“If we email each other three times over the same issue, it’s time for one of us to pick up the phone.”
That sentence is posted at author and consultant Phil Simon’s website, on his page “Working With Me.” Simon also adds, at his website, “If you will only communicate by email, then probably we shouldn’t work together. Don’t get me wrong. Email is fine. I send many messages every day. But it’s only one form of communication; it is not the only one.”
Over-reliance on email is one of Simon’s pet peeves — so much so that he devotes much of his new book, Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It (Wiley, 2015), to it.
Email is a terrifically useful tool, but it suffers from significant limitations. “People already use email as a catch-all for personal communications, business communications, de facto project management, task management,” says Simon. It’s past time, he maintains, for businesses to shift many of those jobs out of email and into complementary tools such as Dropbox, Asana, Basecamp, HipChat, Jive, Yammer, and Slack. The result, he says, will be much better communication and far less wasted time.
Simon talked with Gerald C. (Jerry) Kane, an associate professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and guest editor for MIT Sloan Management Review’s Social Business Big Idea Initiative, about how organizations can cut back on email and its evil business communication twin, jargon.
Your new book is about what’s wrong with business communication and what companies can do to fix it. What is wrong with business communication today?
At a high level, there are two problems. Number one: we send far too much email. Number two: we use far too much jargon. That’s the book in a nutshell.
Let’s address the first issue. Email is killing us. Many employees receive 150 emails every day and those emails are frequently rife with jargon. It’s a pernicious combination. As such, employees are very unlikely to achieve what we’re trying to achieve on time. As my research uncovered, most employees are swamped with information and email.
Fortunately, change is well within our grasp. If I can improve my own skills, then anyone can. In the book, I cover my own communications journey.
1. An acronym for "what you see is what you get.”