Of course, using the phone isn't exactly a radical thing to do, except that my reason for using the phone was important: I picked up the phone to short-circuit an e-mail mess. What was the e-mail mess? My colleague and I were e-mailing each other to make some practical arrangements, however, our e-mails seemed to be out of sync. Perhaps it started with one of us not reading and understanding the original note in its entirety because we were skimming it quickly on our blackberry. This led to a number of e-mails back and forth, trying to explain the original message and trying to correct misunderstandings. Finally, as I was about to push the send button on yet another explanatory message, I realized that we were "talking past each other" and needed to find a way to ensure we actually connected and finalized the arrangements. So I picked up the telephone.
It took all of two minutes to sort out the mess and confirm the arrangements by telephone. You do the math: two telephone minutes versus the time required to read and write five (or more) frustrating e-mails.
E-mail is the primary mode of communication within most businesses, including law firms. Yet, despite all the practice we get, few of us have really mastered e-mail. It's a rare person who uses e-mail appropriately and efficiently. And it's a rarer person who can write an e-mail message that is a model of clarity despite the fact that e-mail cannot convey with any degree of precision the affect most of us rely on in personal interchanges to communicate and interpret the emotional content of a message.
For those of us who would like to brush up on our e-mail communication skills, here are some tips from Seth Godin's E-Mail Checklist that are worth reading and implementing. They may not provide a complete answer to e-mail triage, but they will make a difference.