s everyone relevant so the director wouldn’t get asked the same question 6 times.
        –director responds only to question asker
        –question asker forwards answer to everyone else
        –someone on the forward list needs clarification or has a follow up question
        –cycle begins again

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        This happens enough with vendors that I put:

        text text text text text. question question question?

        Please reply all.

        Thanks!
        My Name

        With about a 60% success rate. Makes me crazy. I’m initiating the email but the people on the cc are the ones who will be picking up the details. I wouldn’t have them on the email if they didn’t need to know the answer also!

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      Oooh, if you could add that functionality to the meeting requests, that would be super awesome! “You’ve invited 15 people to your 2 hour meeting, which will cost the company $xx,xxx. Will your meeting save or earn the company at least that amount of money?”

    4. Annie*

      The my version of Outlook has a little bar that pops up when replying to an email with lots of recipients notifying you that 789 people will receive the message, which does not deter people, unfortunately. Our IT installed an option so you can disable reply all when you send out an email.

    5. KH*

      Check with your IT department – it is relatively easy to configure email systems to require membership in a specific security group to be able to send to a large distribution list.

  12. Cath in Canada*

    We had an external trainer come in to lead a workshop on business communication for our team last year. At one of the three 2-hour sessions we were asked in advance to provide examples of email disasters from our projects, and then we workshopped them in class, coming up with alternative strategies for replying to confusing, rude, policy-breaking, or other difficult messages. It was useful, even though the trainer read a couple of the emails from some of our more, um, interesting colleagues and essentially said “yeah, I got nothing”.

  13. Anonymous Educator*

    I hate the phone, but I’ve learned to come to terms with it. That said, when I had a receptionist job (with a huge flood of voicemails/calls and emails during the busy season), I made sure to get back to the calls in a timely fashion but to get back to the emails even more quickly to train people to email me if they want the quickest reply. And it actually worked to a certain extent. It didn’t stop the phone calls, but a lot of people who started off calling ended up emailing me more after a while.

  14. Azalea*

    For me, the worst is when you send an e-mail that only requires a quick answer – “Hey, what’s the ETA on this order?” – and the person who receives it insists on calling. I have several vendors I have to communicate with who insist on calling instead of responding to e-mails. Drives me nuts!

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Or worse yet, crickets for 6 months, 4 months after you’ve finished the project, and then an email reply “What’s the status on this? Please refresh for me what this is about.”

  15. so and so*

    I’m a email centric person in an office of luddites who can’t operate the electric stapler much less email. I was actually dinged in my first review here over my preference for email over “wait until I happen to see you” communication. My schedule is the opposite of everyone else so catching busy, often off-site coworkers for one on one conversations is just an inane waste of time.

    But I amended my ways and rely on the much less efficient method they prefer as I’m the one who doesn’t fit in here.

  16. Me Again!!*

    Email and the phone take up about 60% of my day. By the end of the day I want nothing to do with either device. I find that I am better able to convey my thoughts in written form, so if it’s something that isn’t time sensitive I will use email. Something that needs an immediate answer is almost always a phone call.
    I have my own rules for email and the phone:
    – do away with the “OK” and “thank you” emails. These are unnecessary and fill up the inbox at an alarming rate. Stop this now!
    – if you call me and I don’t answer, could you email me what you’re about to leave me as a voicemail instead? I’m much more likely to answer the email than I am to that voicemail, epsecially if it’s my personal voicemail.

    1. Kai*

      Very much agreeing with your rules. The second one I apply to my personal life as well–in the rare case where I actually call someone (my parents, I guess?), if they don’t answer, I hang up and text them rather than leave a voicemail.

    2. Kyrielle*

      Know your audience. Some of our clients may get their VM when they aren’t getting email or vice versa, so unless I know someone’s work style well, I usually leave a voice mail that begins with “Hi, this is Kyrielle from Chocolate Teapots Ltd. I’ll email you this information/question as well, but I was calling–” etc.

      Then I send an email that begins with “Hi! I left a voice mail also, but in case email is more convenient, and so you have a record of it, here’s the information/question: ….”

      I figure they can quickly delete whichever one they don’t want based on the intro, at least.

  17. Maureen P.*

    Sometimes I follow up an e-mail with an immediate in-person drop in, because there are some things I don’t want in writing! Example:

    E-mail to Barney, cc: Petunia: “Hey Barney, Would you please make the TPS report for Petunia your top priority this afternoon? It would be great to have by 3.”

    In-person followup: “Hey Barney, I just spoke to the budget office, who said that Petunia is way late in getting her MMQ report in on time – and she needs the TPS report today to finish the MMQ. I know this is really late notice, and it’s verging on an unreasonable request. But we’re covering Petunia’s butt, and she’s really appreciative, which will come in handy when we tell her we won’t be able to make the deadline for her RPO report next week because of these shenanigans.”

    This is a totally made up example (hence a bit nonsensical), but there have been several times where I needed to put part of a request in writing, and have the context stay off-the-record.

  18. LAI*

    What do you do if your office contains both email-people and in-person people? I work on a team of about 25 people and we cover the spectrum. I’m an email person myself but there are several people on my team who do not appear to read their email regularly or reliably. As in, it literally takes them 2-3 days before they even see it. I’ll follow up with someone after 48 hours with no reply and they’ll tell me that they’re still catching up on last week’s emails (and I promise you that we do not get THAT much email). During our busiest periods, I’ll get automated vacation messages that say things like “We are experiencing high workloads during the weeks of X-X. Please expect a delay in responding”. People have also told me that they didn’t receive an email that I know they were CC’ed on, and then even after going back and checking, they still claim they can’t find it.

    The result is that the email-people send out emails, but then we have to repeat everything in our weekly in-person staff meetings for all the non-email people who never read it or won’t see it in time. Our management doesn’t seem to have any problem with this system…

  19. Matt*

    I’m an email person in an environment of phone people. Most of them read the emails I send them, but they will respond by calling. And if they don’t reach me, they’ll call again. And again. They read emails, but they’d rather chop off their fingers than write one. Most of the time I’ll don’t have the answer they want right away, and/or it’s a complex bit of information in some doc, pdf or xls file, so I can just tell them “I have to search for this and then I’ll send it to you by email!”

    And there are people calling me and asking me “may I send you an email with this or that problem …” … and from time to time I’ll get an email saying “I couldn’t reach you on the phone, that’s why I’m sending this email …” (while I strongly believe in the opposite – email should be default, phone for special occasions)

  20. Vicki*

    I have _never_ wondered why someone didn’t “just pick up the phone”. IN fact, I have had to nudge more people toward sending email who wanted to call me and talk their long convoluted explanation at me, sans written documentation.

    I would also like to point out that, if something entails “long convoluted email”, the topic is not very likely to be easier to understand if they “just pick up the phone”. At least when it’s in email, I can write back with questions and I don;t have to try to take notes.

  21. KH*

    I just recently switched jobs. My old company was very email-centric – this new one, email is hardly used at all. It’s a big change for me as I had grown so comfortable with the email communication that I was not well prepared for quick paced face to face communication. What works at one company might be seen as unusual at another. Understand and adapt to the working style – that’s just the way things are…

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