Always these emails! How important is real communication?
I feel like I get 200 emails a day - what about you? In many companies, a large part of the communication is done via emails or messages. I observe that many of my colleagues in the area of purchasing management and also buyers have forgotten at one point or another to talk face to face, at eye level. I personally find that a great pity. In this respect, I still remember well a situation in which I was working as an interim manager in purchasing for an industrial company.
There were three employees in one office - among them Sophie, a young, dynamic and highly trained buyer who, in my eyes, was also very socially competent. Once, as I walked past her screen, I saw her enter a question about the ERP system into the search engine. It was about how to do transaction XY and without further ado I said to Sophie, "Why don't you ask one of your colleagues?" She replied, "I don't want to bother anyone, I'd rather look it up on the internet." Of course, we are different people and of course it is not necessary to ask about every little thing right away, but at that moment I also realised that many have forgotten how to talk to their colleagues or ask questions.
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Where does the flood of emails come from?
One observation that I am sure you have also made on many occasions is that emails fly from one desk to another, never even leaving the office. This is certainly one of the reasons why the inbox is overflowing. At General Motors we used to talk about CYA mails, or cover your A** mails. Often dozens of mails are written on all topics - because safe is safe, isn't it? Everything is documented and recorded, according to the motto: "He who writes, stays." In my opinion, this is largely due to the fact that a difficult error culture is lived in many companies. Everything is double- and triple-checked so that afterwards people can say: "I wrote an email about it" instead of going into real communication, picking up the phone and talking.
Do you want 200 letters on your desk?
Over the course of time, a certain conflict aversion has also become ingrained. Before something is addressed openly, honestly and directly, it is better to rely on electronic communication and preferably get many others on board. With as large an e-mail distribution list as possible, in which the boss and the boss's boss are in cc and, best of all, the trusted colleague as a "secret" reader in bcc, one apparently feels safer. At the end of the day, this leads to major conflicts because there is no real communication. Suppliers also tell me that we in purchasing always reply to emails very briefly and crisply. That can quickly be misunderstood. One buyer, for example, also told me that it annoys her when someone writes a "thank you" back. All the emails we send back and forth to each other every day sometimes resemble a veritable powder keg of conflict. However, emails are not only to be considered in terms of conflict management, but also when it comes to time management. An email is quickly written to get the thought out of one's head and entrust someone else with the task. Time management, however, does not mean pushing something from one place to another. E-mails have also lost their former status of an electronic letter. Imagine what it would be like to have 200 paper letters on your desk ... What is conveyed electronically by mail every day has become a control element of everyday work. Therefore, my recommendation is: take a look at other tools.
Tools instead of mails
The options for tools are now huge, whether Microsoft, Apple or other providers. From to-do lists to whiteboards to project management tools, there is everything you need to manage your daily work. In a list, you can note down what is important for the day, what has priority, in what times, what gets done, instead of sending yourself an email at the end of the day - and yes, I actually still observe this frequently. We should consciously distinguish between e-mails and tools in our daily work and use both instruments sensibly. However, it's not only emails that keep us from real communication, but also the numerous chats via e.g. Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp and Co. There, it's even more uncomplicated to send messages quickly. There's nothing wrong with that per se, we can, for example, inform people that we're coming to a meeting later, but sometimes the whole thing is taken ad absurdum. Messages like "have you read my email yet", "can you confirm the appointment I emailed you" or "I'll email you about XY in a minute" are not only time-consuming but also rather pointless. My wish for the purchasing departments, and I don't exclude managers, is that more real communication takes place again.
Talking face to face helps in most cases, be it in conflicts or in solving problems. An e-mail is primarily factual, but subliminally it is also on the relationship level. A banal sentence that we only read from another person sometimes arouses emotions and we sometimes start to interpret a lot into it because the other person's voice pitch, facial expressions and body language are missing. In a real conversation, we quickly recognise how the other side reacts and can respond to it - this is not so easy with emails. When I take on a project as an interim manager, I hold a 20-minute stand-up meeting every morning. The people involved are then present on site or via teams or Zoom from the home office. During this time, everyone says what they have planned for that day, what has been done since yesterday, where difficulties and challenges lie and where the conversation should be deepened. These meetings are also an indicator for managers to see how the mood is in general and with each individual.
The flood of emails will continue. According to forecasts by Statista, the mails sent and received privately and for business purposes worldwide will amount to around 376.4 billion per day in 2025. Another evaluation shows that the business emails received daily from 2015 to 2019 averaged 77. 19 of these emails were spam, by the way. So before you write an email next time, think about whether it wouldn't be better to seek the personal conversation or work with another tool. Just give it a try.
I would be happy to exchange ideas with you on this topic. Just network with me on LinkedIn or make a free appointment. You can also find out more about this and other topics for future-proof strategies in purchasing in my brand-new podcast - listen in now.