Jim Duffy: Phone call better than spate of emails

In today's busy world with more communications options available to us than ever before, why is it that so much gets lost in translation or, simply, just does not get through at the end of the day?

Do yourself a favour today and pick the phone instead of sending an email, urges Jim Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth

With digital communication and online communication so easy and accessible, why is that we still get breakdowns in communication and plenty of blurred lines? Well, I’m going to go back to basics and suggest that you just pick up the bloody phone and speak openly to another human being!

Let’s all have a really good look at this. I spoke with one of my team last week who rather joyfully and with great satisfaction heralded that she had reduced her inbox from 132 emails to just 24. Now, one could ask all sorts of questions here as to her time management, capacity planning, administration competencies and so on. But, she is a great communicator and on the whole – on the ball. So, why did this mountain of all these emails pile up?

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We are fascinated by and, I would argue, increasingly addicted to emails. Let’s face it, as a communication tool, email is so easy. But, just remember what it replaced.

This week, I actually sent out two stamped addressed envelopes with letters inside them. It felt really quite good as I deposited them into the big red post box in George Square in Glasgow. Royal Mail works and I know that they will hit the mark. Yes, “snail mail”, as it is referred to by the techies, was the primary medium we all enjoyed a few decades back.

But it has certainly been displaced as the only game in town by email. No need to dig out an envelope and hope there is a first-class stamp available. No need to nip out to the post box in the pouring rain or sleet as we are getting this week. No need to wait for a response to come boomeranging back in a few days or a week.

Email simply knocks this one out of the park. But has email caused us to get lazy? Has our ability to communicate with other human beings been diminished by the ease and frictionless use of email? I’m going to argue that it has. I wonder how many of you reading this are slaves to your own inbox? I wonder also how many other people’s inboxes you fill up?

Does this then result in two things? A lack of understanding of the written word, as you cannot hear or feel the emotion expressed so you respond asking for more detail or clarification. Or you respond answering what you think is required but in fact is way off the mark and this then simply precipitates even more emails in the chain. So, why do we not just pick up the telephone?

I frequently hear people saying to me “yes, I owe you a phone call”. But, in this day and age it never comes. Instead, you’ve got it, I get an email. I want the call. I’m waiting for the call. I need the call. So call me... This is turn leads me to assert that due to automated processes of online communication, we have lost the will and fervour for human communication via the telephone.

But, it is so important. What is it that we are afraid of? Surely we do not always need a written record of a conversation to prove it took place? When I’m on the train, I hear people gabbing on the phone for what seems like ages. It is not about business, but they chat away happily. So, why can’t business people stop sending emails and similarly have conversations on the phone?

My real concern is that if we continue to go down this route of constant emailing, then communication as we knew it in business will disappear. This disappearance will not only have a pejorative effect on users, but could lead to a whole generation missing out on listening, negotiation, persuasion and a few laughs that cannot be adequately captured by a smiley face at the end of a sentence in an email.

Do yourself a favour today and pick up the phone, just once, instead of sending an email.

• Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark