Cat-eyeglasses, patchwork denim, fanny packs, flannel shirts! Are these fashion has-beens, the hot look of the future, or both? “Spider-Man,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “A Star is Born” (1937, 1954, 1976, 2018). Some argue that there is no longer any original thought, even in the creative world. There is no doubt that we live in a cyclical world and what was once obsolete will be in demand once again at some point in the future. Turns out that it isn’t only fashion and movies that follow this trend, it seems that technology is also a victim of the recurrent pattern. The latest in this pattern is a radical movement to forego the email exchange and pick up the phone. What is driving this revival in voice communication, and with all of today’s technology and desire for an audit trail, does it really make sense to have a telephone conversation?
Why do we use email?
In business, we rely on email as a quick and efficient way to send business communication. While the effectiveness of its use can be questionable, it remains the main communication channel for business communication today and the reasons are many.
Email is asynchronous communication
Simply put, when we send asynchronous communication, it does not matter if the recipient is available or not. We can send information when we are ready, and the recipient can pick it up and deal with it when they are ready. Imagine the time savings that was gained when we were able to stop waiting for someone to be available!
- There is an audit trail
If there is ever any question regarding information that was exchanged, we can go back through our emails (however difficult they are to find) and we can show the information that was sent and the resulting back and forth communication.
- There is proof of receipt
It is possible to set up confirmation of the email being received and read. No doubt that this can save numerous follow-up messages. It can also identify those who do not open their emails, thus creating another level of awareness.
When we compose an email, we can edit it. We can also take the required time to think about the message we want to send and how best to word the message. We can even leave a partially composed message for as long as we want to ensure we have all the necessary information, and even perhaps to wait until emotions subside.
Well then, why do we need voice communication?
There is no doubt that there are many good reasons to use email as our main tool for business communication. So, why are we starting to see a shift back to voice communication? It appears that there are some fundamental human qualities that do not mesh well with email messages.
There are many documented cases of recipients misunderstanding the emotion behind a message. What the sender may consider humorous or specific information, the receiver may interpret as insulting or even demeaning. The resulting situation means an investment to rebuild relationships. Voice conversations have a much lower risk of misinterpreted emotion.
When an issue requires resolution, email is a slow-paced negotiator. While asynchronous communication has many advantages, speed-to-resolution is not one of them, nor is it an effective medium to harness brain-power. While voice communication will never surpass the effectiveness of face-to-face when it comes to issue resolution, the use of conference calling and video-conferencing can be a practical and inexpensive alternative.
The introduction of personal electronic devices has changed the attention span of the average North American. Research indicates that since the year 2000, it has dropped from 12 to eight seconds. While this may not seem dramatic, many changes happen with the brain as a result. In the case of a detailed or poorly composed email exchange, there is a high likelihood that the email will not get read in its entirety, and therefore the message is not correctly understood by the recipient. With voice-to-voice, the conversation becomes more interactive, thereby resetting the participants’ attention span and allowing their respective brains to continue to absorb.
This can also be thought of as attention span, part 2. While we have no control over the attention span of our audience in the case of email, we can reengage our listener with voice. Consider adjusting your inflection during your conversation. Simple changes in tone and pitch can help to reset the listener’s attention span, thereby enforcing the message to be heard or sparking a renewed interest in the conversation.
What we have learned?
It is no secret that addiction to our personal electronic devices is at an all-time high. As we reflect on the transition that got us to this point, it isn’t difficult to create a long list of the good and the bad. But the most important work that we have done is to reflect on the change and take away the lessons learned so that we can understand the benefit to our business.
Most people in business today can complete their daily work cycle with little if any human interaction. In fact, most of us prefer it that way. If we don’t have to talk to another human, we most likely will not. For this reason, email is fantastic. That said, while eagerly embracing email communication, over time we have come to learn that anything complex or sensitive is best handled through voice communication.
There is another lesson learned through the years. Today’s world in North America is one of instant gratification. Email does not always give us that edge. While we feel the hot potato is off our desk once we hit the send button, we have learned otherwise, and are now reverting to voice communication to ensure that a message is delivered and received quickly.
This renewed reality has enlightened us to the fact that email does not support relationship building in business. Indeed, to promote our business we must stand out, and to stand out, we must be different. If we want to be different in today’s world, it seems that what we need to do is pick up the phone.
It’s a cyclical world and we are at the start of embracing a refurbished form of communication called the telephone. I’m just hoping that shoulder pads never return!
Featured image: Shutterstock
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