what’s up with people responding to emails with a phone call?

A reader writes:

What’s the etiquette on responding to people who you have emailed and they respond with a phone call? I understand there are times when a phone call is necessary. I’ve been getting dozens of phone calls (after sending out a ton of emails on a certain work issue) and they all ask me to call them back. I guess I’m just frustrated because if I email someone, it’s because I don’t want to talk on the phone. And the question is usually easily answered via email. What’s the best way to respond?

It’s annoying, but it’s not always up to you — and sometimes it makes sense.

Sometimes people will call you back because they think — often rightly — that it’ll be faster. They might not be positive about the meaning of your email and they want to clarify before responding, and figure they’ll just jump on the phone rather than going back and forth. Or their answer might take a long time to write out but be easier to say over the phone. Or they just prefer the phone, just as you prefer email. And not everyone feels they communicate as well in writing as they do out loud.

As an email fan, this can be annoying! When you like email, it feels efficient and convenient and respectful of everyone’s time. After all, email can be read when it’s convenient for you — as opposed to a phone call, which interrupts you RIGHT NOW — and email tends not to have the small talk that calls are often saddled with. Plus, sometimes it’s helpful to have a written record of what was discussed — not just in a cover-your-ass way (although that too), but as a reference you can look back at later if needed.

For all those reasons, I used to get annoyed when someone would call me to respond to an email. I emailed you! Why are you changing the medium? But the older I get, the more I appreciate that as comfortable as I am conducting my entire life through email, other people are the opposite. They find more value in a call. And the more I accept that, the less the calls annoy me (and weirdly, the more value I’m able to see in the calls too).

That’s not to say you can never push back. If I’m having an especially busy day or I suspect a call will be 30 minutes when it should be five, I’ll sometimes let the call go to voicemail, then email later with, “Got your voicemail. I’m in back-to-back meetings and will be hard to reach today — any chance email will work?” Usually it does, and they tell me if it won’t. But I save that for when I really need it.

Mostly, though, while you get to have your preferences, they get to have theirs too.

{ 401 comments… read them below }

  1. Auntie Social*

    Sometimes people call because the email wasn’t clear, or you included everything but the location or time of the meeting. If you take that call you can fix your email and not take a dozen angry calls, just one confused one.

    1. Maria Lopez*

      Sometimes people call because what they might e-mail back has information they would rather not have recorded for eternity. The sender may not realize it. So many e-mail senders have no filter as to what is appropriate.
      That said, I often send e-mails when I DO what a record of everything, and I will include in the response, “as per our phone call in which you said…”.

      1. MoopySwarpet*

        Our lawyer will frequently call when I’ve asked what I thought was a fairly straight forward question, but turns out it’s something she can not specifically advise* on OR there’s the letter of the law and the spirit of the law OR she suspects the thing I’m actually asking is different than the question I’ve asked.

        Emails can be subpoenaed. Phone calls not usually.

        *As in she can tell me our options and the likely repercussions/success rate of each, but she can’t make the decision for us. Sometimes putting that in writing makes it seem like making the decision. Especially if it’s something like “just vaccinate the llamas already.”

        1. Goldfinch*

          Yes, this was my first thought as well. I work with IP, and a lot of my discussions involve chasing someone down via e-mail, then having a phone conversation.

        2. Corporate Lawyer*

          Lawyer here, and 100% this. Ask a lawyer a question, and 9 times out of 10 the answer will be “it depends.” If you email me a legal question, chances are I’ll call you back because walking through my questions and the decision tree that results from each answer will take all day over email and about 5 minutes on the phone.

          1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

            I’m not a lawyer but often in the same situation – I’d need some data. If I write out what I may need under all conceivable circumstances I’d waste both our time because I’d make you find information that most likely will not be needed.
            OP, would IM be an acceptable alternative? That can be rather efficient as it allows rapid back and forth with little fluff but also leaves a record of what was decided.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yeeesssss. After spending years reading other people’s email for litigation, there is very little that can surprise me in email anymore. And sometimes, your lawyer calls to tell you to stop putting stupid things in email, too.

        I have also had to tell people, hey, maybe let’s not send a scorched earth email to the whole department about a mistake you made on a customer project, particularly before we’ve had a chance to figure out what’s going on.

