The Reflection Pool

Phone vs. Email – You Know Which One Is Better, Right?

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer via Compfight cc

My work world revolves around email. I wish it wasn’t that way. Email is a time sucker. Email is never ending. And worst of all, email is void of tone or context. So the people who read your emails have to guess what tone you might be going for. There are some solutions to this: you can litter your emails with ellipses, exclamation marks and emojiis to convey friendliness or thoughtfulness. That’s pretty much it.

You might think that I had learned this lesson already in my 25+ year career. I guess I’d thought so, too. We’d both be wrong. Just recently, I made a mistake with an email. What I thought was clear and thoughtful, even supportive, was not interpreted that way. The recipient totally called me out – “Sue, why didn’t you just pick up the phone and call me?” And you know what, they were completely right. I should have called.

Photo Credit: DenisGiles via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: DenisGiles via Compfight cc

The trouble is, when I have a potentially difficult call to make where the other person may be upset, hurt or angry, it does seem easier to email. Jimmy Casas, a secondary school principal in Iowa who I have mentioned before, recently wrote a post ”  Phone Calls Home: “I’m Not Going to Lie… They Scare Me.”  It’s a great post, because we can all relate. Jimmy also offers some thoughtful solutions to the problem. The reality is that while it might seem less risky to carefully craft an email, often it can make a situation worse where the original difficult issue still exists, but now it’s compounded by lack of trust. Ouch! We all know that a phone call or a face to face conversation is best. Sometimes it’s hard.

So now I pick myself up, dust myself off and vow to do better. More phone calls than emails. If you see me around, can you please remind me??


7 thoughts on “Phone vs. Email – You Know Which One Is Better, Right?

  1. I commend you, Sue, for sharing this post and sharing your “mistake.” This is never easy, and I’m sure many of us (I know myself included) have made this mistake before (and in my case, for the same reason). That said, I also have a group of parents that have asked me not to call. For various reasons, they prefer email, and have admitted that phone conversations do not work well for them. I want to honour their wishes, but I also know, that sometimes, email doesn’t provide the best option. Do I email most of the time, and then call if there is a more difficult problem to discuss? (Please note that I do not just phone parents if there’s a problem to discuss. I try to touch base on a regular basis with all parents.) I’m guessing this is the best option.


    1. Aviva – thanks for commenting! I think we do need to honour parents’ wishes, but perhaps with a conversation about how email really isn’t best for communicating nuances in difficult conversations. In your case, perhaps it’s partly because of language and communication barriers?

      I find email perfectly fine for communicating information. Anything more, even a simple conversation, is better on the phone. And it takes way less time!!

      1. Thanks Sue! The conversation about why email may not be the best option all of the time is a great one to have. I will say that while language/communication is a factor for many of my parents, almost all of these parents actually prefer the phone calls to emails. They’re often the ones that tell me they look forward to the weekly phone calls, and often ask some great questions (that they might never write to me) when we talk. In most cases, the parents that prefer email work longer hours, and then have other commitments outside of work. They always have their phones with them, and prefer these quick messages. They’re the ones that tend to email me the most as well.

        I do send out nightly emails with blog post updates, etc., and I’ve received lots of positive feedback from parents about these, but they are just informational. In other cases, I would prefer phone conversations or face-to-face conversations too. This is my default in just about every case, but based on parent requests, I’ve tried the email option a few times. It’s been okay, but it’s definitely a challenge to always convey the message clearly and with the right tone. Phone calls definitely help with this.

        That said, I will say that when parents have had concerns before, I like when they email them to me. It’s good to have an opportunity to read them, think about my response, sometimes get input from others, and then call and discuss the issue. I find the phone calls are a lot less emotional and a lot more productive that way. Just because somebody emails me, doesn’t mean that I have to respond with an email.


  2. Doesn’t it kind of depend? I have many different ways I communicate with parents and the methods change depending on who I’m communicating with and what I’m communicating about. I’ve seen a student’s day turn around when I messaged a parent and he asked me to pass along a message to the student. Reminding the student that we were in close contact and co-operating made a difference. Some parents want to be able to know what’s happening and think about it before responding and the great thing about e-mails is I can write them when I have time and someone can read them when they have time. there are certainly some things that work best with a phone call and others where I like to sit across the table from someone.

    1. Absolutely – there are many good ways to communicate depending on circumstances. I always remember attending some kind of learning session on communication (can’t remember when) where different types were ranked. The most effective was face to face – the least effective was sky writing (LOL). Email does allow for time and texting or messaging is a great way for some quick interactions. But I stand by my post – when things are contentious, when one of the people in the interaction may be upset, face to face is best and phone is second.

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