Most of us spend nearly nine hours a day engaged in media, technology or communications, but just a fraction of that time is spent talking on the phone. A 2014 Telegraph article reports that the number of landline calls has fallen by 38 percent since 2007. Meanwhile, even the average length of a cellphone call has dropped from 2.38 minutes in 1993 to 1.8 in 2012.
Many of us view phone calls as distracting, superfluous and presumptuous, which is partly why phone communication is largely excluded from millennial career advice. We prefer email. But, in a few cases, they’re still essential, superior modes of communication. Here are five times to get on the phone:
If it’s going to be awkward.
One Forbes article advocated email over phone conversation because there are no awkward silences or pauses in emails. But this awkwardness is exactly why we need phones. Silence is a form of listening, empathy, respect and expression. It’s also a way of communicating: we receive valuable information from pauses.
Conversations that may be awkward on the phone are more likely to be offensive, misunderstood or even incomprehensible by email. Because awkward phone calls can sometimes turn into catastrophic email exchanges, it’s better to bite the bullet and bear the discomfort.
If you want to build a relationship.
Phone calls humanize work communication in a way that email can’t. Spoken words spark collaboration and laughter. We build relationships not by exchanging information but by feeling like we’re together.
Moreover, tone and context are easily misread in email, which can lead to unnecessary conflict and damage existing or potential relationships. “It is hard to get the EQ (emotional intelligence) right in email,” explains Anthony Tjan for Harvard Business Review.
When you’ve scheduled it.
Calling someone out of the blue can feel confrontational and needy unless you have regular dialogue. In the age of email and calendar invites, there’s nearly no reason to call someone without scheduling it first.
This is both a courtesy and a productivity trick: by scheduling when the call will happen and how long it will last, you’re more likely to stick to the agenda and allocated time.
If you’re negotiating.
When you’re thinking about whether to call or send an email, ask, “Is this a negotiation or a notification?” Whenever you don’t want something in writing or you’re still talking terms or discussing, phone calls can sort out interests and information without setting anything in stone prematurely.
On the other hand, if you’re simply trying to share information as an FYI, the receiver would likely appreciate not getting a phone call. There’s nothing to converse about; an emailed heads up would be better.
There’s a distinction between sharing data, where one person talks at the other and conversation “where there’s a coming together and more of an exchange,” Dr. Richard Graham told The Telegraph.
If it’s time to close a loop.
Email gives people an opportunity to research and consider what’s on the table. Phone calls, by contrast, require thinking and responding quickly and spontaneously, which can make them stressful or inadequate when we want to weigh our options and take time to respond.
But, for this same reason, calls can also be a great way to close the loop. If an existing email exchange is persistently unclear or unsettled, a phone call can politely put people on the spot and get a definitive answer. In short, phone calls can remove a digital bottleneck and tie up an exchange so we can move on or forward.
Fundamentally, how we communicate depends on what we’re exchanging. If you’re exchanging cut and dry information, email often suffices. If you’re exchanging thoughts, ideas, opinions or potential terms for negotiation, a phone call may be warranted.
Today, we have infinite ways of communicating information. Matching the right medium with the right topic can save us time and start more meaningful working relationships.
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