Posted by Hays UAE, September 2016

Matthew Dickason, Global MD of Hays Talent Solutions, discusses why telephone and email are the two most effective ways to communicate at work and when is best to use them:

The communications chasm

It’s crucial for the smooth running of your business that everyone in your team appreciates the nuances of each mode of communication, and knows when each is most appropriate. I tend to think that, on balance, phone is the most effective means of communication, but perhaps that is because I work in an environment which requires the personal touch, as I will explain below. While I’ve just declared my preference for phone calls, the truth is that there are different occasions for both phone and email; constraining yourself to one or the other can cost you time and money.

5 instances for which you should pick up the phone

1. Clear

Probably the greatest advantage to picking up the phone to speak to someone versus firing off an email is that you have a much better chance of properly interpreting what they mean. Sarcasm, for example, does not translate well via email, and so a lot of the time it’s necessary to hear someone’s tone to properly understand their mood, and then respond accordingly. If I require absolute clarity from a client on what they need from me then I will also give them a call so we can discuss the topic openly.

2. Direct 

If you require an instant yes or no response to something then phone is always your best bet. This is the most efficient way to resolve issues that would drag on unnecessarily if communicated via email. The one downside of this benefit is that instant responses are rarely the most thoroughly considered. I’ll often pick up the phone to call someone in another department within the business if I just need instant approval on something minor.

3. Off the record

Another sensible occasion to phone someone is when you wish to have an informal, undocumented exploration of a topic or idea. You might be throwing around loose figures with a client which you or they don’t want quoted verbatim further down the line, speculating and projecting on business performance or discussing an employee’s salary or promotion prospects.

The use of phoning someone for this purpose may be limited for your profession; however for some industries it is essential. In my line of work we obviously deal with a lot of people who don’t necessarily want their existing boss to know that they’re looking to change jobs, so phone calls are often preferable for scoping out career options.

4. Fluent

It’s a lot easier to walk someone through a document over the telephone that it is to explain via email. Phoning someone to discuss a matter allows for constant interjections and clarification of certain points, whereas discussing a particularly complex matter via email can lead to a seemingly never-ending thread. This is particularly useful for me when I’m discussing a weighty contract with a client.

5. Building rapport

Phoning someone is absolutely the best way to introduce yourself, second – obviously – to meeting them in person. The personal touch that a phone call provides is also proven to drive higher response rates (an 8.21 per cent response rate vs. a .03 per cent response rate for email, according to this study). This is a stat that is particularly pertinent to my industry, but one which also holds relevance to all who wish to convey a sincere, authentic message, rather than one that is more likely to be received as spam (email).

5 instances for which you should send an email

1. Non-invasive

It’s not always convenient to speak to someone on the phone, as you might be interrupting their busy schedule. Unless you confirm all of your calls with the other person beforehand, email is the best means of sending and receiving non-urgent communications. This is particularly true if you’re communicating with clients and colleagues across the globe, who might not appreciate a 3am call about sales performance.

2. Universal

Emails can be answered on the train, toilet or in loud restaurants. Unlike phones, you do not need to make provisions for sending and receiving them – which is a big advantage considering so many of us are expected to be ‘on call’ around the clock. Both this and the previous point are highly applicable for my industry, where a client or candidate might not appreciate being contacted about job opportunities while they’re still at work.

3. Thorough

If you want a thorough and considered – often bullet-pointed – response then email is your best bet. Are you looking for feedback on a costing spread sheet or detailed schedule? Phone is rarely going to fulfil your needs. 65 per cent of us are visual learners, and so when tackling complex issues it’s always best to set it out in structured document form.

4. Documented

Unlike phone calls, emails are documented until you delete them. This means that you can refer back to and reference previous conversations with a mere few clicks – something that’s only possible by phone providing you have a super-human memory. Always use email to discuss matters that involve numbers; especially if those numbers are preceded by a pound sign.

5. Easily interpretable

The final advantage to emails I’ve identified is that, no matter what language the other person speaks or what speech impediment they have, if what they’re saying is written in text then you’re going to be able to interpret it. This also applies if you have a sub-par phone line! Hays Talent Solutions is a global business, and so I often have to communicate with people – via email – who don’t have English as a first language.

Employing these benefits

Before contacting someone you need to ask yourself some questions to help decide upon the more appropriate channel of communication:

  • Who are you contacting?
  • Why are you contacting them?
  • What is their current schedule likely to be?
  • What is their current mood likely to be?
  • What sort of relationship do you have with them?
  • What do you need from them?

Calling it quits

All the above is very well and good however, we shouldn’t always opt for what’s most convenient! As my colleague Dean Stallard explains, “In [knowledge-based economies], it’s a high-risk strategy for individuals to neglect person-to-person connections”. Instead of focusing all your efforts on cutting corners and saving time, why not prioritise building relationships and delivering tangible results? Pick up the phone, and then follow up with an email would be my advice in most instances.

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