Should You Call Or Email People?

What should you do when you want to communicate with someone?

Phone calls are widely considered disruptive but email is overloaded, so there's problems using either of them.

I am curious what you prefer both for receiving and reaching out to others.

For me, if it is a simple technical issue / question, email is best. If it is a broader one, I prefer someone start a discussion so I can share it with / get feedback from others.

However, email drains me. There's so much of it and I never get enough time to answer everything. To that end, I am ok with people emailing multiple times about the same thing but many times, old emails just get buried.

I do, though, like to speak on the phone, especially if it is someone who knows about inside stuff going on in the industry. It allows for a little give and take about what's happening.

Ok, how about you? Your preferences? Your best tactics reaching out to others?

I have no real preference. Just don't email me with a message to call you. If you call and leave a message, give a clue as to the topic of discussion.

Among my clients, I have found that there are "email people", who prefer to do everything via email, and "phone people", who prefer to pick up the phone and call. For best results, I try to sync my communications style to match theirs.

These days, I also seem to be doing a lot of projects across time zones, so often find it easier to send an email rather than call.

I agree with both of the previous posters. We do "timezone" work as well. It is lunchtime here in Charlotte when some on the left coast are just settling in at their desks. I also agree that for the most part, don't email me and ask me to call. That is redundant. But I am both old and old school.

Emails were invented to be, and should remain a method of short communication. When emailing, brevity is the correct protocol. They were never intended to be a means to publish "War and Peace". If you need a discussion feel free to call me.

I yearn for the days of writing letters. You have the ability to say all you need or want, make your points thoroughly and attach the letter to a quick email.

But, when I started my career, we were wowed by fax machines.

I prefer email to phones. I prefer text messages to phones. I prefer Twitter, Facebook, and Whatsapp to phones. Basically, I use about 100 minutes a month on my cellphone, mostly to call my grandmother.

When I write, I can think about what I'm going to say, and about three quarters of the time I am able to delete the stuff that will get me in trouble. When someone writes to me, I can think about how best to respond instead of just blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.


"When I write, I can think about what I'm going to say, and about three quarters of the time I am able to delete the stuff that will get me in trouble."

Though once it's in writing, it's permanent. If you say it on the phone, only the NSA has a saved copy.

People are generally more open on the phone than they are on email, I think just for that reason (no documentation).

Also true. But I kind of like the permanence. It gives me notes I can go back and refer to, so I know what I said, and what they said.

After meetings and stuff, I like to send a follow-up email, thanking the person for their time, and thanking them specifically for saying blahblahblah, and to remind them of how we left things. If they don't email back to reprudiate or clarify, it's as good as having minutes.

I've done deals at breakfast meetings only for the other party to claim that they never said what I think I heard by dinnertime. This works better for everyone involved, as long as the follow-up email is friendly and conversational instead of formal and lawyery.

Though once it's in writing, it's permanent.

To me, that's the whole point. I save all pertinent emails as a matter of course. I don't have enough fingers and toes to enumerate the number of times I've had to refer back to a conversation because of a disagreement about what was said. I can always refer back to a saved email. Although it does tend to annoy some people, they can't argue when I forward the original email chain back to them ;-)

Agreed, there are benefits to that.

For me, often times I am talking about sensitive topics that people do not want attributed back to them, so it's safer / more comfortable to talk on the phone than emailing from their company account.

Have you considered setting up an anonymous tip line?

No, because people already use our contact form with made up email addresses to submit tips.

But maybe there is value in creating an 'anonymous' form / feature to make people feel more comfortable.

That said, over the years, the best tips, by far, have been from people we know and who trust us, rather than anonymous tipsters.

I've found that some people respond better to one than the other. Typically "Techie" people like email/texting while others repsond better to a phone conversation or email. My first time communicating with a new person I'll send an email and then followup with a phone call if they do not respond. Vice versa if someone does not respond via phone I'll email them.

Like everyone else has said Iif I can't summarize something quickly in an email I'll call rather than going back and forth all day in email.

If it is Internal or "Close external", then this is what I do and many others do this also.

Text - If you want an immediate response or a very quick simple message or simple message conversations like "ETA" or "Where you at" "Up for lunch".

