Project Management Posts:

Email vs Phone

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

A director came into our office recently and banned us from talking to clients via email, insisting we should always use the phone. This was because he’d just got off the phone from a client who had misunderstood an email we’d sent him – the director having read the email realised we had not said what the client thought we said and was insistent that this would never have happened over the phone. 

I beg to differ entirely – miscommunication still occurs verbally, perhaps moreso. I’d say it’s easier to miss-hear something than miss-read it, especially when accents are involved. His argument is that you can’t perceive tone across text and so your words can be misconstrued. I can see his point on this, but to some degree the same could be said of verbal communication without body language.

Furthermore, I can write an email and then if it doesn’t make sense I’ll rewrite it, changing it until all is clear. This clearly beats the mumbling and rambling you’ll get from me over the phone where I’ll almost certainly confuse myself let alone anyone else.

Of course with a phone call, you also can’t re-read the conversation at a later date, nor can you forward the information on verbatim as you could an email – potentially introducing a chain of Chinese whispers.

Email has plenty of benefits over the phone as far as I’m concerned:

It’s asynchronous so needn’t be instantly distracting – I can get to a logical break in whatever I’m doing before I even look at your email. If you need an immediate reply then instant-message me so I can at least finish my thought! This also means you can send me a message when I’m not at my desk rather than leaving me a 2 second ‘ring me back’ answer-phone message. 

You can sent attachments, links, and anything else that helps explain your point further.

You can CC  people in without having to use expensive but ultimately rubbish conferencing kit that means nobody can actually hear each other clearly! You also find people constantly starting sentences at the same time, made even worse with the time delays you can get on international calls.

However, what really convinced me was the fact that the director said “I’ve just read the email and what you’ve said is quite clear, it’s not your fault he misunderstood it”. Had the misunderstanding originated from a phone call this would have been quite different – he would have taken the client’s word that we’d made this promise and failed to keep it and would have received a bollocking for it.  Emails provide accountability which I find invaluable in the workplace. For the same reason I make sure my instant messenger has logging turned on.

I appreciate there are times when a phone call is the better solution – usually when you require an immediate response – but for the actual transfer of information I think email wins hands down.

What do you think?