        Email is not for everything and it’s often forever.

        1. Browncoat*

          I have this client who we email an invoice to weekly. Sometimes she needs things changed or something is missing or whatever. Instead of replying to the email she calls incessantly until someone answers. Then if someone other than me answers instead of leaving a clear message it’s just to call her back about the invoice. Its maddening. If she does email it’s the same thing.

      3. AcademiaNut*

        I’ve heard the maxim “Don’t put anything in email that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the newspaper”. If you follow that, you really do have to have sensitive or confidential discussions in person or on the phone. There are laws in many jurisdictions about recording voice without both parties consent, but generally none about forwarding emails to whomever you want.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Yes. I work in local government and this is drilled into our heads. ANYONE can request to see ANY of our emails (Freedom of Information Act).

          On the flip side, I have had bosses that unintentionally go too far the other direction. Not out of a desire for secrecy, I think… just because they’re more comfortable communicating verbally. But that’s not good when I sent the question in an email with the whole team copied so that we could finally get a written answer to a question we’ve been asking for months and gotten 10 contradictory replies.

      4. Che Boludo!*

        I worked for this woman that did not want to recieve emails and talk over the phone because as she explained it, phone calles were more personal (true) and also, (and I can’t make this up) but that we live in a CYA era where everybody is just trying to cover thier assess. She actually said that repeatedly. Most of us call recording things in email professional and prudent for many reasons including CYA and in cases like hers to keep her acountable. I could not believe that she would openly explain to people that this was a reason she did not like to communicate through emails.

        This same person also did not want to recieve emails when she traveled and we were not to call her on her cell phone when she weas traveling. She just did not want to communicate with us. She did so many other things poorly. She was eventually fired even though her numbers lopoked good.

    2. joss*

      Sometimes you need more information than an email can or has provide(d) to provide a complete and correct answer. And you may not even know that your email shows that you do/might not understand the full scope of the issue you are asking questions about. And in those cases a phone call really is better and faster whether you like it or not

    3. Emily S*

      And also, sometimes there is no good reason for the call. I use a pretty even mix of email/video chat/phone calls, so I’m not especially averse to any of them in itself, but I am pretty uptight about choosing the right medium for the use case.

      A week ago, a colleague had emailed me a simple yes or no question along the lines of: Do employees get a copy of their timesheet on payday? I replied back, yes. Every payday employees get a copy of their timesheet. The colleague replied back, “Please give me a call when you have a moment.” This was at about 4:30 pm, to boot – I didn’t see her email til 4:55 and by the time I read it and called her, she’d already left for the day. So it was kind of hanging over me all evening a sense that there was some problem with the timesheet process that I was going to have to troubleshoot and fix, or she was going to want me to make a change and I was going to have to explain what changes are or aren’t possible…you know, the kinds of things you would obviously want to just handle with a phone call instead of a long tortured series of emails.

      The next morning I called her back, and literally all she did was explain to me the context for why she was asking – we need to make sure employees have access to their timesheets. Then asked me to confirm, “So it sounds like I don’t need to do anything with this since it’s already being taken care of on payday?” To which I said, “Yes.”

      And that was the entire phone call. question marks appearing over confused face GIF

  2. glitter writer*

    In my line of work, if people call you back when you email, it’s because they don’t want to commit something to writing.

    1. ItsAllFunAndGamesUntil*

      And 9 times out of 10 I am sending it as an email to cover for the inevitable “I never said” or “you never said” or “that was not what I asked for” comebacks from phone conversations I have.

      1. Mel_05*

        Yes. If people call me in response to an email, they will be getting a follow up email that says, “So, as we discussed on the phone, X will happen.”

        Sometimes it takes a couple rounds.

        1. Triumphant Fox*

          YES. This is just due diligence. It really helps with clients – we would always do an email follow up to phone calls and meeting recaps so it’s clear not only to them, but also to bosses who aren’t in the day-to-day of a project but may drop in that we’ve changed X or are not prioritizing Z on some small thing. I learned quickly with a boss who misremembered whole conversations with clients to take really detailed notes that I could refer back to and say, “Actually, I heard Karen ask about the deliverable and then say we didn’t need to do Y and Z, but that X was a priority because Jane is back in the loop. Did she mention something about Z being essential that I missed?” That would jog his memory.

