I still hate email. I have not warmed up to it, and I only rely on it for sharing facts and information these days. It is a terrible medium for discussing any topic because there is no feedback loop, and because it’s not real-time (even if you think it is).
What’s far better?
In recent years, I’ve come to the conclusion that technology and digital communication caught up to email and is now much more effective on Slack or by text (or any other digital tool you prefer that allows some back and forth in real-time). Too often, an email meant to foster discussion sits in an inbox for hours or days, and ruins productivity.
One of the best things about Slack, for example, is that you can provide positive feedback that is clear and actionable. The recipient can archive the good news forever. They can go back and read it a year from now. It has a long shelf-life.
If you have good news to share, it obviously works fine and even better in person, but on a digital medium like Slack, it is pure gold.
Of course, there’s also a problem with real-time communication.
More and more, I’ve seen people in an office setting using these powerful and effective tools to discuss projects that eventually will lead to some negative feedback in a tone that is hard to relay using just a keyboard. Suddenly, real-time communication is not so powerful and effective anymore. It leads to miscommunication and hurt feelings. Because communication apps are easy to use and always available, we think they are the right tools for something that is incredibly hard to pin down.
Bad news has many layers. There’s the emotional layer, the first reaction. There’s the intellectual layer, the one where you start thinking of the root causes and the possible repercussions. There’s the mental anguish, the spiraling-out-of-control feeling that you have disappointed someone or caused pain. People tend to want to resolve conflict with immediate action. When they hear negative feedback, they want to solve it right away.
Slack and other tools are not built for that. They are ideal for delivering good news because the recipient can relish in the good feelings and even copy and paste the warm thoughts. They are terrible for delivering bad news for the same reason. The recipient will stew for a while but will eventually want to do something to correct the bad news, but there’s no avenue for that other than typing, typing, typing (and more stewing).
If you have bad news to deliver, do it in person. There are too many variables, and you can become part of the solution and set the course of action in motion properly. It’s too hard to do that when all you have are text and images to help the person cope.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.