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Handling Urgency at Work Without Email

Handling Urgency at Work Without Email
    Catch the moment by sunnyUK on flickr

    Just the other day, a co-worker was called out by another co-worker that they “weren’t answering their email quickly enough.” This comment was made even when our company employs a host of ways to contact each other immediately.

    The issue that was being discussed was urgent and had to be handled that day, but the accusing party in no way handled the work as being urgent. For some reason they expected an immediate response via email, even though email is not an “immediate response” type of tool. And frankly, it should never be considered to be one especially with the types of technology we have at our disposal.

    Email as mail

    The way that I and many others treat email is as a piece of mail. We don’t sit in front of our mailbox all day, waiting for something to be put into it, only to take it out, create a reply, put it in an envelope, stamp, and send it off. That would be ridiculous, right? So, why should we be expected to deal with email this way?

    The problem is that most people treat email this way.

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    It wasn’t until I was introduced to the GTD ecosystem that I found thoughts on email like that of Merlin Mann or even Leo Babauta. These guys saw email as mail, something that piles up throughout our day and then we process it. We then make decisions on what we are supposed to do next with this incoming mail; respond to it, make it a piece of reference material, trash it, etc. Once I was able to understand this way of thinking, email wasn’t an immediate response type of tool anymore. This kept me out of my inbox and allowed me to get more done as well as handle urgent issues the right way.

    What about immediate issues?

    I hear this a lot where I work:

    “It’s my job to respond to email.”

    What a sad state of affairs; a professional email responder. Actually, I would say that most anyone that says that truly means that their job is to handle immediate issues in their business; it just so happens that many people still treat email as an immediate response type of communication.

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    I know that we productivity nerds can’t move the immovable force of overuse of email, but we can bring some options to the table that those afflicted with immediate email action can try to employ.

    The ways to handle urgency without email

    Here are a few ways that you can help yourself and possibly others in your company deal with urgent matters without the use of a sea of email. These may seem dead obvious, but you will be extremely surprised at how little they are used for urgent issues:

    1. Use IM

    No matter what anyone says, IM isn’t just a way to chat with your friends at work (although that can be an added benefit). IM stands for instant messaging and that is exactly what it should be used for; getting a hold of someone instantly.

    If you company doesn’t use IM, especially in a company where issues with customers are of utmost important, you may want to try to talk your higher-ups and put it in place. IM at work has saved a ton of time and many email messages being overlooked.

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    2. Use the phone

    A telephone? What the hell is that? It’s that thing that is dusty, sits on the corner of your desk, and is used maybe once a day. The fact is that the phone is the best tool for getting things done quickly across far reaches.

    Yes, maybe you can type 160 words per minute, but you can’t explain problems over IM or email like you can verbally. If something is super important and needs done ASAP, the phone and the next medium are the best tools to use.

    3. Come see me

    If you are across the office and you need something done now then go and see the person that needs to get that something done. You may want to call or IM them first to make sure that they are available, but if the issue is urgent enough, then it’s totally fine to just go and see them. Once again, speaking to someone verbally is the best way to handle urgent situations.

    What’s next?

    One of the hardest things you have to do to get out of the “living in your email inbox mentality”, especially for large corporations, is try to change your coworkers’ view on how to handle urgent issues. The best way to start is to tell them that you only check email a certain number of times a day (just like Mr. Vardy with his 3 times a day rule) and if they need something immediate, then either they can IM you, call, or stop over.

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    You may run into an issue that really isn’t urgent and your coworker thinks it is, but usually if you lay out some groundwork that email isn’t the best way to get something done quickly, they will respect your avenue for getting urgent things done.

    If you work with a bunch of humans, how do you guys handle urgent matters?

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    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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