When you need to convey information, email can be efficient—but it lacks nuance. Meanwhile, you can provide the full context in a phone call, but it may not be time efficient. Here's how to decide which medium to use when.
- Communication choices used to be simple. If someone worked in your office, you'd meet with them face to face. If they worked anywhere else, you'd call them, or maybe mail them a letter. Nowadays, the situation has gotten more complex because we have another major option, email. It's fast, efficient, and always on, but there are notable shortcomings too. When should you call people, and when should you use email? Here's how to decide. The first question to ask yourself is whether the person you're communicating with has a clear preference.
If someone's in a powerful position, like you boss, or a valued client, and they have a strong opinion about email versus the phone, honor it. Even if it's not the optimal way for you to do business, or to use that medium, just do what they like. You might as well keep them happy. So, adapt to their preferences. But what if the person doesn't have a particular preference? Or it's a colleague with equal standing that you don't need to bend over backwards for? In that case, think of it this way. The times when it's particularly effective to use email include number one, when the information you have to convey is simple.
You're throwing the office holiday party, and it'll be Thursday at 5 p.m. You definitely don't need to call 30 people, and tell them that. That's simple and clear information that's made for email. Number two, also use email when 24/7 functionality matters. For instance, maybe you're working out of the Bangalore office for a month. Even if you wanted to have phone calls with your colleagues back home, there's a nearly 12-hour difference. And so, there's only so many midnight phone calls you can take before it gets old. Email's a great alternative when time zones are problematic, or you're traveling, or you've been in meetings all day and are catching up late at night.
Number three, another instance is when someone's chatty. We all have certain colleagues who won't shut up. These are the people whom it's deadly to call because they'll turn the conversation around in circles. You might've called to talk about the holiday party, and somehow it turns into a three-hour conversation. Don't even let them get started down that path, always email them. Other times, however, it's a better idea to use the phone to communicate, that includes number one, when you know the conversation will have give and take.
Such as when you're brainstorming, or troubleshooting. If you can't have an in-person meeting, it's much better to use the phone. That's because the realtime interaction enables you to interact with others, springboard off their ideas, and probe, and test, and refine your concepts live. Email simply moves too slow for that. It's also better to use the phone when there's an emotional component to the conversation. Most people won't get riled up about what time the office party starts, but some topics are far more sensitive.
Maybe you've made a policy decision that some people strongly disagree with. Of course, in those cases, face-to-face communication is best, but if they're overseas, or in a different office, the phone, or video calls, is as good as it's going to get. Because you can hear them, and respond in realtime, you can manage a potentially hurtful, or explosive situation, much more carefully. We're still figuring out how to communicate effectively in the internet era. Some people use email way too much, and have forgotten how to pick up the phone. And some Luddites still insist on using the phone for absolutely everything.
But we're all a lot better off if we can learn to be flexible, and use each channel optimally.
- Communicating with your colleagues
- When to use the phone or send an email
- Interpreting nonverbal cues
- Asking your boss the right questions
- Knowing when to listen and when to speak
- Communicating in tricky situations
- Handling an interruption
- Responding to critical feedback
- How to communicate as an introvert