In Emergencies – Forget Email

istock_000002386483xsmall.jpgI am working on a project in which almost everyone around me carries a Blackberry.  My observation as one of the few non-Blackberry users is that many have developed habits that thwart their productivity.

One sad habit that has developed is that Blackberry users have trained people around them to elevate email to a level of urgency that it simply was not designed to achieve.

What does that mean?

Pretend that you are the user and I need to send you an important message.

Because I know you have a Blackberry, and check it continuously, I’d prefer to send the information via email because I know that you are likely to read it. In other words, you have trained me to take the path of less resistance in my communication with you, and to avoid the built-in risk of making a confronting phone call.

For example, all over the world, I am sure, there are people being advised by their bosses that they are being “let go” via an email to their Blackberrys.  if i were your boss, I would also give you feedback on the latest meeting in which I got upset at your remarks via email, before telling you that I am taking your pet project away.  I might even announce the reorganization that places you in charge of the wasteland of “special projects” via an early morning message to your ‘berry, knowing that you’ll get it while you are in the car on the way from work.

I send the message, you get it and (presumably) read it a few seconds later, regardless of where you are.  Communication complete.

Or is it?

The truth is, critical communication should never be handled via email.  None of the examples given above should involve electronic messaging, unless they are limited to simple requests to “meet at 3pm in the office.”  The very nature of critical communication is that it evokes an instant reaction that must be dealt with quickly by both parties.

Email communication is simply no substitute for live communication.  We all know people who have sent mildly critical emails that were interpreted as outright attacks by the recipient.  Those mistakes have been happening for years.

We now have people who feed the addiction that other have to their Blackberrys by sending them important emails, knowing that they’ll read them between messages from their cousins, theViagra people and Nigerian heiresses promising millions of dollars. They also know that they’ll be read at 6 in the morning and at 11:30 at night, right before the teeth get brushed.

Blackberry users need to be firm, and insist that they be contacted via phone or in person for all messages that are neither positive nor neutral. They also need to train their colleagues that urgent messages sent by email will be stale by the time they are read, so it’s a better idea to call immediately.  They can start the “training” by letting people know that they check their email/Blackberry on a schedule, and that for them, there is no such thing as “urgent email.”

The save time for themselves and others by adopting good technology, but more importantly, sophisticated habits.