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Think Tank

Lost in Translation: The Problem with Email

Are you tired of the email trap? What starts off as an innocent email can quickly escalate into a rapid fire argument. We’ve all been there, hovering a finger over the send button, wondering if we should leave our latest masterpiece attempt at getting the last word in the draft folder. We think email is meant to help us communicate more easily, but it can trip us up into writing things that easily get misinterpreted, sucking up our time explaining away misunderstandings. How convenient can email actually be, then?

Adam Bryant, the author of Quick and Nimble and the "Corner Office" columnist at the New York Times, explains why email is not all that it’s cracked-up to be. (Anyone who has ever had to slog through a crowded inbox sure knows the feeling.)

“If you think of culture as just kind of the sum total of the relationships that colleagues have with each other, the thing about email is, it does literally nothing to build those relationships and is more likely to actually damage whatever connective tissue there is in the first place,” says Bryant.

Maybe it’s time to pick up the phone. Or better yet, try stopping by someone’s office to have a quick chat. It’s amazing how much more polite and understanding people are when they’re not hiding behind a keyboard.

“We've seen this behavior all the time in all our own jobs where people start these CC loops going and then suddenly you've got people like picking sides on an issue,” says Bryant. “One CEO had a great line; she said that email taps into a really bad part of our brain, which is the part that always wants to have the last word in a discussion. And I'm sure a lot of people have seen that.”

For more on Bryant’s discussion of how our conversations over email get lost in translation, watch this clip from Big Think’s interview:

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