Case notes: why email should come with a health warning
I was asked to coach a manager who worked for medium sized a software and services company. She identified a number of issues to address as part of her coaching: increased self-confidence and assertiveness, better presentation skills, improved demand management and so on.
During her coaching she mentioned a difficult relationship with another manager. After she’d alluded to these difficulties 2 or 3 times, we started to explore why this relationship wasn’t working. She cited what she saw as obstruction from the other party, the deliberate ignoring of requests for information, role boundary overlaps and clashes over ‘who does what’.
It became clear that her interaction with this person was frequent, daily and core to her role. This relationship had to be sorted out. After more discussion we established that on some days they exchanged 30 or more emails. These included straightforward ‘transactional’ requests for action or information, but with an increasing number of contentious exchanges, reflecting the issues between the two managers.
Being suspicious that the use of email was at least partly to blame, I questioned the need for so much email traffic. I had assumed the two managers were not co-located. It then emerged that they not only worked in the same building, but on the same floor. Their desks were approximately 10 meters apart.
We agreed that my client would stop emailing the other manager. Instead she would take a few relatively straightforward issues over to the other manager’s desk to discuss them, informally, at a mutually agreed time. She would be prepared to give a little on some issues, hoping to have the compliment returned. It worked almost immediately, and the ‘problem’ relationship started to move forward. The other manager’s apparent intransigence over some issues all but evaporated when the two discussed the matter in person.