Why email is stopping you becoming a great Finance Business Partner

Uncategorized Jan 06, 2023

The twenty-first century (and post pandemic) has allowed us to communicate in a number of effective and innovative ways. Email, Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, hashtags – the list goes on and on in relation to forms of communication which are anything but the simple and most basic form of communication; conversation.

The 7% rule proposed by Dr Albert Mehrabian, tells us that communication is:

- 7% verbal

- 38% tone of voice and

- 55% body language.

It is why when I go out for dinner I can look over to the right at the married couple who look a little miserable, and over to the left at the couple on their first date having a great time. And I know all of that without being able to hear a word they are saying – it's all body language.

So, in an age where we over indulge in forms of communication that have no ability to show body language or tone of voice, how can we expect to communicate properly?

In addition to this, these twenty-first century forms of communication allow us “thinking time” to craft a valid response and lose the benefits of instincts and spontaneity that often flow from the art of conversation and help us to develop our radar as a good business person.

Business is about people first and foremost and if you are not able to function adequately with the tools of business (people) then you will be left behind as a finance business partner.

In business, and especially for finance staff wanting to become better business partners, there are distinct advantages to using conversation over emails. They include:

Issues are dealt with quickly

Having a conversation with someone means any questions or issues are dealt with immediately. For some reason we as humans believe that if we are sending an email, the person receiving it is reading it right then and there. They are not, and they may not read it until hours, days or even weeks later, if ever. And even if they do they don’t have an obligation to respond immediately. They can choose whether to respond or to file it away in the “To Do” folder (or worse the Trash folder). Even if they do respond immediately, a two minute conversation can be an afternoons worth of emails back and forth. The average person types at a speed of 40–50 words a minute, whereas we speak at an average of 150–160 words a minute. Having a conversation is three or four times quicker which means issues are discussed and dealt with immediately or a plan is devised to resolve.

Reduced chance of misinterpretation

Ever read an email from someone and thought “Wow what does that mean?” Unfortunately, we are unable to convey tone over email and unless we have a degree in English and communication so often our written language is misinterpreted against what we were really trying to say

Language is important. I repeat LANGUAGE IS IMPORTANT (and this is not me yelling it is me emphasising it).

We can kid ourselves that building in capital letters, bold and underlines and even emojis can help convey tone but they can’t. The other person is reading the text from the emotional state they are in and are not aware of the emotional state you are in when writing it.

Body Language and Tone is very, very important to build rapport and relationships with people. With words only being 7% of the meaning wouldn’t it be wise to utilize the other 93% and have a conversation.

Talking increases relationships & rapport

Talking to someone helps to build rapport and relationships with them. Sight, touch, smell, and sounds are basic human functions and senses. By having a conversation with someone you are experiencing all of these which helps to build stronger relationships. Its why we shake hands with people when we meet or see them.

For finance staff who are often dealing with problems or ensuring things are done a certain way, having this rapport to fall back on makes your message easier to deliver, and easier to receive.

You don’t need evidence

Often people, and especially finance staff, will default to email to keep track of things and have evidence that they asked someone to do something, or for something, or to show they have completed something. Our training ensures we are like that.

If you are working as a business partner and your relationship has got to the point where you need to refer to email strings to provide evidence of something, then it’s too late. Your relationship and ability to business partner them has failed. You clearly don’t trust them, and most likely they don’t trust you.

Under no circumstance does a business partnering relationship work if one of the parties is trying to catch the other one out or unravel them. It needs to be developed on trust and alignment and no email string will provide that. Conversations and relationships will overcome any situation where you just forgot or deleted something. Remember you work in the same organisation as the other person. You are on the same team, this sort of approach should be left for customers, suppliers or other external parties who want to be combative.

Emails should be used for three things only; confirming a meeting, confirming what you discussed, sharing information. Anything else needs the benefit of back and forth ideally face to face.

What about teams in different geographies?

The obvious challenge to getting away from emails is when your team or your business partner are in a different location to you physically. And after Covid19 this has become even more relevant.

They may be in another office or worse in another time zone on the other side of the world and you are limited with your ability to have a conversation.

Telephone will assist with this, it will at least move you from 7% communication to 45% (7% words plus 38% tone). Even better is the use of tools such as Zoom, Teams and video conferencing. There is no reason in this day and age that they can’t be utilised. Time differences may mean you need to plan that more, however the investment is well worth the effort especially if they are from a different culture or speak a different language. Using just words to communicate in that instance is a sure fire way to offend people inadvertently and potential damage your relationship.

So, next time you feel like you need to have a conversation, put the keyboard away and go and have an actual conversation with the person.

If your email has more than two replies in it, that is a conversation, so go and have one.


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