Fire Up Your Conversations! When to Use Email–Or Your Voice

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It’s a cold winter’s day and the fireplace is blazing.  Yellow flames grasp upward and their heat warms the room.  It’s the gas fireplace in my living room. Down the road the fireplace is blazing at my friend’s house.  Yellow flames grasp upward, heat warms the room and the burning logs crackle and pop as the embers fall under the grate. It’s a “real” fireplace. While both functionally use produce heat from fire to warm the room, the experience of the real fireplace is different. Many would say that there’s no substitute for a “real” fireplace.

Similarly, every day as we communicate with others, we choose whether to communicate via email or voice-to-voice.  In both situations, we use words to share information but the experience of voice-to-voice communication is different. As an insightful leader, you need to know when you use each approach.

Email is quick and easy, like my gas fireplace. Most of us use email as an easy and quick way to communicate and, for some needs, email is the perfect tool. In fact, we couldn’t do without it. But sometimes, email is not the best fit. Email can create more harm than good.

Email is your best choice anywhere simple communication is appropriate, the opportunity for misunderstanding is small, and the situation requires little nuance.  Use email to:

  • coordinate schedules for meetings or events
  • distribute meeting agendas
  • confirm action items
  • summarize key discussion points
  • relay short, simple or low-sensitivity messages
  • document conversations, meetings or events to serve as a record
  • distribute technical information or other data such as specifications, price quotes or reports
  • disseminate a non-critical message to many recipients (such as, holiday greetings, thank yous)
  • solicit input for future discussion

Voice-to-voice communication provides opportunity for nuance. My friend’s wood-burning fireplace is, admittedly, more time consuming, messier and requires frequent caretaking. And, it provides a more complete fireplace experience. Talking in-person and, to some extent, talking on the phone, allows a more complete communication experience. Voice-to-voice, we pick up subtleties and the intangible factors that can make or break good communication. Tone, volume, pace, urgency, facial expressions, and body position all provide additional communication clues. That’s why voice-to-voice communication is essential for any situation where nuance is key, multiple interpretations are possible and where emotional reaction can sway the outcome.  Use voice-to-voice for

  • conversations to reach complex decisions
  • performance feedback and mentoring conversations
  • discussion of goals and objectives
  • sensitive subjects
  • confidential information
  • delivery of good or bad news with significant implications
  • personnel issues or disciplinary action
  • topics that need full understanding, discussion and interaction

Like the “real” fireplace, voice-to-voice conversations take more energy than email. However, just as there’s no substitute for a “real” fireplace, there’s no substitute for a “real” conversation when the situation calls for it.

Use your insight to assess when you need “real” discussion. Then, make the time and bring the energy to engage and connect.

Photo Credit: Romolo Tavani

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Shelley Row
Named by Inc. as one of the top 100 leadership speakers, Shelley Row, P.E., is an engineer and former government and association executive. Shelley’s leadership work focuses on developing insightful leaders who can see beyond the data. Her work grows your bottom-line through enhanced decision-making, motivation and teaming. Learn more at www.shelleyrow.com.