    2. Dezzi*

      Came here to say this. I deal with a lot of things that people would rather not have on the record, so they prefer to call me instead of emailing.

      At least 50% of the time this happens I have to type up as exact a transcription of our conversation as I can and put it in my report anyways, so their calling me a) doesn’t keep their statements off the record and b) seriously wastes my time. It’s irritating.

      1. FiveWheels*

        Yes! In my line of work I need a written hard copy record of everything. An email? Print it and file it. A phone call with the same info? Needs me to take the call, write or type out the content, and then file it.

    3. Facepalm*

      Exactly. That’s why I always prefer to have other people reply via email. That way I have everything in writing, and there are far fewer people trying to throw me under the bus or play gotcha.

    4. Fishships*

      Yep this. I work for the govt, so I NEED to have it in writing. You can talk to me all you want but you’re also gonna have to email me what you just said.

      1. Marny*

        That’s how I usually handle it. I have the phone conversation to avoid the back and forth and clarify qeustions, and then send an email afterwards laying out what I explained so that it’s all there in one email.

      2. Hills to Die on*

        Same. I work for the government too. Sometimes we discuss sensitive things in person because all records are public and can be requested at any time. But the official document is always there after the fact.

      3. ItsAllFunAndGamesUntil*

        Or if they want things like “what are the IP numbers for those video conference units?” and a phone call means they absolutely are going to transpose digits and be wondering why nothing wants to work right.

        1. Zennish*

          My fave is when people call me because they want a bunch of wording changes in some database that they’d like to explain over the phone. Because just emailing me a list that I could cut and paste from would be far too complicated.

          1. Lil*

            i find this is a laziness thing. it’s much easier for them to just fire off the info verbally, than to take the time to write it out, organize it, format it, etc. Basicallt, they’re just passing on that extra work to you.

      4. Ida*

        I’m a lawyer. I force my clients to have 90% of our communication in writing. I want to have a record. I want to make sure they understand. I also don’t want to have to write out a conversation log after a call.

        I tell them it’s in their best interest to have a record and it’s likely cheaper. Less risk of them wondering into non-legal matters that I’ll be charging them for.

        1. Renata Ricotta*

          Sure, I do this with my clients too. If they call me I draft a memo to file documenting what we talked about (when important, sending it to the client too so they have an opportunity to disagree with whatever my summary is), so there’s always a record. I’m the service provider, so if they prefer phone and it makes me write up a memo, it is what it is; the extra few minutes of summarizing a phone call will end up on their bill.

          But, communications between a lawyer and client have the benefit of being privileged, so it’s a pretty low likelihood they’ll crop up in litigation somewhere. When I did more white collar/corporate investigations work, it was pretty common to advise companies and (non-lawyer) officers to not send internal emails about compliance issues until you were very confident what the answer was, which often requires additional probing conversations about details to get right. It’s exactly those off-the-cuff responses without full information that some plaintiff’s lawyer someday labels as Exhibit A (hereinafter “The Damning Email”).

      5. AY*

        On the other hand, conducting business over the phone means no public records and nothing to produce in response to a public records request. I’m in government, and this happens all the time.

      6. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        I also work for the government. I often need to NOT have it in writing, because writing is public data and we may be discussing a lot of hypotheticals that won’t go anywhere but could confuse the record.
        If I need it in writing after our talk I’ll follow up with an email memo. Or I’ll tell them to email me with notes. Basically it all depends on the context of the situation, so I’m just going to assume everyone has a good reason for their chosen method. And we work it out if we have conflicting needs.

      7. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        That’s fine! Let’s talk to come to a consensus, then I’m happy to send a confirmation email.
        At least that way we can reach a common understanding about what the issue is, if you are the right entity to deal with it, and what you need to move forward. No need to spell out my complex llama grooming problem to the County Irrigation Agency when the core issue is the llama hair clogging the drains so I’d need the National Sewers Administration.

    5. Czhorat*

      That’s when then get an email like this:

      From: Czhorat
      To: ShiftyDude
      RE: Ambient Lighting

      Shiftydude – confirming that per your request in our conversation earlier this afternoon we will not be installing blackout shades in the projection room. This creates a serious risk of ambient light washing out the image to the point of unusability, and certainly below the published projected image contrast ratio standard.


