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How to effectively communicate at work

Nowadays we are absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to ways to communicate at work: voice call, video call, text, messaging apps, email, social networks, internal online messaging system or if you’re feeling brave, actually talking to someone in person!

The choices are numerous and they’re only set to multiply in the near future. Each method of communication has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages, so most people use a mix of all of them. 

There is no doubting that the two most effective ways are also the most tried and tested: phone and email. Which you choose largely depends on two factors: the type of industry you work 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 communication. 

However, each means of communication has its own nuances and at times can be more appropriate. It is crucial to know when each is most appropriate, as constraining yourself to one or the other can cost you time and money.

So, when is it best to pick up the phone and talk to someone?

  • When you want to be clear - the greatest advantage of picking up the phone to speak to someone versus sending an email is that you have a much better chance of properly interpreting what they mean and vice versa. Sarcasm, for example, does not translate well via email and so it’s often necessary to hear someone’s tone to properly understand their mood and then respond accordingly. If you require absolute clarity from someone on what they want, it’s best to give them a call, so you can discuss the topic openly.

  • When you want to be direct - 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 is that instant responses are rarely the most thoroughly considered.

  • If you want privacy -it’s sensible to phone someone when you wish to have an informal, undocumented conversation. You might be throwing around loose figures with a client which you or they don’t want quoted verbatim further down the line, or discussing an employee’s salary or promotion prospects. These are the occasions when phoning is best.

  • When you want fluency - it’s a lot easier to talk someone through a document over the telephone than it is to explain via email. Phoning someone to discuss 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. 

  • When you want to build rapport - phoning someone is absolutely the best way to introduce yourself, second only to meeting them in person. If you wish to convey a sincere and authentic message then it is always best to pick up the phone.

So, when is it best to send an email to someone?

  • When you want to be non-invasive - 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.

  • When you want to be universal - emails, unlike phones, can be answered anywhere and you do not need to make arrangements for sending and receiving them which is a big advantage considering so many of us are expected to be ‘on call’ around the clock. Plus, you can include so many more people when you email rather than call.

  • When you want to be thorough - if you want a thorough and considered response to your questions, then email is your best bet. 65% of us are visual learners, so when tackling complex issues, it’s always best to set it out in structured document form.

  • When you want things documented - unlike phone calls, emails are documented until you delete them. This allows you to refer back and reference previous email conversations with a mere few clicks, plus it ensures no one forgets something. Always use email to discuss matters that involve numbers; especially if those numbers are preceded by a pound sign.

  • When you want things to be easily interpretable - no matter what language or accent the other person speaks or has, if what they’re saying is written in text then you’re going to be able to interpret it, which is so important in our increasing global economy.

So, how do you decide which is best?

Before contacting someone, you need to ask yourself some questions to help decide upon the more appropriate channel of communication:

  • Why are you contacting them?

  • What is their current schedule likely to be?

  • What is their current mood likely to be?

  • What sort of relationship do you have with them?

  • What do you need from them?