Blog — Bourke & Associates

I Hate Email, Voicemail and Every Other Form of Digital Excuse!
Why Face-to-Face Communication Is Essential for Effective Crucial Confrontations

Today’s communication technology offers an astounding array of tools to remain connected across time and space. But when it comes to resolving broken promises, violated expectations or bad behavior, resorting to hi-tech methods (e-mailing, text messaging, instant messaging, blogging) can amplify our problems -- especially when confronting a peer, manager or subordinate at work.

According to a VitalSmarts survey, more than 87% of those polled admit using hi-tech means to resolve a workplace confrontation. A full 89% add that e-mail, text messaging, and voice mail are not typically effective more often get in the way of good workplace relationships.

When you “type it out” instead of “talking it out” you are more likely to end up “acting it out”. Survey respondents cited convenience as a main reason for using hi-tech means when confronting a co-worker or subordinate.

What to do? Remember before pushing the “send” button to focus on what you really want for you, the other parties involved and the long-term vitality of the key relationships. Use face-to-face interaction when the relationship might be compromised. Next, choose the right confrontation with the right audience. Use CPR (Content, Pattern, Relationship) to help you decide! If it is a first time occurrence hold a Content-level conversation that deals with getting your curious questions answered. If this represents a recurring issue perhaps you have identified a Pattern that concerns you. If this pattern has resulted in a deterioration of trust that affects the way you work with this person hold a Relationship –level conversation

Analyze this! What follows are excerpts from an actual email exchange between two senior level managers (one in business development and the other in finance). The basic issue centers around a questionable expense statement. Can you identify at least three things that went wrong?

From: Jack (Director of Finance)

To: Karla (Director of Business Development)


Karla: I got your expense report with a $500 charge for "Cell phone charges for Jan-May 2015”. On the report was a note that there was a "deal" that you are entitled to $100/month for cell phone usage without any receipts being required. I've asked both our CEO and HR Director if they were aware of any “deal” - and both said they were not. Toward that end, without prior approval, we are going to have to deny these charges. In addition, especially with all of the inexpensive call plans that are out there, $100/month for someone who doesn't travel that much seems excessive.

 As a member of management, I know you are aware of how important it is that we all follow policy.  As a result, I'm going to be sending this report back to you, and ask that you either document the cell phone usage (and approval) - or take it off of the report.

 If you have any questions, please let me know.


What went wrong here? To begin to answer that question place yourself in Karla’s shoes and place a check everywhere you would tend to become defensive. The phrases you have checked likely represent places where you tended to doubt that Jack had your best intentions at heart.

Suggestion #1: So, instead of going to the CEO and HR Director first, Jack could have first had a content-level conversation with Karla to get his questions answered. He could have then engaged Karla’s cooperation and trust in clarifying the alleged agreement with the CEO or HR Director (whoever offered Karla the policy exception).

Suggestion #2: When sharing information that you suspect will stir a defensive reaction you can minimize defensiveness by asking for permission and then stating your positive intent up-front. In Jack’s face-to-face conversation it might sound like this: “Karla, I have a question about an agreement that you referenced on your recent expense statement around cell phone usage. Do you have a moment? I want to make sure that we promptly get you reimbursed and follow protocol on honoring policy variations. Please know that I am not questioning what you were told – instead I want to make sure that what you were told is something that you can count on with certainty as you manage your monthly budget.”

Suggestion #3: Master your ugly stories before taking action (virtually or in person). Do you get the sense that Jack had already held court in his head and judged Karla as less than professional, extravagant and presumptuous? Do you think Karla could read these potential sentiments between-the-lines?

Let’s see Karla’s response to Jack’s email to see how you did in diagnosing the hot-spots.

From: Karla (Director of Business Development)

To: Jack (Director of Finance)

Jack: Why would you ask the CEO and HR Director before you asked me?  You probably have the entire travel policy available to append to your rejection notices; however, it's not necessary to send terms and conditions to me. I am not policy-dumb! I expect these charges to be reimbursed! Is that clear? Furthermore whether I travel outside the metroplex area or not is not relevant to this discussion/arrangement. Local calls and long distance are all charged at the same fee structure. I don’t appreciate your judgmental appraisal of what my job should or shouldn’t entail!

By the way, I have inherited Paul's old phone and have no idea what the calling plan offers.  You gave me the phone because you were too cheap to provide me with a new one – remember?

Finally, please do not lecture me on my responsibilities to management.  Question me?  Yes!  Challenge me?  Yes!  Argue with me?  Yes!  Teach me?  Yes!  Help me?  Yes.  Lecture me? Please, no! So Jack, when may I expect the reimbursement?


Director of Business Development

From Hand-Helds to Hand-Holding - For those of you not ready to be weaned from your hand-held devices for such crucial confrontations here are a few tips:

1.   Attempt to minimize use of e-communication for initiating or continuing discussions around important issues

2.   Try using e-communication for clarifying or documenting existing agreements or understandings

3.   Use e-communication for scheduling appointments to talk about important concerns face-to-face

Please share you email nightmares and success stories with us!