    6. Hills to Die on*

      Same. Or, it’s politically sensitive, confidential, requires social / political context, etc.

      I had a manager who would email me that I should call him. Right now. Um, pick up your phone and call me yourself? No. He liked to have the power of others calling him and not him having to reach out to them.

      He also hated that I would message him with a summary of our phone call because he didn’t want to commit to having provided any direction so that he could always blame someone else (usually me). He drank a lot and couldn’t remember what he said from one moment from the next. He sucked.

      But it worked out well. I left and stayed home with my kids and he stayed there. Everyone at work called and wished me well, said things like, ‘This company will never know what you did for them’ and ‘I knew he was going to run you off. President has no idea what a huge mistake she is making.’

      He screwed things up over and over and each time he would get those responsibilities taken away until he literally would just show up in his office and sit there all day with nothing at all to do. That went on for a few months until they let him go. He was a laughingstock from what I understand. Bite me, Jeff.

    7. nnn*

      That’s what I came here to say. Often I want to discuss something informally or off the record before committing in writing, especially if I’m struggling to express myself tactfully.

      But after the conversation has been had, I’m happy to follow up by committing the conclusions or decisions to email.

      1. Nonnie*

        Yes, this. Or something has drastically changed (as implied in OP’s letter), and I want more information or go through implications for my particular area that may not be applicable to all.

    8. MCL*

      Same. If I know it’s going to be that kind of conversation I usually try to call or have a chat in-person instead of even writing the question to them.

    9. Afraid of Snakes*

      This. I had a boss who did this. He would call when he didn’t want to have to commit (or risk being held accountable) and email when he wanted to hold others accountable.

      Watch your back around people who exhibit this behavior, and try to note if you are one of the people they do this around.

      1. RobotWithHumanHair*

        You’re describing my last job. I had to take to recording phone calls (single party state, so it wasn’t an issue AFAIK) to make sure I had SOME sort of information trail when hellfire would inevitably rain down on me.

    10. Guacamole Bob*


      The most common time I get a phone call in response to an email is when I ask why we’re doing X or wouldn’t it be better if we did Y and my grandboss or whoever calls to tell me that we’re doing X for political reasons and he agrees it’s dumb but we have to go along with it because some higher-up thinks Z. And that context is not something you want to put in email anywhere in case it gets forwarded, but especially in a public agency where we’re subject to records requests.

      The email chain will contain all the necessary info on the task itself, but the background context that makes me want to roll my eyes and tear my hair out will be kept to the phone.

      1. Olive Hornby*

        Yes, same here–the phrase I’ve heard is “don’t put it in an email unless you would be ok seeing it attributed to you on the front page of the New York Times.” Kind of self-aggrandizing (my industry is very rarely on the front page of the New York Times!), but gets the point across. That’s probably 80% of my phone calls.

        The other 20% of the time, it’s either a sales tactic (hear how excited I am, and be suckered into thinking our relationship is closer than it is!) or a negotiation tactic (maybe I’ll catch you off guard and get you to agree to something.) Those do annoy me a little, but I usually hear the person out and then tell them to follow up by email, either with more information if it’s a pitch or with the request if a negotiation, so that I can stall for time and give myself space to think.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          My industry ends up on the front page of the local section of a major newspaper somewhat regularly, so it’s definitely something we keep in mind. But the inter-departmental squabbling aspect is just as big for us, unfortunately, where you don’t want to put in an email that you’re doing something that’s not your department’s job because someone else is not very competent. And then there’s the political – there’s certainly grumbling when a powerful outside stakeholder asks for a bunch of evaluation on ideas that would be bad policy and we have to drop our regular work to respond.

          I see lots of people on this thread complaining about people who want to avoid accountability, but in my experience switching to phone is almost never about the substance of the task and is pretty much always about keeping the stuff that could make someone look bad out of the written record.

        2. Observer*

          I tell people “don’t put it in email unless you are ok with it showing up on the front page of the NYT, the front page of your local newspaper, or making it’s way to your Parents / grandparents.”

          Obviously that’s not always practical, but it really is true that sometimes it makes sense to keep things off the record, without being “shifty”.

