A REFRESHER GUIDE TO COMMUNICATING AT WORK
We are absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to communication media. If I wanted to contact a member of my team I could use voice call, video call, text, messaging apps, email, social networks, internal online messaging system or – dare I say it – I could approach them in person.
The options available to us are already great in number, and they’re only set to multiply – how long until we’re using virtual reality to interview candidates? Each of these media has their own distinct advantages, and so most people use a mix of all of them.
However – and I’m not just saying this because I don’t qualify as a Millennial – two of the most effective ways are also the most tried and tested: those of phone and email.
The communications chasmIn many offices you’ll see a divide between those who use phone and those who use email – the side of the divide you fall largely depends on two factors: the type of industry you’re in and whether you were born before or after 1980. Millennials are more confident using email, while employees of previous generations tend to prefer more traditional means (such as phone or face-to-face conversations). In fact, 35 per cent of those between the ages of 25-34 prefer email, while only 28 per cent of over 55 year olds said the same, according to this study.
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 phoneYou’re best off phoning someone if you want to be:
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.
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.
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 emailYou’re best off emailing someone if you want to be:
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.
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.
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.
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 benefitsBefore contacting someone you need to ask yourself some questions to help decide upon the more appropriate channel of communication:
Ask yourself these questions and then match your answers against the benefits listed in the two sections above. For example:
Q: Are you about to contact a prospective client/customer who has a busy schedule?
A: A phone call would be best (as it’s personable and builds rapport), but perhaps wait until you know they’re likely to be available.
Q: Are you about to contact someone on the other side of the world about a previous matter which hasn’t been resolved?
A: An email would be best (as it’s non-invasive, universal and referable), unless you wish to organise a scheduled video call.
Calling it quitsIn my previous blog I articulated why I thought it was important to communicate in person with your colleagues, in this one I’ve tried to outline the various benefits of phone vs. email, concluding that: calling someone is a vastly superior means of fostering relationships, whereas email has the slight edge when it comes to convenience.
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.
Global Managing Director, Hays Talent Solutions
Matthew is the Global Managing Director for Hays Talent Solutions, having joined Hays in 2005. Previous roles held at Hays include Business Director in the UK and Chief Operating Officer for Asia Pacific. He is now responsible for leading the global business of Hays Talent Solutions and investing to ensure clients retain a competitive advantage in talent acquisition from the delivery of Hays MSP, RPO, technology and modular service solutions. For more information about Hays Talent Solutions, visit our website.
Prior to joining Hays, Matthew worked within Engineering, Research, Operations and Commercial areas at Johnson Matthey and Corning Inc. He has formal qualifications in Organisational Psychology and Industrial Engineering.