Recently I received a voicemail about a business opportunity. The caller invited me to either call back or send them an email to set up a meeting.
It wasn’t as simple as the phone being closer than my computer. Certainly, in our smart-phone immersed world I could just as easily do either. Calling was intentional.
I considered both options prior to calling and knew that the best option for building a business relationship was going to be the option that was most personal. Even brief voice to voice communication, such as to set up a meeting, provides opportunities for conveying warmth and friendliness through tone and inflection in ways that electronic written communication cannot.
I think of the expression, which I regret that I also have uttered with obvious annoyance, “Well, that could have been an email.”
Usually the could have been an email box gets ticked following a meeting of one-way communication. No one likes a monologue meeting from management.
So if some communication needs to be personal and some really could be emails, when should we use which?
Three considerations: relationship, efficiency, and accuracy.
I responded to the invitation to call or email to set up an initial meeting with a call because relationship was the primary factor. The communication itself would be brief and with little room for error, eliminating concerns about efficiency and accuracy which sometimes tip the scales towards email being the preferred communication.
Email tends to be more efficient. If you compared email and voice communication side by side with a list of pros and cons, efficiency generally falls under a “pro,” as time is a limited resource. In fact, even drafting a complex email (such as to explain actions taken in response to a critical situation) tends be less time consuming than discussion of the same subject.
So we file accuracy and efficiency as strengths of written electronic communication, or email. Previously mentioned, the work put into long emails still tends to be less time-consuming than a long discussion. Yet sometimes a long discussion is essential. This brings us back to relationship. Relationship building through person-to-person communication facilitates learning, builds trust and creates an opportunity for vulnerability. Vulnerability, bringing the idea full-circle, has this neat quirk of strengthening relationships. Following an essential long discussion, an email can be useful to confirm accuracy of understanding.
I would additionally say of person-to-person communication that for it to be effectively sticky, or resonate, it must be interactive. Otherwise, why was it not an email? The interactive quality of person-to-person communication, or discussion, actually increases the efficiency of the communication as it allows for questions and responses in real time.
Between email and live person-to-person communication (either in person or over video or voice call) one is not superior to the other, but different situations are better fits for each. The three factors of accuracy, efficiency, and relationship can be used to determine when which is the best fit.