I have a confession to make. I hate ringing people. This would no doubt surprise my partner who sees me chatting by the hour to my friends, but in a professional sense I am loath to press dial.
I much prefer to email and I have always told myself that it is a) more convenient and b) less confronting for the recipient. But I have realised recently that it is actually more convenient and less confronting for me.
It is also less connecting. No matter how proficient or witty your writing, it does not build a working relationship the way a spoken conversation does. Nor does it allow you to answer concerns in real time.
So here’s some of the recent learning I have engaged with about what email is for and when I ought to pick up the phone.
- 1. Email is for routine matters – important but not urgent
Organisations are now realising that if they train everyone in their employ to use email for everyday, non-urgent matters, it can be managed much more easily and timetabled into the working day.
Problems occur when we send an urgent request for something to be done in the next two hours via email and then wash our hands of responsibility when it doesn’t get done. Email is asynchronous; therefore we have no idea when and if the person on the other end will check it. So if it needs immediate action, pick up the phone.
- 2. Who’s at fault?
Sometimes we think we need a written record of every interaction – but is this always necessary? Perhaps the anxiety over who’s responsible and accountable for what is driving the email explosion and then the email inbox drives the way the day unfolds. This is the reverse of useful. It becomes a burdensome waste of time. Trust people and pick up the phone.
- 3. Reset your mindset
To decide what things I use email for I am now trying to limit mine to situations where I am making and answering requests to do with time and money. In other words, the routine organisation around availability, meetings, travel, quotes, proposals and reports.
To help me work out what to do I now ask myself two questions, which have not yet become habitual.
- 1. Have I got an opinion, judgement or rationalisation on this? Yes? Then pick up the phone.
2. Do I want to voice a grievance, make a complaint, finalise a decision, apologise, praise or deride? Yes? Then pick up the phone (and rethink the deride option).
This exercise has brought into stark relief how many judgements, assessment and opinions I voice on a daily basis (quite often under the mistaken impression that they are facts).
Making a conscious decision not to include these in emails has started to make my emails shorter, crisper and easier to read and reply to, without losing their warm, professional quality.
I’m not there yet, but I am dialling direct much more often. If any of this doesn’t make sense, call me.