I got a call from Charles the other day. Charles is the Vice President of Sales of a software company. He said, “I handle high-end client issues. By the time an issue reaches my desk, it means that things are serious. The first thing I do is check the e-mail thread between my staff and the client. Sometimes the e-mail thread is three to four weeks long, but my staff member never picked up the phone and talk over the issue with the client. When I review the e-mails, I see that, around the second or third exchange, a phone call would have easily resolved the problem.”
Charles added, “Instead of solving problems by calling clients, my staff continues to e-mail. I end up having to give refunds and discounts just to keep a client that is ready to walk. Our company spends months or years to woo new clients, only to almost lose them because a staff member would rather use his thumbs than his mouth.” I asked Charles why he didn’t just instruct his staff to pick up the phone instead of e-mail or text. He replied, “Would you put a jockey on the horse if he didn’t know how to ride it?”
I was surprised to discover that the problem was not that Charlie’s staff were millennials who grew up only communicating through cell phones; there were just as many Gen-X and Baby Boomers in the room. We began by examining the pros and cons of voice, text, and face-to-face communication. Too many people choose one form of communication over another without thinking. In a nutshell:
Text: the pros. Text is trackable, allowing for accountability and accuracy. Text can also be reviewed before sending, avoiding mis-statements. Text allows both sender and receiver to engage on their own time. Text can also be stored for later review. These pros make text appropriate for sending data that might be reviewed at a later date.
Text: the cons. Text usually takes more time to convey the same amount of information, making it a less efficient means of communication. Text also lacks the subtly of voice or face-to-face, increasing the risk of misunderstanding. This next point might seem trivial, but text isn’t fun. Communication is not meant solely to convey information. Even staid business relationships must have an element of human connection. Only the most skilled writer can make textual communication fun. With inboxes filled with dozens of messages every day, one more message adds stress for the receiver. No matter how necessary your text is, it is not a welcome part of someone’s day. Conversation is almost always more pleasant than reading. Most important, it is virtually impossible to influence behavior or resolve issues using text.
Voice: the pros. Reading is a relatively recent addition to the brain’s evolutionary abilities; and quickly tires of it. The brain prefers listening to a voice. Subtleties of pitch and tone make voice communication more effective at influencing behavior and developing a relationship. Voice also allows for more information in a shorter time. Voice enables humor; a powerful tool for communication.
Voice: the cons. If you aren’t adept at conversation, you can ruin it by interrupting or not delivering with smooth flow of information. Also, unless you take accurate notes, voice communication can be remembered differently by both parties, leading to problems later. Finally, it can be difficult to align schedules that allow both parties to be available to talk at the same time.
Face-to-Face: the pros. As much as the brain loves to listen instead of read; it loves to look at visuals even more. The combination of face and voice are what our brains are most attuned to. Every benefit listed in the voice section belongs here, but with slightly less risk of misinterpreting signals.
Face-to-Face: the cons. Besides scheduling conflicts, there aren’t many other cons for face-to-face communication, unless you are socially challenged.
Now that the pros and cons are out of the way, I’ll bet you were expecting a tutorial on the best techniques and voice and face communication. If only life were that easy. If you want to sharpen these skills, you have to practice. Have your staff call you to make practice runs. Train your jockeys before putting them on a horse.
Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management. He can be reached at www.stevierays.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.