Friday, February 19, 2010

Never Settle for an Email

We live and work in a world today that is increasingly reliant on a wide assortment of communication tools to talk to each other. We can email someone, chat with them on Skype/Messenger/Gmail Chat/etc., Tweet someone, send a text message, or call them on a variety of devices. Some people even use a more primitive form of communication known as a face-to-face conversation. All of these communication methods present opportunities to catch someone at the right time or miss them completely in the shuffle of dealing with all of the avenues I've just mentioned. The question is which one do you use if you need to get something done quickly.

It's fairly easy to default to email as Option #1. You have a record that you actually talked to someone, you can get notification that it was received by the other party, you don't have to worry about a character limit and you can access it on a number of devices. What you lose with emails is personality and tone (despite the fact that you can throw in a variety of colorful language and exclamation points when you want to.)

Emails aren't always the best option though. In some cases you are at a disadvantage if you get someone's email address and expect to get an answer back to you in minutes or hours. That's why my motto is Never Settle for an Email (ok, if I had a motto this would be it.) Let me give you a recent example.

My organization is expecting some large shipments of shelter kits to arrive in Haiti next week to go to families in need of solutions beyond bedsheets and trees that would not last through a Wisconsin winter. We have limited warehouse space in Port-au-Prince and we've decided that it would be ideal to work through other NGOs on distribution since its not our core compentency. Regardless of who distributes them they are needed by Haitians ASAP. Our goal was to secure agreements to distribute our kits in a number of communities in a way that would allow us to minimize the need for our warehouse space in the short-term.

After doing some assessment in one community we found a few groups that we thought could accomplish this task last Friday. I talked to one international organization that same day in person and sent a follow up email over the weekend with more details. I called a second organization and after not getting through to their field contact I sent an email with the information I wanted to share with them.  I attempted to follow up with both groups on Monday but still did not reach the second group by Wednesday. Luckily I received an email from our department head that mentioned that some senior folks from our end had talked to senior folks from the organization that had not gotten back to me and made a tentative agreement for us to work together. I now had my new route of access.

I sent a second email to this organization on Wednesday and dropped some of the names mentioned in the email I received earlier. This got me a reply back that night with 2 contact emails and phone numbers and one of those people called me back the following morning.

Getting back to my point - the lesson here is one email address is not enough if its really important and needs a reaction quickly. There are caveats to this since you have to judge how far you can go depending on your previous knowledge of the recipient and knowing when to push hard and when to ease up. I know my example involved other emails (and phone is better than that if you can't get a face-to-face) but again one email is not enough.

Photo courtesy of Mark Manalaysay via Stockvault.

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