What do you say when people ask how they should get in touch with you? Do you have a preferred method of contact, and if so what does that say about you? The 80/20 rule of communication is based on my own experience with what works and what doesn’t, and it boils down to this: 80% of your communication should take place online, whether via email or social media. The other 20 percent can go to either phone or in person conversations.
For hashing out ideas, getting across information quickly that requires some rapid fire back and forth, and for a “getting to know you”, phone calls work quite well. Meeting someone in person adds a layer of depth to your character and fosters trust – but that’s really about all that meeting someone in person is good for. This is why I say work on meeting those people you haven’t met before rather than going back to the same watering hole and meeting the same people again and again.
For everything else, there’s email. The social equivalent to email, of course, is Facebook. The idea is that in both places you can quickly say what you need to say. You can filter out useless introductions, irrelevant small talk, and get to the nuts and bolts of it.
Dharmesh Shah nails why phone calls are a total waste of time. In an OnStartups blog post, he writes a refreshingly candid piece called “Sorry, No calls,” where he confesses to a “pathological” hatred of phone calls. In addition to the usual list of why people normally hate phone calls, he admits that he has a hard time saying no to people. In business, the inability to say no easily can be detrimental – which is why you want to stick with emails. Emails offer you a space to reflect on what has been said rather than jumping the gun and feeling pressured to offer an immediate response.
Nonetheless, Shah offers structural advice for people who inevitably find themselves on the phone. He recommends…
1. Scheduling calls rather than accepting random calls.
2. Using an official business landline and only giving that number out to people who need to reach you professionally.
3. Punctuate the important points in email first, then flesh it out with a call. This way you have a better idea of what’s going to be discussed as you’re heading into the call.
4. Have your voicemail inform people on who you prefer to be contacted.
5. Never ever agree to anything on a call. Train yourself to let people know you need to think about it (or my personal favorite that you need to “check your calendar.”)
Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers is also not ashamed to admit he prefers communicating via email. In an article titled “Emails Only, Please: 10 Reasons Phone Calls Are a Waste of Time,” DeMers finds emails allow him to be wildly more productive than getting sucked into phone calls. He agrees with Shah in that phone calls usually “demand an immediate response.” He invites you to imagine you’re on the phone, where you would never say…
“You make an interesting point. Do you mind if we sit in silence for 10 minutes so I can ponder that, gather my thoughts, perform research, and develop a thorough answer before I reply?”
No one says that and we both you know you wouldn’t either. Instead, you feel the pressing silence and rummage to find an acceptable answer. And answer does pop up and it’s usually always at your expense. If you had a little more time to think on it – like, say through email – you would have had an answer that was more to your advantage.
Sticking with email as a primary means of communication also serves as a built-in note taking platform. On any given call, partly due to my obsessive nature to document everything, I walk away with 3-4 pages of chicken scratch that I have to spend another 20 minutes later on figuring out and archiving. With emails, it’s already (neatly) archived for me; and it’s the same with social commentary and social messaging.
Underscoring all other points, the biggest drawback not sticking to the 80/20 rules comes down to productivity. You cannot attend to any other issue; in fact, you’re arrested for the duration of the call. In any given phone call I’m usually hitting 2-3 points where I’m trying to contort the conversation into a graceful exit. It’s rude to tell someone you’re boring them or that you’re no longer interested in the call. Yet social graces and the need to stay in business mean that you go along, desperate to find a small pause where you can shift the subject. Understanding your own nature, the way in which you’re most productive, I premise business interaction by highlighting that I prefer email as a primary means of communication. Anything else needs to be scheduled at 15 minute increments. After a few months of practice, you become less apologetic about it and people learn to respect your time that much more.
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