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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fobbed Off By Forwards

It seems benign--that email that asks a question for which you do not have an answer.

It's so easy. You press Forward.  Tap a couple of names of people who might know the answer, and off your email and the burden of answering the questions flies, cleared from you screen--your workload.

Only that email wasn't intended for other people.  It was written to you, and if that writer of that email had you in mind, she/he shaped the content and tone to fit the purpose, occasion, and the reader:  specifically you.

A problem solver, you hit forward. That action did not solve the problem for the writer, and it created more problems for both of you.

1. Because you did not ask the writer's permission to forward that email, you invaded her privacy and now she doesn't trust you or feel comfortable communicating with you without writing notes that could be forwarded to large groups of people.  It stymies her, slows down the work flow and creates a barrier between you that you don't even know about because she's not saying:  "Please don't forward my emails without permission."   She will just resist asking you questions in the future, and more work that could be accomplished won't be or won't be accomplished quickly.

2. The Forwarded Email stalled the writer's momentum in accomplishing her task because she was now stuck waiting for answers to come from people who didn't reply to the Forward. The comparison is like having your telephone call transferred to someone else, being put on hold on the telephone, and then no one ever comes back to see who is holding or what is needed.

3. Forwarding that email created a "fobbed off on someone else" quality to your working relationship when the occasion could have resulted in building the currency of trust that coworkers truly need.  That kind of trust builds cohesion within a workplace team.  The splintering divided effect you don't want can happen by tapping that Forward button, fobbing off the person in need.

4. The question asked was on point, and you actually needed to know the answer too. Forwarding the question takes you out of the loop of having the answer readily available the next time someone asks it, and there's a good chance someone else will.  When a question for a fact or a name arises, there's a red flag that points to a hole in the communication dissemination process, and people in key positions need the answer and to pay attention to why the question needed to be asked in the first place.

5.  A tendency to forward inquiries to others can highlight that hole in the communication process at work.  The type of information needed for this occasion belonged in the Minutes of the meeting, but the Minutes were not ready yet (and not late, by the way, for there's a stretch of time between the meetings, and the Minutes appeared at a snail's pace to fit that time frame). That's the problem right there.

Seeing the problem, I wrote the secretary who takes the notes for the Minutes.  She answered speedily.  It was the only answer I got to my original question.  No one who received the Forwards nor the person I originally wrote to ever replied.