I'm not sure if this has been discussed.

Is it normal in other business enviroments to use e-mails to "cover your a$$" ? I find myself coming out of meetings in person or on phone and everyone wants e-mail conformation on what we agreed to.

As my responsibilities increase I find these more and burdensome.

Thoughts? suggestions? 

stephenbooth_uk's picture

 In my experience an email documenting what was agreed is normal after a meeting or phone call.  It should be more than just a CYA, it should clearly state in plain language what was agreed so that those involved all know that was agreed.  It reduces the chance of someone thinking something different was agreed than what the other participants thought was agreed.

On the other hand I have worked in places where a meeting can devolve into an argument about what 'by close of business' (e.g. '"Bob's team will deliver the product by close of business tomorrow") or 'this quarter' (e.g. "Fred's department has exceeded it's budget for this quarter") mean. 



Skype: stephenbooth_uk  | DiSC: 6137

"Start with the customer and work backwards, not with the tools and work forwards" - James Womack


jib88's picture

 Are you saying you don't like seeing these emails, or are you saying you don't like it when people request them? 

If I'm running a meeting, then I make sure there is some sort of summary documentation of agreements that comes out of it, and it's often email (whether I send it or someone else does). This serves two purposes:

  1. Everyone has a chance to read the outcome and challenge any agreements or assumptions.
  2. It provides a start for following up on something.

I appreciate it when others do the same, as it gives me a chance to make sure that they don't think I've agreed to something that I don't remember agreeing to.


robin_s's picture
Training Badge

If this is burdensome as your responsibilities increase, do you have an admin or a team member you could delegate this to?  Another option, which I use with my team only (not inter-departmental meetings) is to keep a running action item list in a file we can all access.  It has the date the action item was entered, who owns it, specifics/description of the action, a due date, and notes.  We fill this in during our meetings as things are discussed, review it at every meeting, and it is also reviewed by team members prior to our meeting.  When I send out the agenda for the next week's meeting, I usually remind folks to check the action items list.

rbolton34's picture

When i assign work to my directs, it is verbaly  or by issuing work or project packages. No e-mails, things get done. When i meet with my peers to generate work this is where find the emailing gets excessive. eg. I go to Tom's office and say "Tom , on this project we have to do Item 6 before we can get to your item 4, you see: Tom: no problem.: cool talk to ya later.:Tom: just send me a email telling me what your are doing.

I guess with listening to MT personal conversation is more effective, and i find alot is lost in translation during email.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

 A lot of the problem with email is that people sometimes use it where a phone call or face to face communication would be more effective.  A lot of the problem with a phone call or face to face communication is that people sometimes use it where an email would be more effective.  They are different ways of communicating with different strengths and weaknesses.  

Face to face or a phone call are good where something needs to be discussed and synchronous communication is possible (i.e. you can both be in the same place, or on the same phone line, at the same time).  The big downfall of face to face or a phone call is that unless you have some sort of audio recorder there's no record and that communication has to be synchronous (ok, with voice mail you can have an asynchronous phone conversation but that's less good for discussions and you might as well use email unless there are other advantages to hearing each other's voices).  Also they're not good where non-verbal information (e.g. graphics, charts &c) or a large volume (more than one or two items) of information need to be communicated.  An added disadvantage to phone calls is that unless the line is really, really good and there's no background noise it's very easy for messages to be garbled or words missed out.  Finally a disadvantage of both is that being immediate it's very easy to say something in error or haste which is wrong or ill advised.

Email (and letters, SMS, memos &c) are good where communication is asynchronous (it's becoming quite common to have to collaborate with people who's working day does not coincide with yours at all, indeed they may not start work until after you go to bed and finish work no long after you get up, staying up late or getting them to start early might be workable for odd occasions or important communication but wouldn't work as a daily routine) , non-verbal information needs to be communicated, more than a couple of items need to be communicated, where a record of what was said/decided is needed or where there is a need to fact check or 'career limitation proof' communications.  Also there's no problem with background noise.  You do lose a lot of the personal interaction and relationship building with written communications (although a hand written note or letter can be a great relationship building tool as it shows investment), and I've seen a number of people who aren't used to written communication come unstuck because they've written something that really needed the tone of voice to convey the true meaning.  It is necessary to choose your phraseology carefully and proof read what you wrote before clicking send to make sure you're saying what you think you're saying.

I think to make a blanket statement that verbal communication is always more effective than written  is wrong, as wrong as saying that written is more effective than verbal.  They each have their strengths and weaknesses and what is effective is to consider which is better fitted tot he needs and constraints each communication.

Some grist fro the mill, the MT cast on saying thank you, do they recommend a thank you note or thank you phone call?



