Phone v. Email: Why Voice is Better than Words

If you have been a friend or follower for any number of years, you’ll know that email is the bane of my existence. As someone who receives several hundred bits of email a day, it’s hard to stay on top of it all. Moreover, if I don’t respond to a note or inquiry immediately, there’s a chance it’ll slip down the pile and fall through the cracks. Really, I dislike impersonal email and am learning to appreciate the phone more and more.

I know so many people who don’t want to have to deal with the phone or talking to people in person because phone calls can be such a time suck. However, for me phone calls get the job done. They don’t sit in my inbox. They’re not looming in the background. They don’t require a whole lot of back and forth. In most cases, one call gets the job done.

I also know many people who’d rather email than talk on the phone because then they don’t have to “deal” with people. They don’t have to soothe hurt feelings or make small talk. They send a note and wait for another note to come back. Except I think sometimes it’s simply good business to “deal” with people rather than leave it all to email.

Let’s explore the benefits of using the phone over email.

Tones and Inferences

Folks don’t always catch on to an implied tone. Sometimes they think we’re being nasty, sarcastic or making light of their situation when this isn’t the case at all. When you can hear someone’s voice, the tone is no longer implied – it’s there. There’s no mistake. The party on the other end can tell when you’re serious, when you’re a little upset and when you’re joking. This can make all the difference in the world when conducting business.

One Phone Call v. Several Emails

There’s a lot of back and forth with email. Questions lead to more questions and those questions need answers. One single question can spawn a dozen emails.This is silliness. One short phone call can get all the questions out of the way without the back and forth eliminating confusion. Email is a time saver and the people who you do business with will appreciate the more personal approach.

Immediate Response v. Waiting

When talk with someone on the phone you’ll get an immediate response. When you email someone you have to wait for a response. When you have to email often to get all your questions answered, it can take days until you receive enough answers to get down to business.

Email is a convenience, for sure. However, sometimes conveniences are more inconvenient. I’m not quite sure why no one likes to pick up the phone anymore, but somewhere over the past decade or so we somehow lost our ability to use our voices to the ease of email. The personal touch means something. The people you do business with will appreciate your picking up the phone to get the job done over the frustration over a lot of back and forth.

What’s your preference…and why?

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  • Anonymous

    I hate hate hate hate the phone for business. There is nothing I like about it. It’s irrational but there it is. I hate voice mail, I hate calls, I hate making calls, I hate skype calls. Yuk. The lot of it.

    Talking to friends and family is awesome, the phone in business is just about the worst part of my work.

    Of course I have to do it, and customers tend to want that, but if I have a choice, well if I had a choice the phone would cease to exist in a business setting.

    (No one ever said I had to be sane did they? heh)

  • Anonymous

    I hate hate hate hate the phone for business. There is nothing I like about it. It’s irrational but there it is. I hate voice mail, I hate calls, I hate making calls, I hate skype calls. Yuk. The lot of it.

    Talking to friends and family is awesome, the phone in business is just about the worst part of my work.

    Of course I have to do it, and customers tend to want that, but if I have a choice, well if I had a choice the phone would cease to exist in a business setting.

    (No one ever said I had to be sane did they? heh)

  • http://www.bradleclerc.com Brad Leclerc

    I tend to avoid the phone AND email most of the time if I can. Phone calls are typically annoying and far more time consuming than they should be, although it depends on the person on the other end. I typically aim more for IM (or twitter for ultra quick messages) and only when it will take more time than a short IM conversation or a couple of emails will I reach for the phone proactively.

    Of course, if I get a call it’s not like I avoid it, I just don’t go out of my way to call people if I think it can be avoided.

    Also, sounds like you might need a new “Inbox Zero” strategy! Email is WAY easy to manage…at least compared to anywhere near the same number of phone calls.

  • http://www.bradleclerc.com Brad Leclerc

    I tend to avoid the phone AND email most of the time if I can. Phone calls are typically annoying and far more time consuming than they should be, although it depends on the person on the other end. I typically aim more for IM (or twitter for ultra quick messages) and only when it will take more time than a short IM conversation or a couple of emails will I reach for the phone proactively.

    Of course, if I get a call it’s not like I avoid it, I just don’t go out of my way to call people if I think it can be avoided.

    Also, sounds like you might need a new “Inbox Zero” strategy! Email is WAY easy to manage…at least compared to anywhere near the same number of phone calls.

  • Lucy Thorpe

    I don’t think this gets discussed enough. We all automaticaly assume that e-mail is best or even a tweet, but actually the telephone is the ultimate in personal contact (er except meeting someone face to face that is). I would like to get back to making calls as part of a more personal approach to doing business. If you agree that twitter should be personal, conversational and about forming good relationships, then a phone call is all those things.. There is still the gatekeeper issue though and it’s hard for the shy kids too!

  • Lucy Thorpe

    I don’t think this gets discussed enough. We all automaticaly assume that e-mail is best or even a tweet, but actually the telephone is the ultimate in personal contact (er except meeting someone face to face that is). I would like to get back to making calls as part of a more personal approach to doing business. If you agree that twitter should be personal, conversational and about forming good relationships, then a phone call is all those things.. There is still the gatekeeper issue though and it’s hard for the shy kids too!

  • Lorraine

    I, too, HATE phone calls.

    At the same time, I know nothing clears up assignment particulars, captures nuance, etc. better than a quick conversation.

    I wonder if my “phone phobia” is partially an issue of introversion versus extroversion.

    Amazing how I will jump through email hoops to avoid talking…

  • Lorraine

    I, too, HATE phone calls.

    At the same time, I know nothing clears up assignment particulars, captures nuance, etc. better than a quick conversation.

    I wonder if my “phone phobia” is partially an issue of introversion versus extroversion.