Email - Messages that do not need to have an immediate response or messages that tend to be longer or more complex. You also use email if the person does not have texting or know how to text. Another case I use email for is using email like texting if you know that person sits behind a computer all day for work. On a side note, I expect email to be ruturned in a short period of time. I really hate emails returned 1+ weeks later. Some people are notorious for that as that is the way they have always been with email.

Phone - Use only if the message is too complex for words or if it is an emergency/hot button issue. Truthfully, I hate when people leave me a voicemail when I can see I missed a call from them or they could simply text me to call them when I get a chance. I suffer from the 1st world problem of being too lazy to listen to my VM if I know who called. I can probably thank people who drag out conversations for minutes instead of just telling you the main point up front in the VM.

Another reason I (and probably many others) probably should use the phone, instead of texting, is if we know that person is driving.

Just building on some of you points regarding VM, I hate it when people leave a long, drawn-out message and then rattle off their phone number so quickly at the end that you can't write it down fast enough and miss half of it.

Any time I leave a VM, I try to keep the message short, say my phone # slowly, articulate clearly and then repeat the number a second time.


Long or short, I always leave my contact info first on a VM and often repeat it at the end.


That sounds like a great way to go about it. I wish I were getting VMs from people like you more often.

It seems the people that leave messages for me say their name, leave the message and then, when they say their phone number, suddenly turn into that speed reader that lists all of the negative side effects at the end of a pharmaceutical commercial.

I generally prefer email as my main way of communicating, but will call a prospective client if email isn't getting the response I am looking for, or if I have a conversation that requires a phone call. I do have clients call me for service calls and the like, but my main way of sending them info is email, so I have a trail of the info.

Great post. My view is:

When a question or issue is complex it will take longer to get answered/resolved via email. I prefer live conversation.

Email should mostly be used to pass on information and not engage in a discussion.

A mix also works. For example

  • Start with an email explaining all the known details then pick up the phone to have a live conversation about what was discussed in the email.
  • Use email to summarize the outcome of a live conversation.

When I first meet people I ask them what they want, some of my older customers want me to call them, younger customers want me to text or email. My small customers who own gas stations or liquor stores and are there everyday want me to stop by. Everyone is different and it’s important to communicate appropriately. For example, I love how IPVM sends me emails first thing in the morning. That’s when I have a little free time and want to ease in and see what’s new in the world.

I agree with John Bazyk - its totally dependent on how the customer best responds and even that may change from time to time based on thier work load. Regarding comments on keeping emails short & to the point: I often send fairly long emails to deliver detailed information on a subject but always preface those with "I apologize for the length..." or "read when you have time, just wanted to give you the full details" etc. I suppose I could attach a letter instead but whats the point in that - they're either gonna read it or not and adding the extra step of making them open an attachment doesn't seem right. I like long detailed emails because it gives me all the info I need with which to make a decision or learn something, serves as my "notes" from the conversation which I would have had to write by hand in a phone call and allows me to digest the information before responding. Also, if the subject is a tense one with potential for escalating into a problem, keeping it in writing regardless of length lets you & the other party get it out on paper then edit it for inappropriate emotion before sending AND, you both have the written record of who said what.

Wealthy lunatic Tim Ferris spends a good portion of his book The Four Hour Workweek on this subject, and he recommends emailing as much as possible. He outsources much of his workload to offshore remote assistants in India, and he provides them with a long and extensive FAQ with canned responses, so that most of his email can be answered without intervention from him. You don't have to go that far, of course, but everybody who emails professionally has a few questions over and over again. I've got an ever-growing Word file with canned responses. When I get an email that can be answered with one of these canned responses or phrases, I simply do a search for the proper phrase, fill in any blanks, and send it off. This lets me clear an average email in 30 to 90 seconds- read email, macro for salutation, find proper phase, triple click to select paragraph, command C, command V, macro for sign-off, click send, boom, done. It helps that I'm a speedreader.

Ferris also recommends telling people who insist on calling you on the phone that you're about to walk into a meeting. When they tell you they'll call back, you tell them you have about five minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin. If they are able to tell you whatever they wanted to call about in that time frame, good. If not, you can just tell them to email you the details.

The preceding was a canned response from Ari Erenthal.