        3. Rorybird*

          OP here….this was happening a lot and what was getting me frustrated. I’m pretty sure they wanted to use it as a sales tactic to get me on the phone.
          My story is a bit more complicated then normal work in that I work from home and I have a newborn with me….so phone calls are a little hard at the moment (I’ve never liked phone but now it’s legitimately almost impossible to have a phone call). I would email back and say right now phone isn’t going to work so please email or text me….and they kept wanting to call. So guess what, they don’t get my business.

    11. Brett*

      This is especially true when committing to writing can have broader implications (like showing up in sunshine law requests or discovery).
      When I worked public sector, in a department that was frequently subject to heavy blanket sunshine law requests, people were highly likely to respond to emails with phone calls. (In fact, I would receive emails several times a day that just said, “Give me a call”.)

      1. Salty Caramel*

        In fact, I would receive emails several times a day that just said, “Give me a call

        I hate those and they go to the bottom of my to-do list (unless I emailed about something urgent)

      2. Kelly*

        I also work in the public sector and am well aware that anything and everything in my work email is subject to FOIA requests as part of a statewide commitment to open government. In theory, it’s a good idea, but it’s abused by some conservative groups to “prove” that state workers are overpaid and underworked. It’s ironic that the group of public sector workers that are less discreet and aware that any and all communications on publicly owned devices and networks are the public safety workers are public record. Of course, there’s crickets when racist and sexist texts and facebook posts made by cops and state patrol personnel are made public by these sunshine laws.

    12. Amethystmoon*

      That does happen and when it does, I send them back an e-mail, something like “per our conversation earlier today, etc.” I have had my behind saved by e-mails that I kept for a year. Where I work, one must document everything or it will come back to haunt you eventually.

    13. Jdc*

      Ugh I have someone doing this to me right now. They basically want me to say in writing I did something wrong, possibly illegal. I simply refuse and have called them but they won’t answer. For the record what I did wasn’t illegal but their end looks like it could’ve been and it feels a lot like they are trying to use me as the scape goat. I know it wouldn’t stick in the end (tax issue) but heck no I’m not putting in writing I was wrong.

    14. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Yes, I have had a phone call just today deliberately so the precise details of our spitballing could stay off the record. There will likely later be a precis in writing. I’ve had four-hour meetings reduced to two paragraphs. Sometimes it’s very powerful.

    15. Bree*

      When I worked in government, the only way to get anything done was to call or even run around to people’s desks physically, because if I didn’t people would avoid committing to anything in writing by straight-up ignoring me.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    My current job is probably 98% email communication. The rare phone calls are generally about complicated situations that are easier to explain verbally than written.

    That being said, at a previous job, I used to occasionally reply to voicemail messages with emails answering their questions.

      1. Fishships*

        If someone emailed you, and you called them to talk about their email..then you have their email…

        1. Quill*

          I fairly frequently have to follow up with people whose email addresses I don’t know but whose organizations I can contact via phone. (Think government agencies, especially ones that use a replybot for document requests, which all contain “do not respond to this automated message.”)

          So in many cases I’ll get a message from “documentdeliverybot@beureaucracy.gov” saying “your teapot sustainability request needs to be resubmitted with the following documentation” and then I have to call people and go “I’m from Teapotter, you ALREADY HAVE OUR LICENSE ON FILE,”

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I used to occasionally reply to voicemail messages with emails answering their questions.

      I do this – it usually stops people from calling me after I’ve emailed, lol. They take the hint.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I only did it when they left a voicemail asking me a very specific question that I could easily answer in an email.

        1. DAMitsDevon*

          Yes, I’ve also done this for this reason and because sometimes in order to follow answer someone’s questions, I need to send them a document or data report that will be a lot easier for them to understand if they have it in front of them to read rather than me explaining it over the phone.

      2. Washi*

        Interesting, because I’ve done this too, but I don’t mean it as any kind of hint! If I get a voicemail asking an easily explainable question or one that uses tables/figures, then I figure I’m saving everyone time by sending an email with the answer. Plus then they have it in writing to refer back to. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was hinting that I hate phone calls though!

    2. Sarah Simpson*

      Agreed, I usually at least email them to ask them what they need so I can be prepared when I call them. Once they explain by email, I can usually get by with answering by email too. And sometimes, once I hear what they’re wondering, I realize a phone call really does make more sense.

