Engineering vs email: other technologies are available


Anthony Haynes writes: Here’s a sequence of conversations of a type that might well be familiar to you.

Phase I

A: We need to chase X.

B: Yes, I’ll send him [or her] an email

Phase II

A: We still haven’t heard from X.

B: Ok, I’ll send him another email.

Phase III

A: We still haven’t heard from X.

B: Ok, I’ll send him another email.

Phase IV

A: We still haven’t heard from X.

B: I’ve sent him loads of emails.

At some point in, one hopes, the penny will drop that reliance on email is not really cutting it. Maybe B already senses that, in which case A needs to explain that B’s job is not to send emails, but rather to actually get things done — so B needs to switch to whichever alternative method will achieve results.

There are various candidates, the feasibility and effectiveness of which will depend on the people and context. Here I’ll mention two candidate media.

First, print. With some respondents, print can be a quick waste of time: they open the envelope, give the contents a cursory look, and bin it. But some people — no doubt a minority, but some — prefer dealing with paper, so it’s worth a try.

Paper correspondence is becoming so rare that supplementing email with print can help it to stand out from the mass of unanswered messages.

Second, telephone — a hugely under-utilised method. The reason telephone might work is that, in many contexts, telephone calls have become unusual and so can make an impact (‘They must be serious, they’re even phoning me’).

Plus when listening, as opposed to reading an email response, it’s easier to detect insincerity or dishonesty when you people say something like, ‘Actually I’ve nearly finished it’.

The key thing is try things out and not stick to doing the same one thing over and over.

Take-home message: If you’re serious about getting responses, ring the changes.


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