A self-employed colleague of mine recently called me on the telephone. Can you stand it? I felt so honored that she actually put down her PDA to pick up the phone and call. Usually she interacts with the world outside via e-mail, as I do.
She made a point of telling me at the beginning of our conversation: "I rarely call anyone on the phone."
Her pronouncement implied that she considered me sort of special to abandon her regular e-mail routine. I felt a lot of pressure to make the phone call great for her. I'm not sure I succeeded, having been out of practice myself for a while.
Call me a technoramus.
There's something about old-fashioned tools that just make us better people, better communicators. We think nothing about quickly writing an uninspiring e-mail with little panache and lots of typos, but in a phone conversation you have to try and be witty, engaging. An instant message is barely English these days, but in a lunch meeting with a colleague or customer you have to be articulate and not look like a slob.
Small businesses of all types are spending too much time sending e-mails in lieu of real, thoughtful conversation. More than 50 percent of small business owners now spend about one to two hours reading or writing e-mail on a daily basis, according to a recent survey by payroll company SurePayroll. The study found that 62 percent of small business owners believe e-mail is equally effective as or more effective than in-person or phone communication.
It's gotten worse thanks to cell phones and PDAs with Internet access. E-gadgets are causing us to abandon the humanness within. They're like technological body snatchers.
I really believe my new iPhone has made me look like a zombie to colleagues, friends and family. I'm on the stupid thing 24-7, checking e-mail while in the car or while watching "Hells Kitchen" Monday nights. I'd never think to call an editor or source after 6 p.m. on the telephone, but e-mails sent at 2 a.m. via my trusty iPhone? Why not?
I recently asked Susan Wilson Solovic, CEO of the Small Business Television Network, if she thought we're all going mad. She assured me we weren't but had words of caution: "It is easy for clients and customers to misinterpret e-mails because they can't hear the tone of your voice. As a result, unanticipated problems may arise. So for any types of messages that may elicit an emotional response, it's best to use the phone, minimizing the risk of misunderstandings."
Full disclosure here: I e-mailed her my question. So, feeling like a techno-hypocrite, I forced myself to pick up the phone.
Ring, ring, ring.
"Hello, this is Susan."
"Hello, this is Eve."
"Have we all gone mad?" I ask again, but this time using my vocal cords.
"No," Solovic responds. "Since many small business owners work odd hours, e-mail is an easy way to get things done."
But, she adds, "many small business owners hide behind e-mail." They don't have time or the desire to get into a confrontation with a client or customer. "With e-mail they don't have to experience the emotion."
Unfortunately, no pain often means no gain.
So get on the phone and resolve the dispute or issue ASAP. Say, "Let's talk," suggests Solovic. "It's amazing when you get someone on the phone and hear their voice. It's easier to resolve conflict."
"Thanks," I say. "Got to run. I'll e-mail later."
How do you prefer to do business, by phone, e-mail or in person?