The other day, I emailed a colleague with a few questions and received the response, “I’m more of a phone person—can you call me about this?”
I have to say, I was a little shocked.
It’s not often that you meet someone who prefers picking up the phone to conduct business. Given the choice, I’d guess a majority of employees in the typical workplace would choose email over a phone call any day. And it makes sense: Email is quick, efficient, and doesn’t carry the chance of awkward silences or distracting background noise.
But despite the overwhelming preference for email, there are a few situations that just work better when you pick up the phone.
1. It’s Urgent
About 60% of people wait two full days to reply to a work-related email. So if you send an email that needs a response ASAP—even with a subject line that includes, “Urgent!”—there’s a good chance you’ll be left refreshing your inbox over and over for the next 48 hours, crossing your fingers for a reply.
On the other hand, making a phone call about an critical matter can help you convey a sense of urgency, make sure the other person knows exactly what he or she needs to do, and answer any questions without resorting to a never-ending email chain. By the time you hang up, you can be confident that everyone is on the same page and understands what needs to happen to address the issue.
2. You’re Not Getting a Response
Maybe you emailed a request that isn’t exactly urgent, but at some point, you do need a response—and after a few days of silence, you’re getting antsy.
There are only so many times you can urge the request along with another email that says, “Hey, just wanted to follow up on this—have you had a chance to look at it?”
If you don’t receive a reply after the original email and one follow up message, default to a phone call. You’ll have a much better chance of getting an immediate response—or at least putting it on your co-worker’s radar as an issue that needs his or her attention.
3. It Takes More Than a Few Sentences
At some point, you’ve probably received a novel of an email that took you 20 minutes to read—and still left you with questions by the signoff at the end. Don’t subject others to that torture.
If whatever you need to convey takes more than a couple paragraphs—say, you’re explaining the nuances of an assignment or clarifying a department process to someone on another team—it’s often more efficient to pick up the phone. That will allow the other person to ask questions, and from the tone of her voice, by the time you hang up, you can be sure that she understands completely.
4. You Want Candid Feedback
Maybe you have a brilliant idea for an article or sales pitch, and you want to see what your colleague thinks before you get started.
With an email, you may get a response like, “OK. That sounds good.” While that reply is positive, it doesn’t raise any concerns or spark any additional suggestions. In short, it’s not very useful feedback.
A phone call, however—which, by nature, begs for more than a quick, noncommittal response—will allow you hear your co-worker’s tone of voice, dive deeper into the nuances of your idea, address any questions your colleague has, and, overall, get more thoughtful, candid feedback.
5. You Want to Build a Relationship
Email is great for quick, efficient communication. But sometimes, you need a more personal touch—like when you’re reaching out to a new remote colleague or company client.
Sure, you can write a perfectly nice introductory email. But a phone call can help you convey a warmth and genuineness that email can’t—and that can’t help you build an actual relationship with the person on the other side, rather than become yet another email contact in his or her address book.
6. You Don’t Want a Record of the Conversation
For better or for worse, emails are forever preserved somewhere out there, ready to be quoted or forwarded at a moment’s notice.
So, if you need to discuss confidential or sensitive information that doesn’t belong in writing quite yet—like rumors of a company merger or a co-worker being recruited by a competing firm—a phone call is best.
This also holds true for casual conversations you’d rather keep private, like when you need help from a co-worker to meet a last-minute request and want to explain the circumstances of the situation—such as, “I hate to ask you for a favor at 4:45 PM, but my manager dropped the ball on the Smith proposal and we have to pull it together tonight.”
That may be true and certainly helps explain the context of the request, but it’s not exactly something that should make its way back to your manager by way of a forwarded email chain. On the phone, you can be candid without chancing your words getting to the wrong place (well, as long as you close the office door).
Aaron Kwittken, CEO and managing partner at Kwittken, may summarize it best: “Anything you have to think twice about it, anything you think might be sensitive, anything that you think requires your relationship skills…absolutely you should pick up the phone.”
Photo of woman on phone courtesy of Shutterstock.
After beginning a career in management, Katie realized she wasn’t doing what she loved and determined it was time for a major career transition. Now, as a staff writer/editor for The Muse and a content marketing writer for a healthcare IT company, she gets to do what she loves every day—write and edit content ranging from demand generation campaigns to career advice. Her career and management content has been published on Forbes, Mashable, Business Insider, Inc., and Newsweek. Find her on Twitter @kgwolfie.More from this Author