I entered the room of a senior executive in a corporate house to find him chuckling over an email he had just received. He felt obliged to explain why. "It is funny how some managers will go on and on writing mails," he said. "They think they are doing their jobs by responding to every mail without in fact adding any value with their replies."
I hazarded a guess. "Perhaps they are trying to impress you and show how alert and responsive they are," I said. He grimaced. "I would be happy if something came out of such mails, but nothing does," he said. "Such chain mails annoy me. Among other things, they clog up space on my BlackBerry. You can't fool all the people all the time."
With companies encouraging employees to tweet and even write blogs for in-office consumption, some people have become much more inclined than before to hit the keyboard even when they have nothing to say. The humble email is bringing out the worst in many managers. They email others incessantly when there is no need to do so, forward mails the prospective recipients have already got, or attach all kinds of frivolous add-ons and hit the 'Send' button.
Top managements do not approve, and in some cases have begun pulling up those who spam their colleagues. "Many companies now spot such behaviour. One cannot hope to get away with it," says Zacharias Cherian, Human Resources Head at Agilent Technologies. Lines of accountability are getting sharper, and needless, compulsive emailing is being detected and checked.
Those in the habit of emailing needlessly should pause and think about what the habit is doing to their personal brand. Do they really want to be thought of by their colleagues and bosses as people of no consequence, whose mails can be deleted without being opened? "I know there are some mails I can safely delete without missing out on anything," says a senior executive in a large company. "They are likely to be inane." Which manager would want such an image? A manager's brand is so much stronger if his seniors feel compelled to open and read every mail he sends, because they know he never mails unless it is essential to do so.
Some managers even try to resolve conflicts with colleagues on mail. In such cases, mails often multiply endlessly as, charged with high emotion, they are dispatched with in a flurry. No doubt there are some advantages in working out differences on mail.
Writing them gives people time to think, choose their words and respond just the way they want to, while in face-to-face encounters, the better debater - not necessarily the one with the better arguments - usually wins.
Docum-enting exactly what the conflict was about, and the positions the antagonists took, also helps if the problem arises again at a later date. "There are some work cultures that put huge emphasis on the documented word. This goes down the line and managers feel they need to record everything," says Cherian.
But do written exchanges resolve the problem? They can never match the effectiveness of direct verbal interaction in sorting out issues, feel executive coaching experts. Mail warriors should understand their colleagues will respect them more, if they take the initiative to walk over, sort things out and focus on closure, instead of shooting off mails. Once again, surely that is a more desirable personal image than that of an inveterate spammer?