If Something’s on Fire, Don’t Send an Email

Full flames

The other day around lunchtime, I got an email that said,

“Please let me know by the end of the day, or the project will be delayed.”

I happened to be working all day with clients.  I was not even going to check my email again until the end of the day.

If something was so urgent… why didn’t you call me?  Or text?  Or something more immediate?

After all, email is slow.

Bottom line, if something is on fire… don’t send me an email.

Email Is Not Urgent

Email is not an immediate form of a communication.  It is not for urgent matters.

Have you ever got an email that said, “I need to know now?

OK, then why didn’t you call now?

Email was once one of the fastest forms of business communication.  These days there are many more immediate methods, from cell phones, to texting, to Twitter.  (Yes, Twitter!)

Sometimes when something is urgent, sending an email is equivalent to leaving a note on the kitchen counter when the house is on fire.  Don’t let this be you.

Here are a few tips to aid in choosing the best method of communication based on urgency:

  • If It’s a Fire, Then Ring the Alarm – When true emergency strikes don’t hesitate to use the most direct method.  By all means, if the house is on fire, then ring the fire alarm.  I recently encountered a situation where a subordinate did not want to interrupt their supervisor, and instead let a hot issue sit much longer than it needed to.
  • Know the Available Methods – Be aware of what is considered appropriate means of communication in your workplace.  If your team uses Instant Message (IM), then by all means use it.  If your boss doesn’t do text messages, then it probably isn’t the appropriate manner to let him know that there is a problem.
  • Match the Urgency to the Form of Communication – By deciding how urgent an issue is, you can then match the level of communication.  If it is something that needs attention now, phone or text may be most appropriate.  If it is something that the entire team needs to be aware of, then a broadcast would be more effective.  And if it is something can be addressed when the person is available, then email may be best.
  • Don’t Hide Behind Email – People tend to hide behind email.  Maybe it is a sort of CYA response, but many tend to think that they if they send it via email, that they have “passed the issue on” and that it is “documented,” so they are in the clear.  Don’t use email as a excuse for not taking action or responsibility.
  • Go See Someone – If it needs immediate response, go see someone in person.  Sometimes even the phone is not urgent enough.  I teach my team, that if they really need to connect with someone, then go see them.  (Of course, in today’s virtual workplace, this is not always possible.)

Choose the Right Level

It is important to set expectations around your communication methods.  This will ensure that when an issue arises, that the appropriate level of communication is utilized.

For urgent matters, it can mean interrupting someone’s day.  On the other side, it means using a less urgent method when the issue can wait.

How do you deal with urgent communications?  Does your workplace use the appropriate methods of communicating?

Photo credit bimurch

Related Posts:

5 Reasons Why Email Is the New Snail Mail

Why You Don’t Really Need it Now

TMN’s 9 Laws for Work Email

5 thoughts on “If Something’s on Fire, Don’t Send an Email

  1. I was on fire this day… the first thing I disconnect at the beginning of this emergency period is my emailbox: I do not answer, even respond, to a email today.

    1. Philippe, thanks for sharing.

      I agree with disconnecting when needed. I will sometimes have my team put their “out of office” on if there is a true urgent issue at hand.

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