There’s no question we are in a time period of information overload. People struggle to keep up with their activities, particularly at work, while they are bombarded with office chats, phone calls, meetings, email, etc.

When email first appeared on the scene in 1971, it seemed a great solution. You could send someone a quick message and receive a response when the recipient was available to answer your note. At first, email seemed to receive an immediate response compared to even a phone call.

Yet, today the average office worker receives 121 emails per day and sends about 40.

Although email is easier than ever to view, especially from our phones when we’re on the go, it doesn’t receive the immediate response as in the past. Even further, most of us delete the message. Add to that important email communication are the hundreds of additional emails (nearly 50 percent) we receive on a weekly basis that are sales pitches, SPAM and nonsense messages that simply take up space in our inbox. The epidemic has become worse than the “junk” mail in our mailboxes.

the average office worker receives 121 emails per day

and sends about 40

But many businesses continue to use email for communications – conversation, document exchanges and sharing, group messages to reduce team meetings – as it decreases meeting times and offers a quick solution to sharing information.

However, the multiple emails sent throughout the day only contribute to information overload. People spend an exorbitant amount of time responding to these “important” messages (anywhere from 2.5 to 5 hours per day) and other tasks fall by the wayside.

And more troubling is they often use this method to replace human contact for a variety of reasons. Therefore, messages become skewed and relationships suffer.

How does email communication stifle relationships?

Where can we find a balance in our method of communications?

And what are the alternatives?

Before we answer these questions, let’s first examine email’s uses.

How email is useful

Since email began and has been modified over the decades (used extensively for marketing and creating the ultimate portal to SPAM and nefarious Malware fiends), email has become the ultimate information piece. Since you are able to save messages, you can refer to previous emails to gather important information. Many work in a viral office, and often email is the top method for communication when you do not see the person, he/she is unavailable via phone, or you live 1,000 miles away from your client or employer.

Sending documents, images and other attachments is easier, and saves time and postage. The Internet has sped up the communications process.

How email hurts quality communication

The downside to this marvel of email messaging is the lack of emotion, eye contact and body language. Messages are often misunderstood because you cannot hear the “tone” of the message, only read the sentences. You create your own tone in your head when you’re unaware of what the sender was thinking at the time. Often you misread messages, to the point of becoming offended, when you imagine the sender’s tone in how you perceive it. Even good writers recognize this challenge of creating tone through words.

Many often write the way they speak. However, what most are unaware of is that how one speaks isn’t necessarily comprehensive. Some speak as though they are thinking out loud, with disjointed thoughts. The advantage to writing out our ideas is it gives us a chance to edit and make our thoughts clear. Yet many who type emails rarely do this and simply send off the first draft.

The wrong words and phrases can also cause confusion and may even hurt your reputation or that of your company. When you have something in writing, that becomes evidence and creates a trail. These messages can be forwarded, saved or inadvertently or purposely sent to others you did not intend for them to read.

Conversations suffer when in-person communication is not practiced enough. People today struggle with eye contact and proper facial expression. Some have trouble expressing themselves in complete sentences simply because they don’t allow themselves enough practice in oral communication.

Information overload is also a problem, as previously mentioned. People type and send off multiple messages to the same person when one well-constructed email would have done the trick. Or even better: a phone call, which often takes less time.

Messages have the potential to disappear in cyberworld. Also, because of short attention spans or multitasking most of us are frequently doing, messages are not always read thoroughly. This causes us to send a follow-up email because the recipient did not acknowledge all the questions.

Conversations suffer when in-person communication

is not practiced enough.

Having a balance

While it would be nice to shut down our email from time to time (and if you are in a position to do this – go for it and enjoy the quiet!), that may not be the case during working hours.

The biggest thing to recognize is your purpose in sending email. Ask yourself:

Will the tone or intent of this email be misunderstood?

Is the email sensitive and private?

Does it have the potential to cause problems if it’s read by the wrong person, forwarded to someone else, or saved and used at a later time?

Would the message be better to discuss in person or over the phone?

Would I get a clear answer, faster response and clarification if I discussed this in person?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then sending an email is not the correct communications avenue to take. If we know someone is traveling, sometimes email is the quicker response route. But generally, having a conversation in person or picking up the phone will give us a clearer, quicker response to what we need.

Also, if you do have to send an email, avoid sending multiple emails on the same subject, if possible. Try to record your questions and concerns so you won’t forget them, then put them all in your email so the recipient can respond to all of them in one sitting. When we see several emails from the same person, we roll our eyes. It’s more time consuming to open and respond to each email message than to focus on one.

Quality communication

The solution to having quality communication is simply to practice having verbal conversations. With most of us online for the majority of the day, it is easy to slip into our own private world. We need to step out and talk to people.

The verbal communication helps us to smile more, without the use of emojis. We perfect our tone of voice and eye contact. We learn to read people better by observing their mannerisms and facial expressions. Misunderstandings are avoided because with feedback, we know what questions we need to ask.

We also learn from our mistakes when we say something off the wall. We are in a position to apologize quicker for our speech misstep rather than allowing a misunderstanding to fester in an email to a colleague.

We speak in complete sentences. We’re more aware of our mood.

Sometimes with difficult conversations, we might make a few notes for future discussion. But the way the discussion is delivered is often different than the point blank data on paper. And that’s the difference between email and human contact.

When we step outside of ourselves and interact with humans, we become more human. And sometimes, that can be likeable.

Additional articles:

“7 tips to make email useful for employee communications”

“How to make sure your sensitive email conveys the right tone”