The Green Sheet Online Edition
December 10, 2007 • Issue 07:12:01
E-mail for efficiency, phone for nuance
E-mail is great. Most of us wonder how we survived before we had the ability to hit send whenever the mood struck, even at 2 a.m. At times, the mere idea of actually handwriting a letter, stuffing it in an envelope, putting a stamp on it and waiting for the postal carrier to retrieve it seems absurd.
There is no doubt that, most of the time, e-mail is more efficient and just plain easier than snail mail. But, sometimes, for personal missives, a handwritten letter is just right.
The same is true of a phone call. It can be a cell phone or landline, it doesn't matter; as long as the person on the other end hears your voice.
Sometimes hearing someone's voice over the phone can make a big difference. It shows the person that you are interested in what he or she has to say.
Rather than taking turns making comments back and forth online, a phone call allows you to engage in dialogue, where both parties are contributing and reacting to one another.
Similarly, in the business world, you need to know when to take your fingers off the keyboard and start punching the digits on your phone.
Use your indoor voice
Don't try to solve a delicate office situation via e-mail. It leaves out too many signals, such as how you say something rather than just what you say. The chances of miscommunication are enormous, potentially causing hurt feelings or worse.
So, if there are grumblings of discontent among co-workers, or inklings that a client might be unhappy, get on the phone and talk it out.
After all, what could be worse than a simple misunderstanding exploding into a monumental disaster, all documented in forwards, replies and blind CCs? An e-mail can be seen as an invalid - even cowardly - way to clear the air.
Although e-mail has the advantage of being an almost instantaneous form of communication, that lightning quickness can also be its major drawback.
With one inadvertent click of a mouse, a minor complaint you have over a co-worker's risque screensaver can be broadcast to a company's entire directory.
Don't be lazy
When doing business, short, concise e-mails work best, but not if the conversation goes back and forth throughout the day.
If you're e-mail thread is getting ridiculously long, pick up the phone and call to say what you need to say. It only takes five minutes, far less time than the eight hours you just wasted bouncing ping pong balls to and fro over the Internet.
That also goes when you send out an e-mail and you don't get a reply in a reasonable amount of time. Just give them a call. More than likely, your e-mail got lost or dumped into a spam folder.
With one simple call, you can get all the information you need instead of waiting days, hopelessly hoping something will materialize in your inbox.
Show you care
Obviously, a phone call is the next best thing to a personal visit when someone you know is facing a crisis. Whether it is the loss of a job, illness in the family or death of a colleague, it is best to lend your ear if you can't be there in person.
You wouldn't e-mail a friend who just lost a beloved pet, "Sorry about Spot." No, you give them a call.
Although these are usually the hardest calls to make, they are the most important. No one knows what to say, but sometimes your voice is enough. The effort and compassion will be noticed, and that is comforting. Don't worry if you can't fix the situation; you're there for moral support.
The next time you log on to your e-mail or access the address book on your Blackberry, think: Would it be better to pick up the phone? Most of the time the answer will be "no", but be on the look out for when the answer is "yes."
Remember, if e-mail is a loudspeaker of facts and information, then the phone call is a gentle whisper telling you that everything's gonna be all right.
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