We live in a world of electronic communication. We send out hundreds of emails or instant messages a month. But is texting someone “You are fired” really the best way how to handle a particular situation? Maybe the “old school” telephone isn’t dead yet and there are situations when it is better to talk rather than write.
- When you expect questions – pinging emails back and forth are the worst way to have a conversation. If you expect questions, then talking is the best approach. You may want to send out an email with your thoughts just to give the other party a chance to prepare but you should also indicate that you are free to talk about it.
- When you expect strong feelings – any difficult conversation is better to have face to face or at least over the phone. I know that many people dread having a discussion that is full of emotions and prefer to use the unemotional email to filter out the humanity, but if you want to reach the best outcome possible you need to get out of your comfort zone and talk so you can listen for clues, empathize, and handle any latent emotions that could be an issue later on.
- When you expect disagreement – if you expect the other side will have opposite opinion then sending emails to each other will most likely lead to escalation and misunderstandings about the motives. To pick up a phone and talk is the best way how to convey your reasons in such a way that it is acceptable for others. You can make the environment safe to talk about potential issues and counter arguments and reach some mutually acceptable outcome.
- When you need action “Now” – obviously sending an email and praying for the other guy to read it this week is not the best strategy when you need to get something done now. You may still send the email with the key points to act as a reminder but first pick up a phone and explain in no uncertain terms the urgency of the matter. Speaking with the other party also acts as a feedback loop that tells you whether your message is understood and action is being taken.
- When you give corrective feedback – there are situations when sending some corrective feedback over email is just fine (like pointing out a typo in some documentation). The moment you want to give feedback that has more personal impact you need to pick up a phone and even better doing it face to face if possible. The issue with the phone in this case is that you cannot easily ensure whether the other party is in a position or mood to receive the feedback. What if he/she is in the middle of a meeting? Or just rushing to finish a job with a deadline today? In these situations it might be better to schedule a one-on-one to make sure the other guy has time reserved for you.
- When you want to say “No” – this one really depends on situation. Sometime it is just ok to refuse something by email. If that is the case you should be polity and state your reason without over-explaining and over-apologizing. Better is to pick up a phone and have a minute long chat where you politely refuse. It will convey the same message as the email with the added benefit of showing respect for the other side.
- When you want to deliver a bad news – any bad news should be delivered in person. Even something like “you are all fired,” should be done on some all-hands meeting with follow-up email. When you want to give a bad news like dismissing someone or even when refusing a candidate after several rounds of interviews you need to talk to them. That way you show the respect and understanding of the pain you are causing to the employee or the candidate. Sending an email to do the job for you is rather cowardly and will leave a bad impression.
What does this mean for you? Always think twice before sending yet another email whether it wouldn’t be better to be brave and just pick up a phone and call.
What other situations do you believe are better handled by phone call or a personal meeting rather than an email?
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