      1. Matt*

        I loathe those emails that say nothing but “please call me back asap”. If it’s not a very big secret, could you please give me at least a little hint what it’s all about?

    3. Close Bracket*

      I have done this, and someone eventually asked if I didn’t like him bc I always emailed instead of calling. The lesson should be, don’t assume other people’s motives, but the actual lesson is, you are offending the bejeezus out of someone, and they probably aren’t speaking up.

    4. Lily Rowan*

      On the other hand, I once had a great relationship with a higher-up where I would email her the complicated situation — because it gave me a chance to think it through and figure out what I need to say — and then we would talk it over in person. I did confirm with her that she also liked that system, so it really is a question of who the actual people involved in the communication are!

  4. ScienceLady*

    A rule that’s served me well is that if an email takes more than 10 minutes to compose, it may be worth a call. This has helped me when I’m struggling over delicate wording, explaining nuance, or phrasing and re-phrasing over and over.

    1. Marny*

      Yes! Or if I’m writing something that I know will likely result in more questions that I’d like to just answer now instead of having an email back and forth.

      1. Washi*

        Right, or if I find myself feeling like I need to take screenshots of my own screen to explain how to do something…I’d rather just do it in real time in person/over the phone than writing a manual for some tiny tech question.

      2. Narvo Flieboppen*

        So very much this.

        If I know (or strongly suspect) when you answer the one question I currently have about what I just say in my inbox that I will then have 4 or 5 more, I’m going to pick up the phone and call rather than play back and forth in an email conversation.

    2. Stormy Weather*

      I had a boss at a former job who dictated ‘if the email is more than three sentences, then call them.’ Of course this was the woman who said every email must have an action item and a due date.

      I will call if something is politically sensitive or if someone doesn’t understand something I said even after clarification. Some people learn better by listening than they do by reading.

      In another former job, I generally asked people to email me because I was on conference calls most of the day. All but one appreciated me letting them know. The other one complained to my boss.

      1. GrooveBat*

        I had a boss who used to tell us that if an email communication required more than two back-and-forths, we should have a verbal conversation.

        I would also just say that if the majority of people are responding to your emails with a phone call, maybe it’s time to review your emails and see if they are truly as clear as you think they are.

        1. Competent Commenter*

          This was my first thought too. I’m curious about what the callers are asking. Do they need to tell you where the Simpson report is filed in the shared drive (in which case they should just email) or are they asking clarifying questions because the original email was really confusing?

          1. aebhel*

            I mean, I get a lot of people who call just because they think it’s friendlier and like to chat for a while before getting down to business, which incidentally drives me up a wall and is the reason I prefer email most of the time.

            1. Rorybird*

              OP here…this is a big part of my problem. Not that my time is more valuable, but I usually find phone calls to be a complete waste of time and inconvenient. An email is there to reference later and you can respond in your own time!

          2. Eeeek*

            Based on a comment the LW left it sounds like it’s people trying to sell her stuff in which case I’d say she gets to generally dictate how she wants to be communicated to unlike a regular work situation

      2. Mr. Shark*

        Yeah, I don’t know if I’d agree with that. Sometimes writing out something in an e-mail makes sure that you are not missing details and nuances that you might miss if you were just communicating by phone.
        You say that some people learn better by listening, but some learn better by reading, too, so an e-mail that goes point by point and is thought about and picked over could provide much clearer information.
        I do agree that if you are going back and forth via e-mail and nothing is getting accomplished, a phone call (or meeting) can work wonders to get things settled more quickly and answer questions more quickly.
        But once that has been answered, a detailed e-mail to summarize what the conclusion of the discussion was about and the action items is a good thing.

      3. Eukomos*

        I’ve heard a version of that where it’s “if it’s more than three PARAGRAPHS, call them” which is a very good principle, but three sentences is definitely too strict.

    3. Diahann Carroll*

      This is also a good rule of thumb. Or even if my email only takes me a minute to type, but I suspect the receiver’s answer will be long-winded, I mentally prepare myself for them asking if they can just call me and I set aside some time for them to do so.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      This has helped me when I’m struggling over delicate wording, explaining nuance, or phrasing and re-phrasing over and over.

