“Pick up the phone!” This is my reply of choice—what I say, sometimes yell, when I hear about a co-workers’ failed attempts to communicate through every means except calling those they are trying to reach. I’m not sure when our culture, especially our business culture, came to be so sensitive about using a phone to verbally communicate, but when I say “pick up the phone,” you would think I was trying to arrange an unwanted marriage.
It is not uncommon for one of my co-workers to ask if I know the whereabouts of another co-worker. “Did you call them?” I’ll ask. “No,” they’ll reply, “I’ve texted and sent an email, but haven’t gotten a reply.” This happens with enough frequency that I’m close to having motivational posters made for every office. The copy will read: “Need to communicate now? Use your phone’s Phone app!”
More frequent are the times when a simple email is sent or received and it’s taken out of context and/or the wrong tone is conveyed. To use meteorology as a metaphor, this is the point in communication wherein a tropical storm is upgraded to a hurricane. When these situations are brought to my attention, my response is always the same: “Pick up the phone!” You can do it now or after the hurricane has been upgraded to category 5, but I assure you that at some point both parties will end up on the phone—it’s just a matter of how angry and out of control they’ll be while dialing. That’s one more poster: “Trouble with tone? Call now!” Okay, one more motivational poster idea: “Sometimes words hurt more. Reach out and yell at someone.”
I’d love to tell you that our communication problems are behind us, but they still happen now and then, although we now know to get on the phone sooner rather than later. Eventually, one of us will learn to just pick up the phone right from the start.
Almost everyone at Happy Cog has an iPhone (the others are publicly shunned), and I don’t have to be Nate Silver to tell you that statistically, Phone is one of the least used apps, right after Compass and Stocks. Now, before you get the impression that I’m using the word count here to build my ivory tower, let me assure you that I am just as guilty.
There have been a few times when Jeffrey Zeldman (founder and one of my business partners at our studio, Happy Cog) and I have turned a simple email exchange into a monster storm of written fury. It’s really awesome when we’re sending replies simultaneously and they pass like warriors hopping through trees in a Kung Fu movie, completely missing their target mid-air. In these circumstances, we’ve ended up on the phone, both somewhat astonished that the other isn’t in a complete vein-pulsing rage, because that’s how we came across to one another via email.
Email, Basecamp, instant messages, text messages, and Twitter are all perfectly fine means to communicate with one another, but before you hit that “send” button, consider the situation. Calling your intended recipient may initially take a bit longer than tapping out a message, but in the long run it will save you time and frustration while helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Do yourself and others a favor, pick up the phone, reach out and touch someone.