When Do You Pick Up The Phone Rather Than Send Another Email?

When Do You Pick Up The Phone Rather Than Send Another Email?

Email has become the default form of communication for many of us — as evidenced by our overflowing inboxes and our best attempts to wrangle them — but actual voice communication still has it’s place. So we’re wondering:

When do you pick up the phone rather than sending another email?

Photo by Atilla1000 (come back soon!).

We do almost everything over email and chat around Lifehacker HQ, and text communication has plenty of benefits, to be sure. You can always go over an email or chat transcript to verify what you discussed, what decisions were made, and so on. That’s not really the case for phone conversations unless you record all your phone calls, and even then they’re not easily searchable.

On the other hand, phone calls can be quick, easy and more effortless, especially if you just need a quick answer to a hard-to-articulate-in-text question that would require a lot of typing. So we want to hear when you email, when you pick up the phone to call, when you switch over to instant messenger, or when and why you choose whatever form of communication when you want to reach out and touch someone. Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.


  • I steer clear of IM, as it’s a total productivity killer. If I need an answer quick, it’s generally an sms (who doesn’t check their phone every 5 minutes now?).

    Calling is generally only reserved for emergencies – I don’t like not being able to record and later search my conversations, I always feel stupid if I forget something 😛

  • When you need someone to do something for you or your project, someone who is not a direct report or perhaps not formally working on your project, the phone is without doubt the best approach. It is much harder for someone to say no on the phone than it is for them to ignore an email in their inbox and once you have a commitment it is much more likely that what you want to happen will actually happen.

    Added to that on the phone you will often get other information that you wouldn’t have got in a vanilla response to an email.

    Email has its place especially when you want a record of what has been said or the task is not urgent but you do need to ensure that it is used appropriately.

    A good rule of thumb is if in doubt use the phone as personal relationships tend to underpin all we do in a business sense and it is hard if not impossible to foster relationships via email.

  • SMS: for one way message sending or something that requires a simple reply. Eg. “I’ll be at your place at 6pm” or “What time do you want me to come over tonight?”

    IM Chat: quick simple message conversation. Good when you are chatting with multiple people at once. Eg. “Hey dude, what was that cool site you mentioned?”

    Email: Requiring a more information and/or attachments with your message but not a instant request for information. A bit more formal and may require the recipient to take some action. Also may require the recipient to reference the info for another date. Eg. Invitation to a party or Requesting some particular work to be done.

    Phone: To get someone who may not be near a PC, emergency or something which requires a vocal conversation to properly understand and hear the feedback from the other party to fully communicate an idea. Eg. Talk to a work colleague about how the meeting with the client went.

    Personal Meeting: If you require to see body language or to use props to communicate. Eg. Meeting room with whiteboard or having a meeting with an employee to talk about their poor performance. In these cases, it is good to see their body language to understand how to progress with the conversation.

    People have different ways to learn and communicate. It is wise to try to understand the recipients most effective communication technique is and use a combination of things.

    An entire book could be written about the modern communication techniques.

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