CybercreationModern technology may put the entire world at your fingertips, but you have to resist the urge to command those around you like Lord Computron. You might be able to emit emails like a work-distributing water sprinkler, but unless you’ve got a “Dispatch Killbots” keyUp beside HOME and END, there’s no guarantee that’ll get the best response. Sometimes low-tech communication will get people’s attention much more effectively than email.

1. Cutting the scheduling knot

Email is the first way to go when scheduling an event: people have their calendars right there and can conveniently check their availability, plans, and internal “can I be bothered?” index before hitting reply. The trouble starts if you have more than two rounds of replies, when the simplest scheduling skids downhill into an infinite battle of “I can’t go there because my dog’s cousin is allergic to shellfish” and “I’m waiting for Bob to talk to Helen about discovering alchemy.”

Ten different people pushing their own versions of the meeting means that it’ll happen shortly after the heat death of the universe or with half the attendees absent because they didn’t get their way. The best way to head off such a horrible waste of time is to prevent positions from becoming entrenched (and yes, quite a lot of business technology advice is taken from infantry assault manuals). Harvest a good time from the first round of replies and just make it happen before time-pressure gets critical. Phone each person to ask them yes or no and that’s just it.

2. Delivering constructive criticism

People don’t like to be told that they did something wrong. Which means they don’t like you for telling them they’re wrong, and become less likely to do what you ask — which is a pity, because you’re asking them not to do things wrong. While minor corrections can easily be emailed, if a project needs a serious turnaround or contains major errors, it’s worth visiting their cubicle in-person. Submitting a scathing, scorn-soaked email might be satisfying but has the same long-term effect on your projects as introducing a fire-ant colony into the office — in the short term, people will move faster, but in the long term, they’re angry and either gone or not moving at all.

All the softening strategies for bad news — compliments, reassurances, encouragement — can come off as trite or insincere in email. You can’t use emoticons to soften the blow because, seriously, you can’t use emoticons in any business communications outside of “Little Sharon’s Super Cute Salon Hee Hee (TM).” There’s no body language, no chance to head off bad feeling, just a wall of text basically saying “I think you’re an idiot but want to be NICE about it!” In many cases you’ll have to email the index of errors anyway, but a visit in-person where you state the outline and promise to send the mail later can make things a lot easier.

3. Sincere statements or none at all

Building good relationships with your clients is always a good idea. If that’s news to you, please, close the browser and get something more appropriate to your business level (we recommend just getting “My First ABC” and starting all over again). But some extra efforts are worse than nothing: if you’re going to send Christmas cards to clients (though New Year cards are a better idea), assign a block of time to sign and mail them out or just don’t bother.

A mass email does a much better job of expressing your feelings than you think — in that it honestly expresses your feelings, and those feelings are “I spent less time on this than I usually do on Solitaire.” The FILL IN NAME HERE mail conveys slightly less emotion than an ATM (people like those because of the money). Sure, buying actual physical cards, signing them, and mailing them in layers of processed tree like some kind of caveman is an extra hassle — but that’s why it works. And if you have too many clients for that to be reasonable, you don’t have to bother — we can guarantee they don’t think of you in any personal way anyway.

The moral is: don’t rely entirely on technology. That’s an odd thing for us to say, since “Wow, look at all the awesome stuff technology can do for you!” is kind of our entire deal here, but until the CompuBots take over even the most amazing Internet connection, we’ll still have other people on the end of it.

Image credit: kemie / iStockphoto

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