Email vs. Phone Call vs. Face-to-Face


How do you know when it is best to communicate with an email or whether you should pick up the phone and call? Or when might a face to face conversation be more appropriate? How can I really communicate effectively to the people in my organization?

In a recent coaching time with a new leader, we talked about this issue.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed with all our responsibilities as leaders and miss connecting with our people. So, before you craft that next email and hit “send”, consider the advantages and disadvantages of various methods.

Advantages of email

  1. It is fast.  You can communicate with anyone in a second
  2. It is global.  You can communicate with anyone, anywhere.  So if you have people across the country, or across the globe, you can send information instantly.
  3. It is cheap.  If you have internet, sending an email costs nothing
  4. It gives you an easy to reference record of your communication.

Disadvantages of Email

  1. It is impersonal, or at least can feel that way.
  2. It can be misunderstood, especially when the person fails to re-read before sending.  Communication can be unclear and you either have to send more emails back and forth…or pick up the phone and call to sort things out.
  3. It can lead to emotional responses.  I have made the mistake of firing off an angry response to an email that only escalated the tensions.

When I refer to email, Facebook, Twitter and other social media have similar advantages and disadvantages. According to Mashable post[i], social networking has become more popular than email.  But I already learned that from my kids!  For more advantages and disadvantages of email, Time Management Success[ii] has a great post on this topic. In general, I have found that if the email is going to be more than a few lines, it is better to pick up the phone.

Advantages of Phone Calls

  1. It is easier to ask questions and give feedback.  It is much easier than sending emails back and forth for two days.
  2. It is easier to reach agreements and usually much quicker.

Disadvantages of Phone Calls

  1. Communication by phone is oral, so agreements still have to be written down and sent in an email.
  2. Sometimes it can lead to conversations that are too casual.

Advantages of Face to Face Conversation

A CIO article, “The importance of face to face communication at work”[iii], says, “A global survey shows that 67 percent of senior executives and managers say their organization would be more productive if their superiors communicated more often by personal discussion. While they desire more personal discussion from their superiors, however, the top personal method of communicating for these same business leaders is e-mail, based on the survey by NFI Research.”

  1. Face to face is more personal.  Dialogue is personal and consensus can be reached easier, especially where more than two people are involved.
  2. Surveys show that nonverbal communication is anywhere from 50% to 93% of our communication.  Face to face gives you the chance to pick up on all those nonverbal clues.

Disadvantages of meeting face to face

  1. It can be more costly since it requires travel to other cities
  2. It requires more time away from home and family.

For coaching and other communication, today there are other hybrid options like Skype or Google+ Hangout.  Weblinxx[iv] seems to have a fair head to head comparison of both.

In conclusion, there are many advantages and disadvantage for email, phone calls and face-to-face meetings; it depends a lot on the situation and the person.  You have to know the person and what his or her preferences are because, in the end, it all boils down to relationships. I’ve found that emails, phone calls and face-to-face meetings all can help you start or continue conversations but you still have to do the hard work of building the relationship.

What kinds of communication have helped you build better relationships with your staff or those you coach?  I invite you to leave a comment here.

Other posts you may enjoy:


[i]  From Mashable.com article, http://mashable.com/2009/03/09/social-networking-more-popular-than-email/ accessed on Sept 16, 2011

[ii] Time Management Success article, http://www.time-management-success.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-email.html lists 10 advantages and 10 disadvantages of email.  Accessed Sept 9, 2011

[iii] Chuck Martin writes for CIO.  His article is found at http://www.cio.com/article/29898/The_Importance_of_Face_to_Face_Communication_at_Work, accessed on Sept 9, 2011

About Steve Morgan

I work in Global Leadership Development with Cru with my wife, Terry. We have been married 27+ years and have 4 grown children. We are studying a Masters in Global Leadership together through Azusa Pacific University. I generally write about 5 “L’s: Living Well, Loving Deeply, Learning Continuously, Leading Courageously and Leaving a Legacy. I occasionally write about other miscellaneous stuff of interest. I will usually post 1-2 times a week. Subscribe on the right side to receive an email whenever there is a new post. I invite you to leave your comments so we can dialogue on the various topics and learn from each other. If you are new to the site, you might start with looking at some of the top posts or doing a search on the right side bar for one of the 5 “L’s” that interest you. Or you can view the blog archives for topics. Photo Credit: sarahjoellephotography.com
This entry was posted in Lead Courageously, Learn Continuously, Love Deeply, Team and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Email vs. Phone Call vs. Face-to-Face

  1. Pingback: The CEO of Communication: Writing Effective Business Emails - Blog - The Decade of Digital Correspondence

  2. Pingback: Four Timely Tips for Writing Effective Business Emails - Blog - Digital Correspondence That Makes an Impact

  3. Pingback: Email, Phone Call, or Face-to-Face: Which is Best for Business Communication? | StaffNet Inc.

  4. Brian abbas phiri says:

    Face to face has always been better 4 you dont usually limited time

  5. Vincent Tan says:

    Conglomeration Of Types… To Perfect… Communication… Oral, Aural, Visually…

  6. Pingback: Sprocket Communications Every Wonder When You Should Email, Meet Face To Face, or Just Pick Up the Phone? - Sprocket Communications

  7. Pingback: Learning to Swim | Scott's Healthcare Blog

  8. Johng460 says:

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is great blog. An excellent read. I will certainly be back. cebfaefkdfcb

    • Steve Morgan says:

      Thanks for visiting the blog. I am glad that it was helpful to you in your learning process. Much of what I learn has come the hard way–by making mistakes and reflecting on what works and what does not. Thanks for your comment about the pics also. I love pics also and they help me connect better. I will try to add more in the future. Let me know if you see a difference in the future.

  9. Johnk218 says:

    I do agree with all the ideas you have introduced for your post. They are really convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are very brief for newbies. May you please extend them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post. ddekcbcdgdbf

    • Steve Morgan says:

      Hi Johnk218. Thanks for visiting the blog and commenting. Thanks also for your suggestion on improving it. My philosophy of blogging is to keep things shorter and bite-sized. Most people, myself included do not have the time to read long posts. So, I challenge myself to write creatively, clearly and concise. Perhaps I could add more links on blog posts like this one for those like you who really want to dig into the topic in more depth. Would that be helpful?

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