Why It Pays To Pick Up The Phone Rather Than E-Mail Sometimes ?
Have you ever had that unexpected responce to an email ? I certainly have. This is because we all have our own unique writing style. Some write as they speak, some write as they would a letter, some write in a very confusing, cryptic or short manner and some just blast out their emotions on the keyboard. You generally can pick ones writing style, especially when it comes to formal emails. While you may be able to pick their style, you generally can’t pick their emotion, feeling or language as you can in a conversation.
Emails have become such a big part of our work and personal life, that they can tend to replace conversation. However there is a big flaw to this. Emails remove those personal queues or prompts you get in a conversation. They remove tones, dialogue exchanges and emotional signals relating to a person you are engaging in conversation with.
Why can this be a problem.
Lets take an example here to demonstrate: Lets say the boss is frustrated because he received a customer complaint. The first point is the customer generally uses a stronger language to make a complaint via email than a conversation, as they are exchanging their emotion, frustration and issue on a keyboard. There is no immediate exchange as you would get in a 2 way verbal conversation. Therefore the email to remedy or resolve the issue is missing some important dialogue queues or signals to easily resolve the issue. The customer generally just lays it down, in a strong language – putting the boss in a defensive emotion.
The boss receives this email, forwards it to the staff member at the centre of the complaint (he or she may moderate it), and escalates the issue by strengthening the language in the email in order to appease the customer, portion the responsibility of the problem to the staff member or at the very least require some reasoning, explanation or responce to the customer email.
The staff member reads the conversation, may or may not get defensive (depending on the issue) and then a responce comes back to the boss. Again in the case of the boss, and the staff member the frustration, responsibility and ownership of the emotion surrounding this problem is directed at a keyboard. This in my view gives opportunity for an email to esculate the problem because all those important conversational queues and signals are missing.
Lets look at an alternate way of dealing with it: The boss receives the same complaint via an email from a customer. At this point the complaint holds the same weight as it would in the previous example. However if the boss were to pick up the phone and have a discussion with the customer to understand more about the issue, he or she could examine those conversational signals to asses how to tackle the problem in a more relaxed way. Then when it comes to dealing with the staff member involved, the boss would have a conversation with his or her staff member and would be much better equiped to deal with the issue at a conversational level with the staff member, again reading the conversational signals and emotions.
Through conversation, there is so much more information that is relayed other that what is on the screen or printout. It also means you have an immediate 2 way exchange which leads to a much more passive resolution, rather that waiting for a reply.
There is certainly a place for emails, and there is a place for conversation. For example, emails keep a track of a conversation, while verbal exchange doesn’t ! Emails lock a conversation into history that can be recalled on, while a conversation can easily be forgotten. However an email can never replace the conversational signals, queues, emotions or ability to have an immediate 2 way conversation, and emails will always take you a lot longer to write.
In my experience, picking up the phone or walking across the office to your colleges or staff will always give you a better responce and make your workplace culture a great one.
If you need that conversation locked in for the record, follow the conversation up with an email detailing the points.
Early on in my career, a mentor of mine told me. “Any email that can be taken the wrong way, regardless of its intent WILL BE“. Apply the 24 hour rule. Write your responce and save it as a draft. Read it 12 to 24 hours later and see if it reads the same. Its a good test to see if the email contains anything that may spark an unwanted responce or reaction. Better still, pick up the phone.