Communication and collaboration are increasingly important in the modern digital workplace. However, it can often be difficult to break through the constant “noise” — social media, email, instant messaging, text messaging, video chats, the telephone — that constantly deluges finance professionals. Being thoughtful about how you connect with colleagues can go a long way. When you need to convey a message to someone, it can be easy to focus entirely on the content without considering the medium, but phone calls and email each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
“These mediums are not interchangeable,” said Robert Chen, a partner with Exec-Comm, a business communication skills consulting company based in New York. “They serve their own purpose, and you really want to be thoughtful about the medium you choose, because it can have an impact on how effective you are in getting done what you need to get done.”
To figure out which medium best suits your message, ask yourself these six questions:
Are you looking to build a relationship? Phone calls are also better for relationship building because they require more effort and can signal that this particular correspondence is important to you. Just as a handwritten note implies a great deal of thought, a phone call can indicate that the person on the other end of the line deserves a bit more time and care than a quick email, according to Chen.
If you aim to build relationships with clients, for example, phone calls allow you to make sure they understand their financial situation and how you’re working to improve it.
It’s very difficult to build a relationship over email because it’s an asynchronous form of communication that doesn’t allow deep dives and thoughtful follow-up questions.
“Finances seem factual but are often driven by emotion,” said Lynda Shaw, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist based in the UK. “We must remember that someone's financial situation is exceedingly important to them, so we need to make sure we nurture our relationship with them by talking things through when required.”
Is tone important to the message? If you need to convey emotion in your message, whether it’s positive or negative, such as an apology or some bad news, you’ll want to use the phone to properly communicate the right tone. It’s difficult to effectively express tone over email, so if there is a risk of your message being misconstrued, the phone will make your intentions clearer, and a video chat could make things even clearer.
“From a finance professional’s standpoint, if it’s an idea that they’re proposing and they’re not sure how the other person will react, or if it’s about pricing, that’s something they would want to be on the phone for. Otherwise they risk this email void, where they’re not sure how the person’s responding,” Chen said.
Is time a factor? You’re going to be more effective at communicating if you’re less focused on yourself and more focused on the other person, Chen pointed out. For that reason, you should consider what method of communication is going to be a shorter time commitment for the other person.
For example, if you’re sharing something that may require clarifying questions, that’s much better by phone than sending five to ten emails back and forth, Chen said.
“It is easy to dash off an email when we are busy, but sometimes this is a false economy of time, as you can end up exchanging emails backwards and forwards when one phone call would have been far more effective,” Shaw said.
Do you want to leave a record? If the information is sensitive or could be shared out of context, you may want to opt for a phone call, or even an in-person meeting. On the other hand, a paper trail can sometimes be useful for record-keeping.
“Equally, some professionals need a paper trail, so it’s therefore wise to rely on email at these times,” Shaw said.
Do you need a quick response? With email, you’re allowing the other person to dictate when they want to respond, whereas with the phone, you’re forcing the other person to go by your time schedule, Chen pointed out.
“If it’s urgent, then you may need to call or text to get a quick response,” he said. “But if you’re OK with a response within a day or two, and it’s not pressing, then an email might be an OK way to communicate.”
Shaw pointed out that because unrecognised calls are increasingly ignored, it is often appropriate to send someone an email to arrange a phone call, unless you have already spoken with the person and he or she is expecting your call and/or will recognise your number.
What does the other person prefer? It’s always a good idea to accommodate the other person when deciding on a communication method.
Younger generations tend to be more phone-averse, while older generations are more comfortable using the phone. If you’re not trying to build a relationship, tone is not a major consideration, and the other person prefers email, you may want to communicate via email, Chen said.
When you want to dive deeper into something, however, you should pick up the phone, even if you’re uncomfortable.
“Just because you’re uncomfortable, doesn’t mean the other person is, and they might prefer a call as opposed to an email,” Chen said.
— Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.