New communications tools are proliferating—think Slack for messaging and Basecamp for project management. And yet, email use continues to mushroom. In fact, the average person sends and receives 200+ emails each day across business and personal accounts.
And that adds up to a lot of traffic. Although email is certainly a useful tool for a wide variety of tasks—for example, reading and keeping information about benefits programs—our reliance on electronic communication for every task can cause confusion or inefficiency in many cases. Check out these seven disadvantages of using email
1.You can’t read “tone.”
Oh, the hours we spend dissecting the tone of an email. If a response says “OK” without an exclamation mark, is the sender annoyed or displeased, rather than enthusiastic? Or if the message is abrupt, is that how the sender was feeling, or did they just rush off the missive quickly and not take care to add the pleasantries? It’s easy to read way too much into the tone of an email that could be avoided with an in-person conversation, where you are able to take advantage of tone of voice, facial expression, and the other nonverbal cues that help us better interpret a message.
2. It can become a time-wasting back and forth.
Can you meet on Tuesday at 9? No, how about 10? No…Wednesday for lunch? There are so many conversations that could be taken care of in two minutes if you just picked up the phone rather than responding (and responding and responding).
3. “Reply all.”
This one is self-explanatory: All of us have opened up our email box to be greeted with 30 messages; 22 of which were responses to someone asking if everyone was attending the team town hall. “I’ll be there!” “Yes.” “See you then.” And on and on. Easy enough to delete but still a pain when you’re trying to find something important. And of course, replying all when you didn’t mean to can be a giant career faux-pas as…
4. It’s easy to mis-direct.
When there are two “Pauls” in the office, and one is the CEO and one is your lunch buddy, that can easily go wrong. If the “autofill” feature chooses the wrong Paul, you could inadvertently send a description of the commute troubles that led to your late arrival (or worse) to the CEO and not your pal.
5. Sensitive information can be passed on without your knowledge.
Email is easy to forward, and once it’s left your computer, you have no idea where it can end up. Yes, someone can repeat the same information you give them in conversation, but it doesn’t have the same weight as seeing information written down in an email from you. Think before you send a disparaging or complaining email that could easily end up in your manager’s in-box.
6. You might say something you regret.
When you’re standing face-to-face with a coworker, it’s unlikely you would say some of the inflammatory things that are much easier to fire off in an email. Sometimes hiding behind a screen and keyboard makes it seem acceptable to open up and make statements that you would never say to someone’s face or even about them to another colleague. And the repercussions for your career and relationship can be damaging. So, watch that your emails don’t contain information you wouldn’t share in an actual conversation.
7. It can become an inefficient “to do” list.
Many of us keep messages in our in-box because we don’t want to forget them, and we think that keeping them there will ensure they are top-of-mind when we open it up. But that can lead to important items getting pushed down or forgotten. It also can create false urgency, when you feel that you have to respond to items right away, rather than dealing with the tasks that truly deserve your attention at the moment. Better to move tasks to an actual to-do list and prioritize them, rather than rely on email to jog your memory.
Although email definitely has its place in the corporate world, especially as many embrace remote work, it’s wise to always ask yourself whether it’s the best medium for each piece of communication. If a phone call or stroll down the hall to talk to your team member is possible, often that’s the better choice.