Going Paperless

Since I’ve been using an iPad, I have been drift more and more toward a paperless existence. I couldn’t do it immediately, but once I found my preferred note taking app, I stopped carrying aper and pen to meetings. I started using Evernote last September, and it has changed my work life. Four months in I am still at the “free” level because I either have not adopted or just don’t need some of the features.

But I did take another step toward using Evernote more fully, and toward using even less paper.

No matter what I do I will always end up in a meeting with someone who has a paper handout. Or I may find myself with a scratched or scribbled note. I need to hang onto those things, and I don’t have an electronic copy.

One great feature of Evernote is that you can email yourself files, which can be converted to searchable PDFs. You just need a scanner that can scan to PDF. I have a multi function printer in my area, and it can easily scan docs into PDF. I had a stack of paper on my desk that I just didn’t want to throw out. I finally got around to scanning it in, and even better I automated the upload to Evernote. Any email from the scanner that hits my Exchange account triggers a rule that forwards it to the Evernote upload email address.

In a matter of minutes my desk was clean. Papers I’d had sitting there for a year had been scanned and uploaded. Now, whenever an wherever I need the docs they are available. I just need my computer, iPhone or iPad to access them.


Email is Evil

Email is evil. OK, not really, it’s just a tool, but there are times when I think that email is truly evil.

I have been on vacation for a few days, and I turned off my email. So I know that I must go back to work in a day or so and read through all of that communication.

I dread it.

Not because I don’t want to catch up, but because I don’t want to run into an email that is rude, or cross, or hurtful. People say things, either without thinking or with purpose, in an email that they would never voice in person. I have often cautioned the people I work with about what they write in an email.

While you may be the recipient of an “evil” email, you don’t have be someone who sends one. There are two ways to prevent writing emails that hurt:

One, don’t compose an email when you are angry. Pick up the phone or walk to the person’s office. Call a meeting if you have to, but do not send an email when you are upset. You may be upset by an email the other person has just sent you, but do not reply in kind. Even if the other person has copied the entire world, don’t shoot off a nasty-gram in reply. Call them or go see them. Then if you need to correct something, reply to the email later with a “I just talked with so-and-so and this is what we decided…” kind of email. If you must send an email in reply to an angry one, take a break. Cool down and think clearly before you reply.

Two, take into consideration who you are writing to and how they will receive your words. There is no tone of voice or body language with email.

-Assume they will take it the worst way. You may think that they will understand your joke, or will know where you are coming from. But don’t. I have seen innocent comments turn into great offenses. Be clear, not clever.

-Can this subject be communicated clearly through a short email? If you must write three pages to explain yourself use the email to schedule a meeting or a call.

-Is the recipient personally invested in the subject? I was once asked to evaluate another church’s media and video work. I knew that the people who did the actual shooting and directing would see the email, so I tempered my words. I told the truth, but it was kind.

Knowing your audience and bearing that in mind while writing will help make sure that your email is effective without being offensive.

Email is a requirement in modern organizations, but how it is received can be helped with a little time and attention.

Top Email Pet Peeves

Allow me to vent a moment. I have mentioned one of these before, but there are some things people do with email that just annoy the fire out of me.

#2. Email, and then quickly send a follow up wondering when you will respond to the original. Look, if it’s so important to get an answer quickly, make a phone call. Just because a lot of people get email on their mobile deices does not mean they are in a place to read and answer each one immediately. I recently got an email which posed a question I was still trying to decide, and before I could come to a decision, I got another asking why I hadn’t bothered to respond to the previous one. It would be very easy to slip into a very human response, and simple say “No” to any request in that situation.

#1. Copy everyone in the address book on a message intended for one person. This happens a lot with people’s work emails. Normally they copy their boss and the other person’s boss. As though the boss has the time or concern to closely follow an email exchange that doesn’t involved them. I can tell you as a supervisor, I almost always ignore these kinds of emails that I get attached to.

I make it a habit to NEVER include extra people in an email chain unless I need those people to give input, or to let the other person know I have made my supervisor aware. I will never copy the other person’s boss because I am having a conflict. If I have trouble with a person, I will follow the biblical model of conflict resolution found in Matthew 18:15-17. My first attempt to fix an issue will not include multiple people. And many times it does not include email at all, since email can be so easily misread.

The funny thing is, it’s not just when people are complaining that this happens. Sometimes people will add five or six people to a basic email question. I have to wonder if they added them so that the extras can see that this sender actually is doing some kind of work. or maybe they thing the recipient will give the matter more attention if the sender attaches some “higher ups.” It often feels like manipulation, and that’s not what ministries should be about.

We are on the same team, working toward one unified vision. When we let the human side of email conflicts come into play, we harm the progress toward that goal.

Biblical Conflict Resolution and Email

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

Hopefully we all use this model of conflict resolution when we have been wronged, or are angry with others, but I think it’s also effective in the workplace to resolve minor disagreements. For example, imagine a scenario where you have made a request, and it was either dismissed or ignored. You need something done, but did not get help from another staff member. Following this model of resolution, you would first approach the staff member and find out what was going on. If that did not resolve the issue, then you could widen the conversation and bring in another staff member if appropriate. After that you could go to the supervisor.

In most situations this seems to work pretty well. I find most things get cleared up in stage 1. I rarely ever have to go to a supervisor for a decision.

However, there is one method of communication where I find people automatically jump to stage 3, and involve the supervisor. They do it without thinking. Maybe just because it’s easy. Maybe they want the protection of proof that they have tried to accomplish their goals.

Too often people will run into a problem, and craft an email, and for some reason they will go ahead and copy their supervisor, and maybe a few more related parties. They don’t mention that they copied anyone, the email is obviously directed at the initial recipient. But multiple people are copied.

When I get emails like this, I always wonder what the sender was trying to accomplish? It feels like they were trying to get me into trouble, while trying to make themselves look good to coworkers and supervisors. As a supervisor, I almost always disregard emails like this, where I am copied for no reason. Or, depending on the subject, I may intervene and address the sender directly about the issue.

If you are truly trying to solve a problem, to get something done, don’t copy a lot of people unnecessarily on an email chain. It does not get anything done faster, and in most cases actually hurts the work relationships involved.

My suggested method of conflict resolution involving email communication:

1. Follow the biblical conflict resolution model.
2. Be clear.
3. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. They didn’t mean it that way. Don’t read into the text.
4. Don’t respond to emails when angry, or late at night.
5. If you aren’t getting anything resolved, get out of your chair and go see the other person, if possible. Call them. Don’t just keep typing.

Emails is a very handy tool, but it is not the only method of communication available to you. Use it when appropriate, but a face to face conversation where both parties can see body language and hear tone of voice is much more effective when resolving conflict.