We all know that sinking feeling when you follow up on an outstanding deadline (that’s now overdue and urgent) and the person says “I never got the email”. While emails are probably less likely to disappear into the ether than they are to be ‘lost’ in a bulging mail box, the all-important question remains: does sending an email constitute effective communication? The answer is simple: no, it doesn’t – hitting send does not provide any assurance that the message was received, understood or acted upon.

No doubt, email remains the go-to form of communication in the business world and, according to recent research by The Radicati Group there are some 929 million business mailboxes in the world. The Radicati report says that, in 2013, the majority of email traffic came from business email, which accounted for over 100 billion emails sent and received per day. It also predicts that email will remain “the predominant form of communication in the business space”, with over 132 billion business emails sent and received per day by the end of 2017. That’s a lot of messages.

And who can dispute the ease and convenience of email, not to mention that it provides proof that the sender initiated a message, and it will stand up in court as a legal form of communication. But firing off an email is no guarantee that the message has been received and, most importantly, understood, or that the required action has been taken.

When we put expediency ahead of efficiency by simply hitting send and hoping for the best, we do ourselves and our business a grave disservice. And, in the project management world, where success is inherently dependent on a group of people, with often diverse skills and personalities, each contributing their sum of the part to the whole, effective communication is more essential than ever.

So much so that project communications management is one of the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) ten knowledge areas.

Let’s take a step back and consider the time-honoured communications model: effective communication happens when the ‘sender’ conveys a message to the ‘recipient’, and the recipient’s feedback indicates that the original message was received and understood. And therein lies the challenge, and the danger, of email. You cannot simply hit send and then tick the item off your to-do list.

Some simple tips for effective email communication:

  1. If possible, use email communication to confirm/reinforce your message rather than as the primary form of communication.
  2. If you send an important email, follow up with a phone call to ensure that the recipient has received and understood what you require.
  3. Inundating colleagues with email is counterproductive – your important messages will get lost in the ‘noise’ of the volume of messages you send.

    There is no doubt that, when used properly, email is a great business tool but, like any tool, the way the workman wields it makes all the difference.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

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