With most communication being undertaken through email and meaning potentially getting ‘lost in translation’ is it important to be conscious of how you are communicating. With tricky body corporate issues, communicating effectively via email can go a long way in ensuring both parties are working together and addressing the issues at hand.
As a partner of the largest law firm in Australia dealing with strata, bodies corporate and community and company title management, disputes and litigation, Jason Carlson of Grace Lawyers gives his insight into email communication of body corporate issues.
The prevalence of email in modern communication
Research has shown that e-mail is the preferred method of commercial communication for 74% of all online adults , more than half of e-mails are opened on a mobile , and 70% of e-mails are opened within six seconds of receipt . Reflect on how you communicate with your strata manager, committee members or even other lot owners on body corporate issues. If it is mostly by email, and many of those emails are processed on your phone, and you feel almost a sense of anxiety to open and deal with those emails quickly – then this article is for you.
The modern workplace has become mobile to meet the expectations we place upon each other. Invariably, the expectation is that most communications will be in the form of e-mails. But there are dangers attached to the prevalence of e-mail communications. E-mails can be an effective way to communicate on uncontroversial, routine matters, but that effectiveness drastically decreases on matters involving disagreements.
The increasing expectation of responsiveness and availability
In June 2021 I attended the Strata Community Association National Conference in Adelaide. My attendance at the conference meant that I was going to be out of the office for almost an entire week. Upon touching down in Adelaide, I realised that I had forgotten to put the “Out of Office” notification on my e-mails.
I moved past the mild anxiety I began to feel when it occurred to me that I do not exclusively deal with e-mails when I am in the office. I am just as active with my e-mails when I am out of the office as when I am in it. My office follows me wherever I go through the phone in my pocket. Even though I was at a conference, I would still be regularly checking and dealing with those e-mails, so there would not be much point to letting others know I was at out of the office for that week.
I was not alone. All around me others were on their phones and laptops during breaks or any quiet periods. The prospect of facing hundreds (if not thousands) of e-mails upon a return to the desk has made this a necessity for most professionals.
A survey, undertaken by the education committee of Strata Community Association (QLD) in 2020 revealed that chairpersons’ leading expectations of a strata manager were knowledge, attention to detail and availability. When asked what keeps them with their strata manager, those leading expectations were relationship, rapport, and availability.
The consistent expectation on both fronts was availability: so being available to respond promptly to communications.
Reflect on your last few interactions with your strata manager, building manager or property manager. Does that ring true for you?
Availability is an expectation any client of a professional holds. It certainly applies to lawyers. It is a lesson I repeat to my team members: most clients will more readily judge the level of service (the promptness of communications) before they judge the quality of the service.
McDonalds Restaurants is an incredibly successful business because of the consistent and prompt service they provide – not because of the quality of the food that is served. We all know that it must form part of a “balanced diet”, but we also know that we will get what we want quickly, and the product will be consistent.
The decrease in the effectiveness of emails involving disagreements
But there are dangers attached to the prevalence of e-mail communications. E-mails can be an effective way to communicate on uncontroversial, routine matters, but that effectiveness drastically decreases on matters involving disagreements.
Albert Mehrabian, a professor of psychology at UCLA, carried out a study in the 1970’s and 1980’s focused on a person delivering a message that involved disagreement, strong emotion, or ambiguity. The study found that the person receiving the message derived 55% of its meaning from the expressions and body language that were used, whereas the tone of voice conveyed only 38% of the meaning of the message, and the actual words represented a mere 7% of the meaning.
We can learn from this that in communications involving disagreement, strong emotion, or ambiguity, we can communicate 100% of our meaning effectively in person, 45% if we communicate it over the phone and only 7% if we rely on just the words used in an e-mail.
The warning about e-mails being “tone deaf” is not without scientific foundation. Our e-mails can be misinterpreted or taken the wrong way because we deprive ourselves of the full potential of how we may best communicate the message.
Considering in person communication of disputed and controversial topics
Being aware of this can assist us building better relationships within committees and with our neighbours. Strata communities would not exist without the people who live or own a lot in them. People do not always get along, and disputes can escalate when mishandled or positions are misunderstood.
We are reliant on trying to resolve disputes through written correspondence. Everyone feels the need to put something “on the record” these days. Tribunals and adjudicators will accept the mere exchange of correspondence as a reasonable attempt at internal dispute resolution before they step in to decide the dispute. Conciliations are shifting to being held almost exclusively over the telephone, particularly in Queensland. The public health restrictions brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic amplified that.
But the science does not support this as being an effective way to resolve disputes.
An e-mail sent on a controversial or disputed topic may have been composed with the kindest and most professional of intentions, but the reader will naturally import a tone into it when they read it out to themselves in their head. The only way to avoid that is to pick up the phone or deliver the message in person. So do not be scared, give it a try – you may be surprised by the result.
For assistance with specialist body corporate and community title law issues contact Grace Lawyers. To discuss your property’s strata management needs or receive a FREE management proposal contact our friendly team. We also offer more helpful resources and community living news in our FREE newsletter.