Reining in an Email Discussion

Reining in an Email Discussion

Email has obvious advantages and inherent disadvantages. Because it’s concise and impersonal, we can misconstrue the meaning behind the words. And if a handful of people are part of an email deliberation, decision-making can become unwieldy. Knowing when to rein in an email discussion is an important leadership skill.

Recently, a pressing decision shouted at me from a sticky note near my computer. I sent an email to two groups of decision-makers, hoping we’d quickly agree on a course of action. But over the next few days, my Inbox lit up with ideas and opinions. Instead of leading to consensus, the perspectives spread out like wildfire.

So I scheduled a face-to-face meeting and we were able to come to a decision in 30 minutes. (An alternative would be a conference call.)

How to Reach Consensus Following an Email Discussion

  1. Start with prayer. This doesn’t go without saying. In the urgency of ministry life, it can be tempting to launch into horizontal conversation before vertically acknowledging our Father. But aligning ourselves with God is essential.
  2. Lay a biblical foundation. Resist using a verse that seems to support your opinion. Instead, choose something like James 3:17 that describes God’s wisdom as pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
  3. Invite people to share. Give each person the opportunity to unpack their perspective, rationale, and opinion on what the final decision should be.
  4. Listen carefully. Listen to each person’s words with a desire to truly understand where they’re coming from. Honor the gifting God has given them; the lens they see through.
  5. Address any tension. If divergent opinions stir up conflict along the way or within the meeting, deal with it biblically—in truth, honor, and love. Mature team members may initiate this on their own; otherwise encourage apologies and forgiveness.
  6. Share your perspective last. Expressing your opinion first may hinder others from sharing freely, and gives it undue weight because of your position. Plus, you’ll glean more of God’s wisdom as you listen to others’ perspectives.
  7. Ask for responses. After you share your recommendation, invite the others to weigh in with any needed tweaks or adjustments.
  8. Reach agreement. When you esteem and include other key decision-makers, God’s fully-orbed wisdom will emerge. And in addition to making a good decision, you’ve strengthened your relationships. (If you don’t reach agreement, continue to wait on God in successive in-person meetings.)

There’s nothing wrong with expediting decisions through emails, texts, etc. But it’s important to monitor if you’re progressing in relational cohesion toward a sound decision. Wise leaders discern whether electronic communication is yielding unity and consensus, and call for a face-to-face meeting when it’s not.