Design/User Researcher. Ex MONotype Research Director and BBC Audience Researcher. Former Director of Mark Boulton Design and Five Simple Steps.

We're humans not robots


I read this interesting post by @miked this morning. I had the exact same conversation with some of my colleagues in Boston last week. To summarise what I am hearing here and during that conversation last week was this:

"I'm really busy. I have a lot of email. I need other people to write shorter emails to make my life easier. I haven't got time for chat or the back story, just cut to the chase."

My take on this? 

"We're humans, not robots. Sometimes in the cold, hard, busy business world we just need people to be chatty, friendly and nice to get us to do something." *


Here's the long version of this stance:

I totally get this 'email is broken, we're busy, let's write shorter emails' thing and agree to some extent. To quote Maykel,

"Communication is hard." 

You can say that again. I've written a bit about this before in the context of workplace exclusion and working with remote colleagues. What I said there was,

"It's easy to be comfortable and lazy in the way and whom we communicate with."

Yes, it's easy to be lazy on email and write a waffly email which is basically a stream of consciousness. I'll admit it, I'm human and I have done this plenty of times!

Maykel goes on to say, 

"More communication creates more ambiguity. Please send shorter emails."

I don't think more communication creates more ambiguity at all. In fact, the opposite is true in my experience. Short doesn't always equal concise and to the point or focused. Short can be perceived as terse or rude. And direct? There's a fine line between being direct and being blunt. Directness does not equal honesty. Often people will read between the lines and think you are hiding something.

I believe that teams that communicate regularly are the most effective. In my previous blog post I wrote about some of the things that facilitate better communication - stand ups, regular face to face meetings, project based software and so on. I didn't suggest in my post that email is a particularly good way to communicate effectively but sometimes, particularly if there is a company culture of email or differing time zones are a factor, email could be the main communication channel for an employee or colleague.

I am not suggesting that emails should take the place of letters, although I often write personal emails the way I was taught to write letters but neither do I think we should write emails in the style of telegrams. I believe there is always room for a polite enquiry at the start of an email,

"How are you? Did you enjoy your holiday with your family?"

and thanks or a salutation at the end,

"Have a lovely weekend."

We're humans after all, not robots and there's this thing called building rapport and getting to know the people you work with. 

I also believe that sometimes detail is necessary for people to understand your point. As a researcher, I like to know the back story and understand the why and how someone got to a particular conclusion. In business I also find that people don't always listen to me if I just say,

"I think we should do this."

They generally need me to prove it, convince them or just wrap it up in fancy business language and do a full on sales pitch to them (what's that all about anyway - why not just listen to me?!).

Digital communication has increased exponentially since I first started working 20 years ago. It's exhausting and frustrating to keep up with at times and it's easy to lump the blame on certain channels like social media or email. Let's face it though, digital communication channels are now as much a fact of life as writing letters or telegrams were. We just need to suck it up and get on with it.

*Disclaimer, I'm Welsh and Welsh people are known for going around the houses to tell a story.

Team Chemistry

Workplace exclusion