To email or not to email? Choose wisely to build better relationships

How do you prefer to communicate? With friends, the default now is often social media. For business, it’s usually email. Whatever your reason for getting in touch, it’s essential to think about the person at the other end first.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
(Māori proverb)

Image, a group of people leaping into the air on a beach at sunset

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. Image by Belle Co. Pexels licence.

When email is good…

Email is amazing for summarising arrangements, logistics, timelines, and other complicated things. It’s especially effective when you need to tell multiple people the same thing. As a person who loves to read and be organised, I value the electronic record and being able to go back and check on what I’ve agreed to do.

For others, reading isn’t their favourite pastime, as Colleen’s post explains: How to make sure your emails don’t go unread

…and when it is damaging

Ten years ago, two friends fell out. After a cooling-off period, one of them emailed me to ask for ideas on how she could make amends. I suggested she started by apologising.

But I made one big mistake: I didn’t tell her to do it face to face. She emailed her apology — and the recipient read it as insincere and an attempt at a ‘quick fix’ for a grave offence. Result: the drama escalated and friendships were lost.

Image, a toy girl and boy sitting on a small table facing away from each other looking grumpy.

Email isn’t good for resolving conflict. Image by June Intharoek. Pexels licence.

But how to choose?

Have you ever taken up a new role where your predecessor left a while ago or wasn’t keeping up with email, and you inherit a bulging inbox from a bunch of people you don’t know? This happened at my church, and the interim vicar was overwhelmed. He scanned the hundreds of emails, decided which were important, and then phoned people or arranged to meet them.

Although those of us whose emails went unanswered were mildly offended, we slowly figured out that he knew that the important thing was — he tangata. Building relationships and talking to people in person or by phone was his way of making connections.

Organising or connecting?

Here at Write we are great organisers, as the thousands who’ve come to our workshops will confirm. But we also value connection — with readers, writers, clients, workshop participants, and with the international plain language community.

We’re also great fans of thinking about purpose before you write anything — including emails. So we suggest always thinking about what you want to achieve before starting that email. If you want to build a relationship, it may well not be the best option!

Need more help?

Email Essentials is a half-day workshop that will teach you how to write clear, concise emails that reflect well on you, are more effective, and consume less time.

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