Remember the days when you’d anxiously wait for a call from that girl you liked, only to find out it was your Uncle calling to chat with your Dad? No? Just me? Okay, how about when you were 5 or 6 and loved every opportunity you got to call your grandparents just to tell them that you lost a tooth or that you scored a goal in your soccer game. Yes, this was before cell phones. Yes, this was even before caller ID! But I think we can learn a lot from the “olden days.” The phone rang. We answered. We talked. We connected.
Let me say that again. We connected. It wasn’t always a positive experience. Hello, telemarketers! I think I may have even broken up with my first girlfriend over the phone… (sorry, Julie!). But they were experiences! I’m not sure we’re having quite the same effect – positive or negative – with text, email, FB Messenger, Slack, Instagram DMs, and the hundreds of other ways we “connect” without actually speaking.
It was actually kind of funny when I was searching for a stock image to use for this post, I searched “phone” and the majority of the images were of people staring down at their phone on email, social media, or texting. I think that’s pretty telling about our society as a whole. If no one is talking anymore, what do you think is happening to our listening?
Let’s shift gears and bring this back to business. The overuse of email is pervasive in business. Which, yes, I do understand is kind of ironic since you are likely reading this blog because you clicked on a link in a email. I’m not really talking about marketing or communication outside the organization – there is a time and place for all of that. I’m not saying eliminate email or texting or Messenger. What I am saying is take it down a notch! And be extremely conscious about where and when you use email at work.
In fact, consider using the two-email rule, which I first heard about in a weekly email newsletter from Angela Duckworth of Character Lab. The two-email rule says: If you have a question or problem that isn’t solved in two emails, you must pick up the phone. Damn. Think about that for a minute. How many hours of back and forth, misunderstanding, miscommunication, and frustration could you have eliminated in your career and business if you had simply followed this rule?
As Dale Carengie said, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Well, if that’s true (and this study shows that your brain has unique activation when hearing your own name), then saying the names of your colleagues, business partners, and boss can give you even more of an edge in your communication. Typing it out in a email just doesn’t have the same effect.
Still need to be convinced that face-to-face communication has an edge over email? Face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than email requests, according to a Harvard Business Review article published in April 2017. 34 times more effective! We can get really deep here into the psychology, but the long and short of it is that email does not convey emotion. The human element and human connection is lost (not completely, but sometimes just enough) with email, text, etc. Email, text, DMs aren’t just about sending information, but sending and receiving emotion. Emotion and intent often become lost in translation and that can slow everyone down.
Aside from simply connecting better with colleagues, it’s also about productivity. Think about how many times you’ve been lost in an email thread or jumped into one late and spent time catching up and trying to decipher the damn thing. Instead, pick up the phone or walk down the hall! Hash it out and get back to work. More people are working remotely, so I get it, this can make it hard. But it’s easy enough to call your boss, or quickly send a coworker a link to your Zoom meeting room. Have the conversation, work through the details, make a decision, and move on.
Text is great to ask a quick question if it can be answered quickly, or to tell your wife and sister-in-law where to meet you after you’ve gotten separated at the rum distillery in Barbados. Email is essential for sending documents, financial information, marketing materials to review, directives, updates, reports, etc. Planning and decision making? That requires collaboration, connection, and disagreements to get to a place where everyone is clear on what needs to happen.
So, what’s the one thing you can do to have more effective communication at work? Talk. On the phone or in person, it doesn’t matter. Talk, connect, and listen. I think we’ll all be surprised by how much more we get done, at a higher level, while feeling more engaged and fulfilled. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?