Today I’m going to discuss a simple hack that can clarify communication, build business relationships, increase efficiency, and turn you into a rockstar – and it’s sitting right on your desk. Your phone! In 2018, Adobe surveyed over 1,000 office workers in the USA and found they spent an average of 3.1 hours a day on work email. If you multiply that by a 5-day work week, you’ve lost two days or 40% of your work week messing around with email. This is why you should pick up your phone.
Talk First, Then Write
Why do we do this? Sometimes we don’t want to talk to a person because the subject is very technical, and we feel like we have to look like we’ve thought of everything or have all the answers. Sometimes we need to discuss something sensitive or even uncomfortable with a client, like a complaint, or tell them we’ve gone over-budget on a job, or present them with a higher-than-expected tax bill.
Email can give us time to think through what we want to say or even give us a bit of emotional distance. Email allows us, at least in the short run, to avoid uncomfortable situations, even if they are just slightly uncomfortable. And now email is so integrated into our way of doing things that it just seems normal. In some cases, like in the legal profession or even in accounting, communication by email is encouraged because it lets you keep a paper trail and cover your butt if misunderstandings come to light.
So what’s the problem with email? Why does it waste so much time? First, when you’re talking with someone, explaining something, or expressing your point of view, you are communicating back and forth in real time. There’s no delay. There’s no waiting for a reply. It’s quick. It’s raw. And at the conclusion of the conversation, you will likely come to some consensus or common understanding of what you were trying to achieve with that conversation. That outcome is where you’ve struck gold, and THAT is where email – and a paper trail – can come into play. Put that into a quick email with a note that says, “this is how I saw the outcome of our conversation. Let me know if I’ve missed anything or gotten anything wrong.”
Having the conversation first and the follow-up email second is a huge time-saving hack, and it is also excellent client service and looks super professional. And since no one is doing it anymore, when you do it, you are really going to stand out. I practice this and my clients love it! They feel like I’m really accessible, which is important to me, but it also saves me a crazy amount of time. If I can save a day or two out of the work week compared to my peers, then I can either get more work done, which makes me look like a rockstar, or I can have a more comfortable work-life and life-life. And a cooler, calmer professional is a better professional.
It’s Not Just the Words
The second problem with email is that it’s just not that effective. Communication includes a giver and a receiver, and both parties ping pong those roles back and forth, using body language, tone, and the words themselves to communicate thoughts. Which of these is the most important? At least two separate reputable studies have determined that meaning is communicated 55% through body language, 38% through tone, and only 7% through words. Think about this sentence: “Oh yeah, this guy’s a real winner.” Read that sentence with a genuine tone. Now read it with a sarcastic one.
When we use email we are only relying on words, and we are missing out on 93% of human communication. When we use the phone, we can interpret tone, and when we hop onto a Zoom call, we can get body language too. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to communicate clearly through email, but think about the amount of time it takes to bridge the gap, to finesse your writing. Email is a terrible return on the value of your time.
Pick up the Phone!
The alternative, when someone asks you a question or makes a complaint or wants to open up a dialogue with you over email: pick up the phone! Or send them a Calendly link, which is another awesome software hack and the subject of a future blog, and hop onto a Zoom call. You can get all the benefit of body language, tone, and words, communicated back and forth in real time, and then follow up with a quick email summarizing the outcomes of the conversation. You can use bullet points (see my video on Witty Parrot!). This strategy is the thing that will set you apart from your competition. They will think you’re an elite, no-nonsense professional, and they will tell their friends – not something they’d do about an email!