I deal with conflict on a regular basis.  And there is a very simple rule to live by when it comes to conflict, especially when emotions start running high: Conflict is not resolved via email.

Let me write that again: Conflict is not resolved via email.

When you really need to get something done, there is no substitute for the in person meeting.  In a world of Skype, conference calls, and email, this seems entirely unnecessary.  And for the most part, that’s true.  But there are times that there is simply no substitute.

I’ve caught myself doing it.  After the fifth email back and forth with zero progress, I finally step back from the conflict and realize it’s time to pick up the phone, or even better, schedule a meeting.  When I’m dealing with attorneys far senior to me in years, they go for the meeting or phone even faster than I do.  Not because they are old-timers who don’t understand email.  But because they know that problems are solved with direct human interaction.

Use email when it is the right tool.  But it is never the right tool when emotions start running high, and real consequences are on the line.  When that is the case, always go for an in person meeting even if it is inconvenient or difficult.  Can’t pull it off?  Then pick up the phone.  But whatever you do, stop yourself before launching into an email assault on your opposing party.  That email will almost always make you feel better.  But it will almost never actually solve your problem.

In person communication is better where there is no conflict as well.  Many times I’ve been on the seventh long paragraph of an email to client and realized this could all be explained easily in a fifteen minute phone call, and with even greater clarity.  It would have taken a dozen emails back and forth to cover all the nuanced questions the client had in that short call.

Email is great at some things.  And quite terrible at others.  Be self-aware about when it’s time to stop typing, and start dialing or driving.

Have an awesome day,

JDV

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