Most managers love e-mail — it gives them an easy way to quickly communicate with large groups of staffers. But here’s the downside:
It’s easier for conversations to turn sour when conducted electronically.
Vanderbilt and Rice Universities conducted an experiment about the differences between e-mail and other types of communication. Two groups were placed in identical tense negotiating scenarios. Some people were told to talk via e-mail, the others face-to-face or over the phone.
Here’s how the negotiations turned out:
- The subjects in the phone/face-to-face group were able to work out their differences, but
- Negotiations broke down in the e-mail group, with conversations more often ending in anger and insults.
Researchers noted that e-mails don’t allow the writer to adjust the message based on the recipients reaction, and the lack of immediate back-and-forth conversation makes it easier for arguments to stew and get worse.
Do’s and don’ts for managers
What it means for supervisors: Some conversations are better held in person. Never use e-mail to avoid difficult discussions — most likely, that strategy will only backfire.
Experts recommend managers make the effort to dial a phone or hold a face-to-face meeting to talk about tense subjects, such as:
- warnings about poor performance or mistakes in an employee’s work
- salary discussions, and
- changes to an employee’s workload.