If you have questions, email is likely the best forum to get them answered. You’re more likely to get thoughtful and detailed answers when you give someone time to review and think about the questions you’re asking them. If you have follow-up questions that you think will require more of a dialogue, then you can set up a meeting to discuss their responses.
Emotional conversations are better face to face or over the phone. Emotional conversations doesn’t just represent topics that are emotional to you. You will need to anticipate what might create an emotional reaction or be a challenging conversation for someone else. Emails can be misread or misconstrued easily and lead to a discussion that isn’t productive and cause more harm than good. Intent and emotion are easier to convey when we can see faces or hear someone’s tone.
Similar to questions, you’re not likely to get helpful feedback from someone on the fly. Give them time to review the material on their schedule and then provide feedback in written form. Sending them the material via email allows them to dedicate time to focus on what you want them to review. Once someone provides feedback, simple clarifying questions can also be handled via email. If your questions require more of a back and forth dialogue, setting up a meeting will improve productivity in your follow-up conversations.
This one should be obvious, but if critical parties cannot attend a meeting, don’t have the meeting without them unless it is a true emergency. Schedule the meeting when they’re able to attend, or try to handle at least some of the items through email.
If you need to share information or if the goals for your meeting are to bring awareness or education, then the most productive way to disseminate the information you need to share is through an email. This is especially true if no action needs to be taken after learning the information or if the information is very intricate or detail-oriented. Sharing the information via email allows people to take the time to absorb the information, reread parts, or thoughtfully develop any questions they may have.
Complexity and nuance
If the topic is complex or nuanced, this is one area where you might need to both send an email and schedule a meeting. You should send out the discussion materials or information and then schedule a time to meet after people have had time to review the materials. Using just email will likely result in a lot of back and forth or people reading right over important information. Using only meetings will result in unproductive discussions because people won’t have had time to review the materials and grasp the basic concepts of the discussion.
Choosing the correct medium can make a big difference and hopefully these guidelines help improve the productivity of your communications and interactions.