Communication Dilemma: When Do You Email Vs Phone Call?

Deciding whether to email vs phone call? This concise guide will outline your options based on your situation and information you need to communicate.

When is it better to pick up the phone and call versus send an email? This question often comes up in my executive coaching work, especially with young or emerging leaders.

Here’s my take on when to email vs phone call:

Call when:

  • It’s about an emotionally charged topic (or one that could be).
  • It’s important for you to be able to interpret and respond to your recipient’s emotional reaction to your message.
  • It’s important for you to get confirmation that your communication was heard, understood, and agreed to.
  • When that small voice inside you tells you should be call the person and yet another voice tells you “take the easy way out.”
  • When it takes longer to write what you want to communicate than it would to say it. I don’t know about you but I cringe when I see a lengthy email (right before I tuck it away to “read later”).

Email when:

  • You’re relaying information, such as a meeting date and time, or soliciting input on a standing agenda or document in the process.
  • You’re confirming a previous conversation and want to reinforce a mutual understanding and/or action steps that came out of the discussion.
  • You are aware of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team author Patrick Lencioni’s dictum: “It takes communicating something seven times before your employees take it seriously” and sending an email is just one of the seven methods you’re using.

I get it. It’s sure seems like an email will more efficient. However, if it’s an instance when you really should have had a conversation instead, resolving the resulting fallout or misunderstanding will usually cost you a lot more time and energy in the long-run.

If sending emails versus holding direct conversations is standard practice at your organization, how does that help versus hinder your leadership effectiveness?

What are your guidelines for email vs. phone call?