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  • Writer's pictureDirk Baerts

Email does not allow for effective communication …

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

In times of change, uncertainty and turbulence, clear and consistent communication is of the utmost importance. It is the key element of any well-functioning organization, but when a company or its environment is in flux, it becomes primordial.

Therefore, I am always surprised hearing people say “I have sent an email” when crucial messages are to be shared with various teams. No interaction, no questions-and-answers, no intonation or empathy in the messaging, just a dry, one-directional email to share the information. When asked if the message was clearly understood and everyone knows what to do or how to proceed forward, there is mostly a surprised look, accompanied by the typical “it should be, I have sent an email”.

Effective communication is a two-way stream at least, sometimes multi-directional, and involves various layers (wording, tonality, possibly expression and gestures). If done well, it is targeted, it triggers feedback (and preferably buy-in), and it ensures that all parties understand the message in a similar way. It happens over the phone, in in-person meetings, or, more recently, in video- and conference calls. Tools such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom and Google Hangouts have proven their value in recent Covid-19 months as valuable communication tools, delivering speedier & more impactful conversations than the sheer endless sequences of back-and-forth emails (with frequently only one recipient).

Communication stimulates interaction between the parties and creates engagement. Afterwards, it is might be worthwhile confirming the exchange in an email, to validate the information and acknowledge the confirmation to all involved. But the email can never replace the actual communication stream.

Why? Simply because emails should be catalogued as “information-sharing tools”, and not as “effective communication devices”: due to the lack of interaction, people will need to interpret the message themselves and “read” the emotion from a screen, without any tonality or expressions (which cannot be replaced by putting some emoticons in the email). The message loses all impact, or worse, gets misunderstood completely: what the sender meant by using the language, grammar or even the emoticon in the email, might be something completely different to reader, leading to confusion, misunderstanding and even frustration. I personally witnessed the panic streak of one of my employees when he received an email, written completely in CAPITALS. “The sender is very angry with me”, was his conclusion, only to find out during the subsequent phone call that there was absolutely no problem: the sender had just forgotten to turn off his caps lock and did not realize what a message in all-capitals could mean to my (much younger) employee.

Constant effective communication is one of the key elements in running a successful business, at all times but especially in times of change and crisis. Therefore, it is one of the seven pillars in the I2ACT management philosophy. Employees, just like clients and other partners in your business environment, need regular interaction & feedback to be successful. But to be impactful, and to also allow the organization to learn and improve its own working, this requires an instantaneous, clear two-way exchange.

Email does not allow for an instantaneous, clear two-way exchange. Email allows for simple one-way information-sharing, not for effective communication

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