e-mail: “It’s not a replacement for the phone, it’s not a means to get in touch with someone immediately. Yet the expectation is that it is – or should be.” – Mike Vardy
For several years now I have been concerned about how we are getting further and further away from personal contact. When what you do centers around relationships and getting to know people, seeing a bigger and bigger reliance on faceless and speechless contact is very worrying.
We now book a telephone call via e-mail! We agree on a date for a call and then formally invite one another so it’s on the calendar! Spontaneity, humor and excitement are slowly being strangled by our reliance on e-mail. E-mail is efficient – possibly. Personal? – Not really!
We use e-mail to avoid conflict. We use it to avoid feeling uncomfortable, to overcome shyness, inferiority complexes, doubts, apprehensions, and any manner of other psychological and emotional problems. It’s our version of the massive proliferation of vending machines you find in Japan, where choice and interaction with machines is preferred to exchanges with people. We use it to overcome our fear of selling, to make sure we’re never caught off guard or put on the spot. We have convinced ourselves that this is all more advanced, more efficient, and more productive.
But, what about the missed opportunities and unnecessary misunderstandings that come when we use e-mail instead of phone calls? Now, I don’t live in a cave. Far from it. I also have joined the great technological and digital arena. Our household of 2 adults and 2 kids aged 9 and 13, possesses 4 iPhones, 2 iPads, a MacBook Air, a 27” iMac and 3 iPod’s. Most of them mine! I have four e-mail accounts and deal with the same proliferation of real and junk mail that everyone else does everyday!
But here’s where we are missing.
It is replacing face-to-face communication. And here lies the human disconnect. At the very least, we need to hear someone’s voice (even if it’s just on the phone). E-mail seldom works when conflict needs to be resolved: We often say things via e-mail we would not say if we were not safely behind the screen. There are several reasons that communicating through conflict should occur in person; or at the very least by telephone, but never via e-mail. Lastly, e-mail is not effective for communicating private or proprietary information: e-mail is far from being private!
In order to maintain a healthy relationship, people need to express themselves openly and honestly. This means that each person is able to express positive feelings, negative feelings, complaints, desires, and needs. This is always done best verbally! However, verbal communication is only effective when both or all parties are effective listeners. Listening doesn’t simply mean hearing. It necessitates understanding another person’s point of view. Because we have so many e-mails and try to multi-task while doing them, we seldom really read all of them. If we do, we don’t fully comprehend them. We are becoming a twitter generation where we only read 140 letters, equivalent to 30 words, at a time. Anything longer than a short paragraph is skipped.
So, STOP! Before you compose that next e-mail, think about why sometimes the phone may be a better option. Here are some reasons:
1. Issues can be dealt with faster
One of the main benefits of picking up the phone and calling someone versus sending an email, is immediate feedback through dialogue. Issues can be dealt with faster and more efficiently on the phone, while e-mails can get lost with overload!
2. Less room for misunderstanding
Another key reason why a phone call is better than an e-mail is that key information and content can remain in context, whereas misunderstandings can often occur in emails.
3. Efficiency with multiple audiences
Phone calls have another advantage over e-mails when it comes to multiple participants or recipients in a conversation. If the subject matter involves numerous people and needs input from different parties, then the benefits of a conference call far outweigh those of an e-mail exchange. In e-mails, crossed wires, time delays, and calendar clashes can prevent all participants from being involved in the conversation in a timely manner. Conference calls allow all those people to hear the same information at the same time, and participate in the conversation on an even keel.
4. No need for lengthy e-mail strings
Following on from the above; if the subject requires a long conversation that involves questions, answers and back and forth between two or parties, an e-mail exchange soon takes up valuable time, space, and effort. The equivalent conversation over the phone will take less time, effort, and be more convenient and efficient in business terms.
5. Builds better relationships and networks
Finally – and because of what I do it’s the most relevant for me – I believe that phoning colleagues, partners, suppliers, customers, and contacts can prove much more effective in terms of relationship building, networking, and maintaining quality communication streams between all parties. Picking up the phone gives the conversation that important personal element that a faceless, soulless e-mail cannot.
Telephone calls offer you the opportunity to build stronger relationships and remain in closer contact with your business partners and colleagues. So, STOP – Don’t start on that e-mail. Pick up the phone!