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Phone versus Email: Courtesy, Crass Interruption, or Dying Art?

By Alyssa Goldman

In case you hadn’t noticed, phone calls are a last resort for Millennials in the workplace.  For Gen-Ys, phones are outdated—considered an interruption versus a convenience.  Alexander Graham Bell be damned.

Does this mean Millennials have phone phobia? Is this further proof that we’re all just plain lazy?  Or can it be that the communication landscape has changed drastically and it’s time to get with the program?  Could it be that email has replaced the phone as the more considerate way to reach out?

Lauren, a 23-year-old newspaper reporter, prefers email to phone any day.  When requesting an interview, Lauren always emails her sources first to give them a heads up and avoid putting them on the spot on the phone.   She thinks it’s the generous way to communicate.   It gives her sources time to think about her request, brainstorm about their response, figure out availability and plan accordingly.

Lauren acknowledges that she could probably get information faster via the phone, but she chooses a more mindful and considerate approach and thinks it pays off in the long run.

Kevin Castle, the 32-year-old CTO of Technossus, a business software company, takes it one step further.  He considers unplanned calls to be such an annoyance that he unplugs his desk phone and stashes it in a cabinet.  Castle told the Wall Street Journal that calling someone without emailing first sends the message that your needs take precedence over theirs.

So what’s a Gen-X or Boomer to do?  If you must use the phone (and let’s be honest, important deals never close over email and no one’s ever been hired because of a brilliant email), be sure to keep the following four points in mind:

  • Give your listener an out. Start every phone conversation with “Is this a good time?”  Ask your counterpart if they’ve got a moment, even if the conversation was scheduled and on the books.  You’ll give the other person the courtesy of rescheduling and avoid leaving them feeling like they were ambushed by your call.
  • Be transparent. Tell ‘em the purpose of your call and how much time you expect to take.  Are you giving an update, sharing good news, or asking for advice?  And if your call will take more than a minute or two, make that clear. “This might take fifteen minutes or so—does that still work for you or would you rather chat later today or tomorrow?”
  • End with a Thanks. If someone is nice enough to indulge you and take the time to speak with you live, thank him or her for the time.  If not for their help, than always thanks for their time.
  • Maintain forward moment. It’s infinitely easier to keep one door open than open a new one.  Once you’ve connected with someone live, be sure offer to stay in touch, keep them posted on next steps, or offer a favor in return.   Email is a great way here to stay in touch and keep the momentum going for any future interactions.

So which camp do you fall into?  Is email a courtesy?  Is a phone call a crass interruption?  What’s your preference—do you fall in line with your peers or are you breaking generational stereotypes?  Let us know…

 

 

 

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