Our current culture has progressed (or is it regressed?) to the point that much of our communication happens though email. As with every advance, there are both great benefits and big problems that happen when something shifts behavior as much as email has over the last two decades.
Since email is such a major part of how our team at LifeWay Worship Resources does our work, I’ve developed a few thoughts to share with our team. I thought I’d share them with you as well.
Facts, Not Feelings.
Email is a great way to share facts with people. For example: The meeting is at 2:00 in room 209. OR The rehearsal has been moved to the Worship Center.
But, email really stinks at communicating feelings. For example: Your voice mail really hurt me. OR I have deep concern with the theology of the last song in the concert.
There has yet to be an emoticon developed that can really connect the feelings of one person to another. Humor, sarcasm, rhetorical questions, and deep convictions have all been sacrificed on the altar of convenience through email. Misunderstanding of tone and intent can often lead to another email response that includes even more misunderstood tone and intent… and pretty soon, something that was small and easily addressed becomes a big issue. Always remember, the person you are writing will most likely spend more time reading your email than you did writing it. You might have written it in 10 minutes, and they might read it 10 times. Unintended emotion can easily be inferred with repeated readings.
Use email to share facts. Use conversation to convey feelings.
The Dreaded “Reply All” Button.
Mass email has it’s own potential problems, but I recognize that sometimes an email needs to go a big group of people at once. It becomes a real issue when an email to 50 people is responded to over and over with, Thank you or Got it. And what should have been one message now becomes 51 meaningless messages in everyone’s inbox. It’s a colossal waste of time and energy.
“Reply all” should rarely be used and only when each person needs your reply. When the mass prayer request goes out, don’t hit the “reply all” button to say, “I’ll be praying for you.” Just reply to the person.
Noses and Eyeballs – the Ministry of Presence
Words are only one part of communication. Our expression, tone, and appearance all contribute to the communication we share with another person. Email does not have the benefit of almost all of those important tools. Email is, in its essence, a very passive form of communication.
In many settings, people will communicate the hardest things in the most passive ways – and they do this because of insecurity and to avoid direct rejection. As a matter of fact, some people will say things in an email they would never say in person because the accountability is so indirect.
If you are leading volunteers, don’t allow the ease of email or group planning software to replace conversations with the people you lead. When you assign them work without dialog or responsibility without connection, you put them in the strange position of leading without the confidence of knowing your intent – or worse, you leave them without the opportunity to decline or clarify with explanation.
There is nothing like sitting across from someone and saying what you want them to know – and, in turn, hearing what they have to say in real time. A good rule of thumb would be this: the more important the information or request and/or the more confrontational or personal… the more direct the communication should be.
Email can become a political weapon in any organization. To manipulate a desired outcome you might be tempted to copy in the pastor, or other leader, to add a measure of weight to the message. Or, you might copy someone in a blind copy if your intention is to protect yourself in some way (as you try to prove your worth or diligence to the organization). Or, maybe you are trying to get something on record so you can catch someone in an inconsistency later.
Watch yourselves on this one! If you are crafting an email with a hidden agenda that includes a “cc” or “bcc,” hit delete and start over (with the right attitude). Or, if you find yourself shaping the email in the form of a loaded pistol, and your intention is to inflict harm, stop writing and walk over to that person’s office or pick up the phone for a conversation.
Don’t use email as a weapon. It can be a boomerang.
Pursue A Healthy Culture
Unity was a point of emphasis for Jesus as He instructed His disciples. An unhealthy email culture can cut right into the unity of a team. Develop the art of conversation and consensus in your work – and if you do – clarity will follow.
Then the team can focus on the all-important mission of making disciples.
Should I send this out in an email?
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.