Call Me (Or Email Me), Maybe?

Do you prefer to communicate via phone or via email? What makes you decide to get off the computer and make a phone call, instead?

Over on 30 Second MBA, the CEO and Managing Partner at Kwittken + Company Worldwide offers his advice about when to use the phone instead of sending an email. Aaron Kwittken believes that "anything you have to think twice about it, anything you think might be sensitive, anything that you think requires your relationship skills" requires a phone call instead of an email.

The Chief Product and Technology Officer at Ask.com, Lisa Kavanaugh, says, "If I need something immediately, or there's some discussion involved, I'll definitely pick up the phone every time and I expect everyone to do the same with me."

I find people sometimes call me about things we could have dealt with quickly over email, and sometimes send me long emails that might have been dealt with more efficiently on the phone. Kwittken's remarks made me realize that I unconsciously grapple with the email vs. phone issue regularly at work. To call or not to call? That is the question.

I feel bombarded by email and haven't known that phenomenon called "Inbox Zero" in years, so I don't like to be the person who is adding to someone else's Outlook landslide. Also, it's very difficult to convey tone and nuance in a work-related email. If I feel that the other person might take offense at what I need to say, I try to use the phone whenever possible.

That said, email is so convenient—I can get through a slew of emails as I'm waiting in line for my coffee, or on the subway during my commute to work. I've also found that many people (I'm one of them) don't check their office voice mail as often as they check their email. And, I find it's easier to have notes from a conversation stored in my inbox than it is to take notes during a phone call.

One of my deep dark secrets (well, not after I publish this post): I don't like my voice. I think it sounds childish. It's not that I can't get through a phone call professionally—in the course of my work as a journalist, I've called cops and other sources. I've spoken live on radio shows via phone. I've interviewed job candidates via phone. When I need to get a read on someone (like when I'm reporting), phone is preferable (Clay Ziegler wrote an interesting article about phone vs. email interviews for journalists here). I can talk on the phone—but when it doesn't seem necessary, I don't.

How about you? Do you prefer to communicate via phone or via email? What makes you decide to get off the computer and make a phone call, instead?

[Image: Flickr user Jonas Seaman]

Answer in the comments section below.

Add New Comment

22 Comments

  • Jmsmith7707

    I prefer the phone in order to get immediate feedback and/or answers due to the time zones. I have locations nationwide. I will generally follow the phone call up with an email for documentation purposes and clarification as many of my phone calls relate to HR topics and issues.

  • Sujithdan

    Whenever urgent its better for phone calls, especially if you need decisions to be made quick but emails make sure we have proof of discussions or approvals..So email proves as a better source though calls can make urgent situations easier

  • Anjali Mullany

    Thank you for all these great responses. Very interesting. @AKWYZ:twitter on Twitter noted that I didn't include IMs in this post. He wrote, "Instant Messages are more important than emails." Do you agree? 

  • Pmowrey

    I agree with the distinctions made above about the differing efficiencies of phone calls vs emails. What is not mentioned, however, is the voice mail. For me, relatively speaking, voice mails are much more time consuming to retrieve than emails. I'll often try a phone call. But, failing to reach the person, I'll follow with an email rather than leaving a voice mail.

  • Anjali Mullany

    I leave voice mails, but I agree with you, - as I write above, " I've also found that many people (I'm one of them) don't check their office voice mail as often as they check their email."

  • Zachary Gregg

    Text for anything you worry is time sensitive but not worth a call. if the phones ringing it better be important.

  • Anjali Mullany

    With many of my professional contacts, and even with a great many of my colleagues, I feel a text message would seem over-familiar...also, not all of my professional contacts have shared their cell phone numbers with me, just their office numbers.

  • johnfisherman

    Email can be seen as a more thoughtful and reflected approach to communication. Thoughts and expressions can be crystallized before reaching out to the recipient.

    Verba volant, scripta manent. Projects like memeoirs.com (of which I am a co-founder) embracing this fact, and extend it to the digital world.

  • G Pacific

    On text messaging... It's really rude when someone calls and demands an answer on something that could have been dealt with a short text message. When do you go for a call and instead of a text message?

  • Anjali Mullany

    Do you receive a lot of texts from professional contacts? I don't. Sometimes my boss will text me if it's urgent...other colleagues may text me, but usually as friends, not because of work-related stuff.

  • Will Wright

    "What makes you decide to get off the computer and make a phone call, instead?" My desire to communicate more effectively with someone.  For mysterious reasons, people forget or ignore the fact that 85 percent of the meat of an in-person conversation is vocal tone and body language.

  • Doc Waller

    Well, in business terms, I believe email must be the first route. Then, once the relationship is established, a phone call can be used for more pressing or personal circumstances. Lastly, anyone conducting business on a professional level should understand how to convey tone in an email.

    Nice article. I think about this all the time.

  • Anjali Mullany

      That's a great point about the importance of being able to convey tone in an email. Do you have any advice re: how to convey tone in an email? Just based on some of the emails I've received (and, probably, sent) over the years, I think a lot of people aren't very good at that.

  • Doc Waller

     I am SO sorry I'm just now responding to this. I didn't see it until tonight. Would you like me to write a piece on "conveying tone in an email?" Heavens knows I have tons of experience to pull from. Could be interesting! :)

  • Doc Waller

    Well, in business terms, I believe email must be the first route. Then, once the relationship is established, phone calls can be used for more pressing or personal circumstances. Also, anyone conducting business on a professional level should have a significant understanding on how to convey tone in an email...or at least not the wrong tone.

    www.thedocwaller.com

  • Meehna

    If I know someone well and it's a quick thing that is more expedient on email, then I choose this route. For more personal or important requests, I like the phone connection. It provides more intimacy and possibilities for connection. 

  • LouannO

    I would love to be able to call my daughter, but she is in the US where there is NO cell reception whatsoever. So we can chat on Facebook, I prefer this option when I have a keyboard available (old phone I refuse to upgrade but no qwerty keyboard). Chat would be my favorite communication. You get the advantage of email, with the immediate response of a phone call.

  • Suzie Robb

    Email is easier with the option for a phone call. People are busy. Unless what you need is extremely urgent, an email is the best way to let them now that while you need to get in touch with them, you understand that their time is valuable and they can reply to you at their earliest convenience. It's simply more respectful and less selfish than a phone call.

  • Jeanne Heller

    A phone call is selfish?  Wow.  What would you say about someone walking up to your desk to have a face to face discussion?  There really are some topics that are best resolved by a phone conversation, getting to the gist in 5 minutes, rather than a thread of emails that takes 30 minutes to write/read.