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Sunday, August 17, 2008

A pro writer friend of mine is trying to resolve an issue with a producer, and writes
Ugh. Maybe I'll try another nice email ...
Y'all love email, don't you? You can gather your thoughts. You send it off into the blue. No real face to face confrontation.

Email is great when two people are more or less on the same page. Where email sucks is resolving confrontation. Email just generally exacerbates problems. Someone who is mad at you will take an email the wrong way no matter how you write it. If it's nice it'll come off smarmy. If it's not nice it'll come off pissy.

More importantly, it is extremely easy to say "no" by email. In fact, you just don't respond.

People, if you want a "yes" from someone, or even part of a yes, then you can't do it in prose. You have to call. On the phone. Even better, get a face to face meeting. People are much, much nicer in person than they are on the Internet. They tend to see your point of view. It's hardwired in us as human beings to cut the other person some slack when she's right there and we can see she's upset.

When you meet people in person, they become your friends.

People write email because they don't want to expose themselves. They don't want to be vulnerable. Yet being vulnerable is what gets the other person to be nice to you. If you are, for example, trying to get a producer to give you a project back, what are they odds they're going to do it because you sent an email? Not very good. But if you take your producer out for a nice cocktail and, after a few drinks, say, "Hey, are you gonna do anything with that project? Because I put a lot of love into that, and I would really love to do something with it" Then they might say, "Sure, go for it."

Of course, meeting with people means that you will have to see their point of view, and you'll have to swallow your anger yourself. That's another reason people like to use email -- they get to stay angry. It is also another reason why you need a meeting. Don't you want to see the other person's point of view?

Negotiating without seeing the other person's point of view is like playing stud poker without being able to see the other guy's "up" cards. It's bad enough you can't see their hole cards. It's impossible without seeing their up cards.

Seriously. Texting and emailing is great to arrange a hookup. To negotiate anything substantive, get as much contact as you possibly can. Phone good, meeting better. Email won't get you what you want.

The exception to the rule is if you email someone and then immediately call them. I like to lay out my concerns clearly. But leave the email open ended. Just lay out your concerns. Your point of view. Don't take the other side to task. Don't ask questions you can ask on the phone. You only want the email to frame the phone call. Not to substitute it.

Human contact, people! There's no substitute for it.

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3 Comments:

This is a really smart observation. As someone who abhors the phone and loves to write notes, I have a hard time doing the obvious thing -- exactly what you say here -- creating some human contact with the people I'm trying to conduct business with.

By Blogger S, at 10:52 AM  

Truly. Invaluable. Advice.

If I may so humbly adjoin to this, I'd add that if one can't come to a clear point of what they want in an email within three short sentences, pick up the phone.

By Blogger AEG, at 4:18 PM  

Thanks for pounding this one into our heads. It has helped me a lot as an insurance agent (day job, mind you, day job) when communicating with customers. I would often use e-mail but using the phone can be a lot more effective.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 3:03 PM  

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