I recently read an article entitled, “Don’t Send an Email if You Can Pick Up the Phone.” The article was written by a former member of the Washington, DC political workforce who recounted the advice given to him by a veteran lobbyist. The lesson he took from the conversation was simply not to put anything in writing that you don’t want published for all to see. I consider the article’s title to be a double-edged sword – good advice for social media, bad for office communication.
The article only refers to social media etiquette, and it’s certainly not surprising why someone who works in politics would want to avoid a paper trail leading to incriminating evidence. The author cites a recent case involving three teachers at a Rhode Island prep school who were forced to resign after making insulting and derogatory comments about their students on the Slack app. The comments were subsequently shared with the school community by a hacker via a Google Doc, causing outrage among school officials and parents.
As far as I’m concerned, the subject of what NOT to post on social media is so old and trite, it’s hardly worthy of mention. With social media well into its second decade of popularity, employers would do well to wash their hands of any employee who still can’t distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate content. The lesson to be learned is applicable for all professions – don’t put anything in writing that could damage your career, your reputation or that of your employer.
Switching gears, when I first read the title of the article, I thought it referred to typical office communication as opposed to incriminating social media posts and texts. I’ve had jobs in the past where managers prioritized phone conversations over email communication, regardless of which yielded better results. While I’ve never been shy about picking up the phone when the situation requires, I’ve always gravitated toward email communication if given the choice. Here’s why.
Point of Reference
My organizational skills are significantly better than my short-term memory. On a regular basis, I refer back to emails that I archive in folders based on client name or content. When communicating with numerous people daily regarding multiple projects, recalling specific details of a particular conversation after several months becomes nearly impossible. Archiving emails allows me to recall essential information that would be long-forgotten had it only existed in a phone conversation.
Proofread to Perfection
There’s a reason my title in my signature block says “Writer” and not “Speaker.” Constructing a well-thought-out email to a client or coworker allows me the chance to write, rewrite, proofread and edit until the final result looks polished and professional. Even if you’re just sending an informal email to a coworker, the content is still a reflection of your detail-orientation and professionalism. Similarly, if you anticipate follow-up questions after conveying important information to a client or coworker, it’s always better to provide thoughtful, accurate responses by email than spontaneous, inaccurate responses by phone.
Cover All Bases
Most of us have experienced the occasional client or manager who requests something, then after a period of time and dealing with numerous other people and projects, mysteriously changes the details of their request, only to insist that their request never changed at all. While sometimes you have no choice as to how you’re contacted with the initial request, if it’s in an email, it can mean the difference in an angry client or manager blaming you for not following directions, or them admitting fault and commending your attention to detail.
In any job, both verbal and written communication skills are essential. Focusing only on one and not the other would be a mistake, and I certainly would not advise an employee to avoid taking or receiving phone calls. However, when both are weighted equally and given the choice, I find email communication advantageous. Regardless of what method of communication you prefer, when you decide to communicate in writing, remember…proofread, archive, and NEVER send or post anything you’ll regret.