    Amazing how I will jump through email hoops to avoid talking…

  • Allan Douglas

    Well, I have to say that I must disagree with most of what you said, because I am one of those dreaded e-mail fanatics. My main reason is the “time suck” factor you mentioned. In East Tennessee, folks make conversation into an art form. There are no quick calls, just calling to say hello will take up 30 minutes, and I am generally reluctant to do that. Then there is the phone tag game. I call you but you’re on another line or away from your desk so I leave a message. You call me back but I’m out in the garden, so you leave a message to let me know you returned my call. When I come in I call you back but… well, you get the idea. The only way this works is if both have one of those despicable cell phones in your possession at all times. The way things are going I don’t expect it to be long before they are implanting the things in our skulls like a cochlear implant so everyone can be instantly accessible to anyone at any time.

    But then I am also a big fan of the written word. I love writing. I like being able to review my words before exposing them to others. My lack of brilliance in verbal conversation undoubtedly has a lot to do with my preferences. So, the telephone may be your preferred communication device, and that’s fine; it works well for you, but it definitely is not mine. And that’s OK too…

  • Allan Douglas

    Well, I have to say that I must disagree with most of what you said, because I am one of those dreaded e-mail fanatics. My main reason is the “time suck” factor you mentioned. In East Tennessee, folks make conversation into an art form. There are no quick calls, just calling to say hello will take up 30 minutes, and I am generally reluctant to do that. Then there is the phone tag game. I call you but you’re on another line or away from your desk so I leave a message. You call me back but I’m out in the garden, so you leave a message to let me know you returned my call. When I come in I call you back but… well, you get the idea. The only way this works is if both have one of those despicable cell phones in your possession at all times. The way things are going I don’t expect it to be long before they are implanting the things in our skulls like a cochlear implant so everyone can be instantly accessible to anyone at any time.

    But then I am also a big fan of the written word. I love writing. I like being able to review my words before exposing them to others. My lack of brilliance in verbal conversation undoubtedly has a lot to do with my preferences. So, the telephone may be your preferred communication device, and that’s fine; it works well for you, but it definitely is not mine. And that’s OK too…

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  • http://www.facebook.com/janice.croze Janice Croze

    I LOVE the phone! If I am exhausted from a day of emails, I pick up the phone and connect live! It gives me energy, it usually saves me from a ton of back and forth in emails, and helps me to form a deeper relationship with that contact.
    I am with you – I love the phone! Of course, there are exceptions and it is a HUGE time suck sometimes, but in general, I do like to use the phone for some of my business calls.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janice.croze Janice Croze

    I LOVE the phone! If I am exhausted from a day of emails, I pick up the phone and connect live! It gives me energy, it usually saves me from a ton of back and forth in emails, and helps me to form a deeper relationship with that contact.
    I am with you – I love the phone! Of course, there are exceptions and it is a HUGE time suck sometimes, but in general, I do like to use the phone for some of my business calls.

  • http://twitter.com/deanwaye Dean Waye

    I agree, for a couple of reasons:1. Overall, voice minutes used by all types of phone subscribers keep dropping, so calling anyone is now more ‘special’ than it used to be2. Email is the default for so much of work life, that calling can now be pushed as the priority communications mode. If I go offline for a while and someone complains that I didn’t respond to an urgent email, my response is “if it was urgent, why didn’t you call me?”. Today, no one calls me unless something is truly urgent.

  • http://twitter.com/deanwaye Dean Waye

    I agree, for a couple of reasons:1. Overall, voice minutes used by all types of phone subscribers keep dropping, so calling anyone is now more ‘special’ than it used to be2. Email is the default for so much of work life, that calling can now be pushed as the priority communications mode. If I go offline for a while and someone complains that I didn’t respond to an urgent email, my response is “if it was urgent, why didn’t you call me?”. Today, no one calls me unless something is truly urgent.

  • Hopedonoho236

    I agree that a phone call can deal with a matter quickly, but if  (in business)  during the conversation, one party or the other agrees to do something by a certain time, promises to submit a memo by a certain date or states they will be responsible for something, I follow it up with an email documenting the conversation. This helps both parties to remember what was agreed upon.

  • Lmorrow

    I enjoy writing and talking and we need to learn to be effective at both.  Email can give you verification of sending the email and if you track the email, you can see when it was read.  But some things are missed, or misread, in email.  Many times I leave a message through the voice mail system instead of actually calling a person, if they are known to be long winded.  If you are on your office phone, you can always use your cell phone and call your office line to make the phone ring and say, “Oh, I’ve gotta go, my other line is ringing”.  I seriously believe there are some people who have to have the phone in their hand, it’s a personal touch, or connection, for them.

  • Rose

    There are pros and cons about both e-mail and phone calls.   In my job, my boss insists on both a phone call and an e-mail.   Most of the time no one answers their phone, and I can get more results with an e-mail.   You can leave a message, but 9 times out of ten, they will not return a phone call especially if they can see who is calling.    So whatever you are calling about,  do both.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eleanor-Dorst/100000491554177 Eleanor Dorst

    I am a woman of age and do a lot of demo/sampling jobs. I find the younger generation ( ” the bosses”) never ever make a land line call. Its all email tag after email tag and I agree when you are unsure you need that voice call to get all the bugs out of the situation. Why is the younger generation so afraid to make the call? Its like if they talk to you on the phone…you are a real person and they don’t know how to handle that. I always find when you talk on the phone the problems are cleared up in seconds. Comments??

  • Robin

    I am a woman of age as well and I hate the phone. People use it to waste my time. My time is my time and I can choose how I spend it….not you. If I prefer emailing then you’ll just have to email me to talk with me. Otherwise, don’t contact me. Simple.