When I worked as a reporter in several different cities, I made my living literally beating up the telephone. While I would do some interviews in person — I remember a resident asking me politely to get off of Arthur Godfrey's estate — talking on the telephone was overwhelmingly the way I conducted my reporter's assignments.
Then I joined the digital age. Send an email, shoot off a text, maybe send a blast via instant messaging. These and other digital modes of communication have transplanted the traditional telephone call although, of course, the phone is still the mechanical device that we use to transmit our verbal messages (unless you're using headphones and Skype).
Recently, I've found that going slightly less tech, just picking up the phone like in the days of yore, is more efficient because it actually produces quicker results.
I recently needed to know which funeral home was handling the services of a school chum of my wife, who died at an unfortunately early age. I looked at news stories and couldn't divine the location. My wife wanted to attend the service, and because there would be a relatively quick burial, I was on deadline to find out.
I read two news stories, but they lacked information about the services. I looked at the names of the two journalists and just called them. Both answered; one didn't know, and one told me which funeral home was responsible for the service.
Overnight, I looked at the funeral home's Internet posting for the services, and information was still missing. The funeral home hadn't posted it by the next morning. I called at 9:03 a.m. They gave me the time, day and location of the synagogue. All accomplished by the telephone, while the Internet left me wanting.
Total time for all these phone calls didn't amount to more than five minutes. I probably could have trawled the Internet and discovered this information, but that would have taken 15 or 20 minutes, maybe more.
The curse of email is that you can go back and forth and somehow never find closure. For example, you have to “touch” those keys on numerous occasions until you finally decide what's the best date for the meeting. Sometimes it's easier to PICK UP THE PHONE, and when you reach the person, immediately decide what date works best. Task accomplished without the usual email volley.
There is also the reliability factor about emails that worries me. If you send an email, the presumption is that the other person got it, read it and will act upon it. Of course, a week passes, and we hear nothing, but we're operating on the assumption that the other party is in the loop. We later find out, often by a second more frantic email, that “I never got it.”
According to some experts that I follow, spam filters are getting powerful, and while this is good for many reasons, they are also trapping legitimate emails that we want to read. Here's a test. Go to your junk mail folder and see if there are a few emails that are important to you. If my email is really important, like cajoling a wholesaler member to write an article for this magazine, I'll send an email and then CALL the wholesaler right after I hit the send button. If I get him on the telephone, I explain why I called. If I get voicemail, I give him an alert that my email has all the details. Now he's looking for the email, especially since I know most HARDI wholesalers start every day HOPING they get an email from this editor.
Another element the telephone provides is that personal touch. A voice, with its tone, inflection and timbre, conveys a feeling that an email simply can't duplicate.
I know of an editor who had to make a correction in an article after his magazine was printed. They “fixed” it immediately in the online version. He could have apologized via email (and did). But first, he picked up the phone and apologized in person. The listener could “hear” the sincerity in his voice. Can I “prove” this made a difference? No. But I strongly suspect it made an impression on the person receiving the apology.
I've concluded that to add emphasis and even speed to your communications, picking up the telephone either beats or nicely complements using the Internet. The only problem you have left is explaining the telephone's sometime superiority to someone who grew up in the digital age. Maybe you can send that person a text message explaining how to use the phone more effectively.
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