Choosing Between E-Mail And The Phone

E-mail, computer, envelope
CBS/PHOTODISC
From Tibet to Trafalgar Square, how did we ever work and talk and survive without e-mail?

In a 2006 survey of 1,400 U.S. office workers, almost 75 percent said they "couldn't live without it." But there are times when we would be wise to step away from the keyboard and reach for the phone, say David Shipley, op-ed page editor of The New York Times, and Will Schwalbe, editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books, authors of "Send: The Essential Guide to E-mail for Office and Home." Here are four instances they cite:

  • Expressing emotions. It's tough to convey the subtle nuances of emotion over e-mail. We rely on intonation far more than we realize when interpreting someone's state of mind. If you're dealing with a sensitive topic, one badly phrased e-mail can quickly ignite a firestorm, so make a phone call instead.
  • Keeping things confidential. One of the attractions of e-mail is that it "gives you a searchable record," Schwalbe and Shipley write. But some things are better left off the record. When composing an e-mail, remember how easy it would be for your buddy to forward that snarky missive you dashed off about a colleague. If you wouldn't be comfortable having the e-mail passed around, that's a good indication that you should make a phone call.
  • Immediate response required. When you're on a deadline, e-mail can seem like the fastest way to get your message across. But not everyone checks his or her in-box obsessively. A quick phone call is more likely to get you the answer you require in a timely manner.
  • Testing the waters. Whether you're trying to heal a rift with a co-worker or reach out to a new business contact, it's always better to err on the side of politeness. Nothing says respect like taking the time out of your day to pick up the phone.

    By Marshall Loeb
    © 2007 MarketWatch, Inc. All rights reserved