Skype: stephenbooth_uk  | DiSC: 6137

"Start with the customer and work backwards, not with the tools and work forwards" - James Womack


ChrisH__'s picture

These emails are fine, and in my experience, these requests come most often from busy professional managers. They don't want to juggle everything in their heads, and later get into a "But you said...." arguement with someone who doesn't report to them.

An email can also be quickly flagged in outlook with a follow up date, or copied into any other project management software.



Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

You're right to find it annoying.  It's a habit that has become standard, and it's inefficient and selfish.

These emails are NOT fine, unless you're facilitating a meeting and you're telling everyone what deliverables there are, or you're dealing with a customer or bosses.  (If you're a boss, stop asking for this!)  But I'm addressing here peers, and subordinates, and anyone who doesn't have notable role power.

Stephen says it's normal...but so are bad meetings, and bosses who don't know what they're doing.  Normal, when it comes to management, is usually a hint to pause.  This is NOT a reason to suggest it's acceptable.  It's not.

Asking for email confirmation is inefficient.  What about a verbal agreement isn't sufficient anymore?  HUGE companies are run, decisions are made, people are hired and fired, strategies agreed to, ALL VERBALLY.  Executives walk out of meetings with NOTES, and they make stuff happen.

Email is a crutch some people use to cover their butts - you're right.  And them suggesting that they won't be able to get to what they just agreed to do lest YOU send them a's laughable.

I can't believe that someone here is suggesting that because you find a terribly inefficient technique (really?  I have to send you a note after you just agreed to do something?  You're unable to write, or to own up to your commitment?)  inefficient - you're supposed to have your admin do it.  ANOTHER level of inefficiency.

Let's all step up a bit.  You don't need a paper trail - you meed to make commitments you are willing to honor simply because you SAID you would.  If you need a paper trail, because YOU are worried about YOUR boss - they YOU send the mail..and to yourself. 

I find others suggesting this a gross admission of inefficiency, over-reliance on email, and fear of their inability to make commitments that others will honor or fear of keeping their own.

Take your own notes, folks.  Write down what you commit to, and be willing to admit it to your boss, and then do what you said, paper trail or not.


Stop asking others to do what every professional considers to be second nature.

rbolton34's picture

Mark sorry I hit sore spot. I'm surprized it wasn't all in CAPITALs.

Will have to put the volume down a bit if you Blog about this.

Cheers, one hiil at at a time

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

... But you were getting bad advice. :-)

It's regrettable that having strong opinions today is seen as something wrong with one's emotions.  There's a difference in the tone of my recommendations based on the significance of the issue and the error involved, and the number of voices suggesting the opposite.

Unfortunately, the downside of trying to serve everyone without any relationship first is that I can't know easily whether or not you are a 22 year old just starting out and thinking this is the standard.

Courage is the central virtue.



rbolton34's picture

Lets say for discussion that the "new" way to communicate in the business world is electronic. Even though there is no physical distance.  I see my kids and wonder how long till they text my wife from the basement "what' for supper".  I have spent alot of time listening to MT and recomended reading.  I wonder how to fight against the dying of the light when it comes to keeping business relationships personal.

Do you think it is just a trust thing and if I have a better relationship with you, you will not need Email conformation of our conversation?

PS. Having any kind of opinion means that you give a s#*t, and in my modest opinion there are not enough people that do.

Thank you and Mike for all your opinions.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Thank you sir.

Ah, the dying of the light.  Light a ton of candles, my friend.

The "new" way is not electronic.  It's personal, as it has always been, and one of the TOOLS is electronic.  I LOVE email, and email those whom I trust more than than those whom I don't trust.  it's just a medium.

Face to face is the gold standard, and it's completely possible. Email, in the scenario you presented, is just the opposite - it's the extinguisher of the light.  It can also serve as a lighthouse, like the emails I get that say thanks, or, you helped me get promoted.

Keep working at it.  I'm 51 years old, and still working hard at it. 

Biz Stone (really?  "Biz"?  Given name Christopher?) founder of Odeo and Twitter said recently to the WSJ to over-communicate always.  (And he wasn't saying Twitter was communication).

Good start!


AspirationM's picture

Isn't the flip side of that view:  "So you want me to do something for you, and I'm happy to and already said yes.  But you're upset you have to send a quick email reminder to me?"  With any inefficiency (him having to send the email) countered by more efficiency on the other side (that person having a ready made reminder in their inbox without any time invested)?  I'm not personally for the behavior or against it, and really I think it just comes down to personal organization styles.  Or a lack thereof sometimes... a lot of times really.  But the high C in me just couldn't hold the post in, I'm curious about the response.