The blessing and curse of email

Sometimes I wonder what we ever did before email became ubiquitous. I remember having phone lists and calling trees, phoning the pack leaders to let them know about an important item or change, and calling all my den parents to remind them about the upcoming den meeting or outing. We had printed newsletters, calendars and activity handouts, which got revised frequently resulting in lots of paper thrown away or recycled.

Email has become the most important way to distribute information. What better way than to type a few lines and hit Send and have your message instantly appear for others to read?

When used properly, email is a powerful tool. We don’t have to worry about whether we’d be bothering someone with a phone call at dinnertime or after bedtime, and if they’re away, they can read the message when they get home (or on the road thanks to smartphones).

But email is not the be-all, end-all panacea. It’s not appropriate for all types of communication. For instance, it doesn’t lend itself well to collaboration. I’m sure we’ve all tried to carry out a discussion on a topic by sending emails to a group of people. Replies are not always instantaneous, and not everyone will have time to read everything that everyone has written. If you’re trying to plan support for a campout or put together a pack outing, email is not a great way to do it. These sorts of conversations tend to be back-and-forth, which can be accomplished with a succession of emails but which works a lot more efficiently talking in real time, whether on the phone or in person. Getting everyone together for an in-person meeting might not be easy, but it’s a far better way to collaborate and is bound to produce better results.

Another thing to consider is the permanence of email and its tendency to escape from its intended recipients. I think we’ve all had times when an email we wrote or received got forwarded, accidentally or on purpose, to someone we wish didn’t have it. Material of a sensitive nature should not be discussed via email; these conversations are best held in person. Personnel issues come to mind but so do private matters between a pack parent and the leadership, like behavioral situations or financial hardship.  Pick up the phone or meet face to face. Sure, take notes but keep them off email.

Email also suffers from the same deficiency as written communication – the lack of verbal and visual cues to amplify or clarify meaning. Communication can involve all the senses, not just the ingest of words. The tone and inflection of voice, the facial expressions, even body posture can add to or change the meaning of the words we use.

Next time you have the inclination to send an email, consider the subject and the recipient and the sensitivity of the message. Think about what would happen if it were misinterpreted or fell into the wrong hands. Ask whether it would be more efficient to have a face-to-face or telephone conversation and if it could wait until you could facilitate such a meeting. If email is the best approach, go ahead and send it. If not, find another way to communicate.


This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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