Those who communicate with me regularly might have noticed something, and depending on your communication preferences it might be annoying and/or frustrating to you. Yes, it’s true, I never call you back.
You call me and leave a voicemail, and then you get an email back from me. You call me, ask me to call you back, but instead of calling you, I send you an email. You call me five times in an hour, on two different phone numbers, and then you get an email back from me. Sometimes I send you lengthy emails and you think “Why didn’t he just call me to tell me all this?”
There are a few reasons, but first, I want you to know it’s not you, it’s me. If you were to talk with everyone else I communicate with, you’d find out that they all have the same experience dealing with me, so it’s not that I don’t like you, or that I’m avoiding you, it’s just…well, here are the reasons why:
1. Remembering. If I call you, and we discuss important things, there’s no guarantee I’ll remember what we discussed long enough to write them down. In other words, whatever we discuss on the phone will most likely be forgotten within 24 hours and it will be as though it never happened. I don’t trust myself to remember what was said in a phone call, so I use email as a means of tracking everything I’ve discussed with someone. In other words, email is my memory.
2. Convenience. When you want to talk to me, it might not be convenient for me. When I want to talk to you, it might not be convenient for me. But you can email me when it’s convenient for you, and then I can respond when it’s convenient for me.
3. Organization. Email is my system for managing my life. What do I need to get done today? It’s in my email inbox. What did I get done yesterday? It’s in email. What do I need to prepare for tomorrow? Email. If you call me and we discuss something important I need to do, I’ll frequently write an email while we’re talking and then send the email to myself. Most of the time I do this and think “I could hire someone from India for $2 per hour to transcribe phone calls and email them to me…and yet here I am doing it myself.”
4. Legal reasons. More than once I’ve been able to quickly settle a dispute by forwarding an old email to someone showing what we discussed, and what I or they committed to do. If the conversation had been conducted on the phone, there could have been a lawsuit, but because it was in email, all that resulted was “Oh, I really did say that, eh? Ok, well sorry about that.” and then we move on.
5. Convenience. This is a different type of convenience than I mentioned in #2. It’s the convenience of being able to share information. If someone calls me and tells me something that I need to share with someone else, I have to write it all down, as best I can remember, and send an email, or call the other person and tell them what I remember, and of course this is the reason there is a game called “telephone” which highlights the inaccuracies that can occur when a conversation is passed on verbally. This is especially an issue if you need to share something with a lot of people. Like the time a male client hit on me in an email–it was a piece of cake to forward it to my entire company and ask “Is there something I’m doing or wearing that makes me attractive to gay men?”
6. Accuracy. I can re-write an email 10 times before it gets sent without the receiver having any idea, but it’s harder to re-say what I’m saying in a phone call three times without it getting annoying. With email I can make sure I’m saying what I want to say, and avoiding saying what I don’t want to say. That’s harder on the phone.
7. Anti-social. I don’t think I am, necessarily, but I’m not going to deny it may be a factor. When I said it wasn’t you, it’s me, I was speaking specifically, but it may be you in general. Maybe I just don’t like people. I don’t think this is the case, because I like being with and talking to people. I even enjoy talking to people on the phone, but only if it’s meaningless drivel. But who knows, maybe deep inside I want to go live in the mountains, be a grumpy old man, and raise sheep.
Now all that said, I do sometimes call people back, rather than emailing them. I do this for clients, when I feel it would be damaging to our relationship if I don’t call, or if I feel that a call would be beneficial, or if I know the client hates using email. But push the limits to use email as much as possible, because even if I don’t care about my own convenience when clients are involved, many of the other rules still apply, and I feel that if I’m going to provide them the best service possible, I need to be pushing the use of email even if they don’t prefer it.
I might add that I type pretty fast, so it’s not a pain for me to compose an email. Sure, it still takes longer than a phone call, but all the other factors add up to email being better for me than voice.
So, if you want to give me a call, feel free to do so. I probably won’t answer the phone, either because I’m busy or maybe I just don’t feel like it, and if you leave a voicemail I’ll probably email you back when it’s convenient for me. But don’t be offended, just remember, it’s probably not you, it’s just me.Liked it? Share it!
My sentiments exactly, we are brothers from another mother. Email has become a burden, but it is so much better than the alternatives for all the reasons listed above.
#7: Maybe it’s the spandex you wear running?
Seriously though, this post is awesome. I’m considering plagiarizing and posting this verbatim to my blog. Probably a bad idea. I wish everyone in the world were like this though. I thought I was the only one.
Not to mention, this is pretty much straight out of the Four Hour Work Week, so it’s basically gospel.
awwwhh….crap. I meant #5.
Agreed, with one exception. You say never, but when people are frustrated, pick up the phone. It resolves problems. Particularly when the person on the other end may be illiterate. Almost all of them will deny being so, but truthfully what happened was when they read your email they skipped some words, inserted other words, and envisioned you saying all of it with the harshest body language they could possibly imagine. But when you explained it to them verbally, they get it, and calm down. There are also some people who can’t type as fast as they talk, and are forced to make compromises when communicating their message to you in written form. It may only take you 15 minutes to churn out a 300-500 word email, but for them it would take an entire day. So the time savings for you is actually just a time shifting from you to them. If it weren’t so, they would have emailed you to start.
Also you lose a lot of bandwidth on written vs oral because you lose out on the tones and body language. You may think you are more clear after revising each email 10 times but truthfully, even though you may struggle to communicate a clear idea the first time orally, a lot can be implied but watching and listening to you. Email on the other hand prevents people from being as forgiving. And I would question the time savings truly if you are revising your emails rather than just picking up the damn phone.
I stopped answering the phone about a year ago. If you can’t leave me a voicemail then it must not be important. That’s my current philosphy. And leaving a voicemail is not a guaranteed return call, either. In fact, I may not respond to you at all. But certainly there are times when a phone call is most appropriate, and an email is just rude.