I come from the dinosaur era when email did not exist – yep, such an era existed - and I can tell you: it sucked. Email is a great communication tool.
But great tools have this annoying problem of empowering us to use them wrongly. If you have ever hammered your own finger while nailing something, you are not alone. Email can also hammer our own fingers.
One of the big communication mistakes email easily promotes is what I call the "email to everybody" issue. You know the drill: an email pops up on your inbox and there are more people on the recipient list than there are people on your neighborhood.
When these emails are top-down, rather unidirectional communications, they are fine. The problem arises when there are open questions or needs for discussions. If a question or action point has been “assigned” to 57 different recipients by the sender of this email, who is really responsible for doing it or answering it?
Some people will probably wing it. “Someone else will take action anyway”, they may say. Others will try to interact by pressing the evil “Reply to All” button. After a couple of iterations and multiple recipients being active, a print out of the conversation would result in a pile of papers taller than the Eiffel tower.
It is no surprise that the “email to everybody” practice has led some people to react with what I call the “black hole” behavior. People with the “black hole” syndrome are those to which you send emails and they never reply; nor acknowledge their content; nor have any recollection of ever having received anything you have ever sent to them. Another name for this condition is “send-it-to-me-again-next-week” syndrome.
One starts to develop the “black hole” syndrome after many years of exposure to the “email to everybody” approach. After so much wasted energy our bodies learn that emails are not important and, if they are, someone else will take care of those issues.
I had a friend with severe “black hole” syndrome. He used to say that he organized his received emails in two folders: “Time alone will solve” and “Time alone has solved”. It must be highlighted that he acted on none of those.
Coming back to our analogy of using a hammer wrongly, sometimes our behavior with emails would be comparable to a man who has been hammering all his fingers to exhaustion but has managed to put only two frames onto the walls (out of the 300 he intended to).
Shall we start hammering better? Our fingers will be pleased.