Email or Telephone?

So which is it for you? Email or telephone? By that, what I mean is, given a choice on how to communicate with someone (aside from face-to-face) would you prefer to have a telephone call or an email exchange? This is an interesting topic for me right now – one that I’m thinking long and hard about.
A lot of times I choose to communicate via email because it’s a passive form of communication, in that unless it’s urgent or unless the topic is one of priority, it may not require immediate attention. A verbal conversation is a volley in which you have to think on your feet and be ready, and where the topic can change very quickly. Talking is fun for most people. I’m good at talking, always have been. Email is great for efficiency – coordinating schedules, logistical matters, staying in touch, checking in, and of course sending documents etc. But when it comes down to having an important dialogue, like negotiating, or coming to some sort of agreement or understanding, email is usually a bad choice.

I’m not sure if there have been any studies on this topic, but if there have been I’d be interested to learn the conclusions. I can imagine that type-A personalities, such as myself, probably prefer to conduct their communications over the telephone or face-to-face. While type-B personalities probably prefer email. This is just my conjecture. The two can sometimes clash.

We all know about misinterpreted tone, right? Where you type something in an email and express it in a specific tone and it’s interpreted by the recipient as something else. This usually happens with sarcasm. I’m a sarcastic person, and a joker, and I’ve learned some hard lessons over the years – all teaching me one thing – don’t be sarcastic over email.

Something happened to me in the past 24 hours where neither sarcasm or misinterpreted tone was an issue. Instead, it was a matter of typing an email in haste and because of that, misstating a simple and rather insignificant fact. So now the entire email is being read as a combative one. Not good. The response I received was one of total dismissal of not just the smaller, less important matter at hand, but actually, seemingly, of the entire business matter all together!

I’ve spent all morning so far really bothered by this and dwelling on it. I feel like an idiot. I’ve been asking myself just how important this matter really is and questioning my reaction, and that, in and of itself is actually a form of denial! I’ve replayed the conversation in my head and reread over the emails many times. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t escape the fact that I caused the problem by typing my email too quickly and not representing my perspective accurately. It was a totally innocent and almost silly mistake, but it totally screwed me up and I think I’m on the brink of screwing up an opportunity. (mind you, the opportunity at hand is not significant, but losing it would have repercussions)

I only have myself to blame for this and I can’t help but kick the dirt in shame. If I’d only read my email before sending it, or not written back so quickly, and with such little sleep behind me, maybe he wouldn’t have been insulted. I think that’s really what this boils down to – he was insulted. And ya know, he’s right to be. Even though there was no insult, one was assumed.

So, after having some coffee this morning, shaking off the cob webs I wrote a thoughtful email, explaining how I think we arrived here, and, most importantly, apologizing humbly and respectfully. I’ve yet to receive a reply, but I’m hopeful it will be one where we both agree to forget this awkward misunderstanding and pick up where we left off.

This is the nature of email sometimes. The same can be said of instant messaging. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to stop an instant messaging or email exchange dead in its tracks, and pick up the phone to redirect the conversation’s track. Digital exchanges just don’t have a human element to it. Sometimes you might have a great relationship with someone in the offline world, face-to-face or on the phone and then as soon as it hits the Internet – poof, that magic is gone and it’s hard to restore it. I can think of a relationship with a old friend that’s like that. We used to be very close. She lives 20 minutes from me. But for some reason we can never connect offline, it’s always online, and now our relationship is just strange for some reason. It rarely seems to happen the other way around.

I am hereby declaring that I am a Telephone Guy. Not an email guy. I love email and I will continue to use emails as often as I do now, but I will start to draw the line on where emails need to stop and the phone needs to take over. Only with verbal communication or face-to-face interaction can we 100% truly represent ourselves and our Selves. This is how it’s been done since the beginning of time, with sounds coming from our mouths and tongues, and with visual cues. Not with text on a screen.

This matter could have been avoided. If I’d picked up the phone on two different occasions, none of this would have happened. Here’s the bigger problem though – Email seems to be the only way to get a hold of him…. Oh man, what’s a Telephone Guy to do!? Fax?