Managing Happens Verbally and on Paper

Sometimes it seems like you’re so swamped with meetings and projects that you can hardly find the time to eat, let alone to get up from your desk and talk to your employees face to face. After all, why spend the time when you can communicate the same information to them via email?

Well, whether you’re assigning new tasks and projects or simply passing along important information and procedures, you want to ensure it’s understood. Your job is to help your employees succeed, so give them all the tools in your arsenal to help them do so–even if it means getting up from your desk occasionally.

As a leader or manager, it is important to discuss tasks verbally and in writing. When I need to send out SOPs or other important project information to my direct reports, I like to email it to them so they can save it to review later on (sometimes several months later).

This also gives them the opportunity to have a good grasp on what I need before we discuss any projects face to face, allowing them time to decompress and absorb all the information. Later on, during our weekly team meetings, I might reiterate some key points I’d emailed earlier in the week. This has several benefits:

1-      Verbal instruction targets a different area of the brain than reading the written word.

2-      By repeating it out loud, you’re drawing attention to the information’s importance–making it more likely that it will stick in your employees’ heads.

3-      Use this face-to-face as an opportunity to read the room. See who looks confused or upset, as they might require additional instruction or support.

4-      You can directly address questions or concerns your employees might have that they didn’t feel comfortable or confident enough to put down on paper.

5-      Talking out loud can trigger brainstorm sessions where one person’s thoughts jump off another’s ideas. It’s hard to simulate the inspirational effect with emails or instant messages alone. 

Of course, you can also take the opposite approach. Many managers prefer to give their instructions verbally first to allow their employees the chance to ask them questions and clarify what is required. This gives you the benefit of reading the other person’s body language right away–but be careful, body language can be misinterpreted.

You should make it a practice to follow up in-person discussions with a brief written confirmation of what you agreed to (timeline, responsibilities, and so on) to ensure the two of you are on the same page. What looked like a nod of agreement to one person might have actually been a shake of confusion–and it’s better that you figure that out now rather than halfway through the project!

Remember, good managers should be concerned about the person behind the email. You can use the face-to-face time as an excuse to find out how your employee is doing. Managing happens not only in person or on paper: it’s by using a combination of both skills that you will give your employees their best chances to succeed.