      Conversely, I find delicate wording, nuances, etc. so much easier with email. With email I get to delete all of my “ums.”

      1. ScienceLady*

        That’s very true for me sometimes too! I call if I am worried about the person misunderstanding tone or intent and I’m struggling over how to properly convey the tone/intent I want in email.

      2. emmelemm*

        Me too. I can read over what I’ve written and see if there’s the possibility I’m conveying something other than what I mean to be conveying.

      3. Count Boochie Flagrante*

        This is my stance too. I’m much more likely to kludge something when speaking off-the-cuff versus when I can draft a reply, read it over, reconsider how I want to approach it, etc.

      4. aebhel*

        Same. I’m much better at organizing my thoughts in writing; even when I do call people, I usually write an outline of what I need to say beforehand, because otherwise I’ll inevitably forget something.

    5. AndersonDarling*

      I’m now at a company that is addicted to emailing. They email the person sitting directly behind them. Here’s the thing, I don’t want to have a chain of 10 emails from 6 different people when a single five minute phone call could wrap everything up.
      I used to work somewhere where we called and talked face to face and I only received a few emails a day and they all pertained to open projects. Now I get scores of emails and many of them don’t pertain to me, I was just cc’d because, email workplace. It takes time to sort through all those emails. Lots of time. Too much time.

      1. No name this time*


        When I started my career, there was no e-mail. If you needed to quickly communicate with a colleague, could walk over to their desk or have a brief phone call. If you needed to communicate back and forth on something, you sat down with someone or picked up the phone and hashed it out. If you needed to impart information, you could send a memo through interoffice mail. (Anyone else remember those three part memo sheets with the carbons?) Or you could write a letter and send it by snail mail. Using the telephone was fast and efficient. and, you learned early how to make the most of it. If you needed a record of what was discussed you could take notes and send the other person a copy.

        I found in my work that it using the telephone instead of e mail saved time and effort in many instances. Yes, there are good reasons to use e-mail but I like using the phone when appropriate.

    6. Just J.*


      Especially when trying to answer complicated questions that require complicated answers. A phone call is faster.

    7. Melly*

      I don’t have this hard and fast rule, but generally, if I’m calling you about something, it’s because it was taking me too long to figure out how to word it in an email.

      1. Melly*

        And I also tend to start out the phone call with, “Hey, I figured this was easier to discuss over the phone than trying to explain email.”

    8. time for lunch*

      Exactly. Or maybe there are a lot of contingencies in my answer, and it’ll take five minutes to resolve in live conversation but several back-and-forths over email. Calls are great! Live conversation on a focused topic can resolve things quickly. If you aren’t available for one at the time, then find some time for it when you can do it.

    9. Anonya*

      Yes, exactly this. If I’m responding with a phone call, it’s because your question was too complex to be settled over an email and/or requires some back-and-forth.

    10. Third or Nothing!*

      LOL when I first started out, I took a while to compose emails to my customers and peers because I was so scared of being unprofessional or rude! I used to send excerpts to a more experienced coworker to ask if they sounded OK. Bless him, he still sometimes helps me out with tricky emails when I have to tell someone’s AP about some late fees that are 100% their fault. Can’t have your customers thinking you think they’re being dumb about paying bills on time, even if you actually do think that. ;)

    11. HelloHello*

      I think this works well if the problem is you’re hemming and hawing over phrasing, but I frequently spend 30+ minutes composing emails because I’m outlining the scope of a project, so the client has it available to reference moving forward. I do probably 95% of my job via email, because it’s important for everyone involved to have a record of the work we need to do.

      1. ScienceLady*

        Oh yes, for sure with technical details/logistics/project details. For me it’s when I’m nervous about the right tone/intent being communicated – in that case I have learned if I’m hesitating too much on how to say it right over email, it’s better for me to call.

    12. SomebodyElse*

      I really wish they taught this somewhere. I’m on the other end of the spectrum… if it can’t be put in bullet point form then email isn’t the right tool.

      Honestly I’ve gotten the most convoluted rambling emails that quite honestly I’ve lost interest in 3 sentences in. I’ve had to explain to my team “I’m sure this email is full of vital information, but that does you no good if people don’t read it to the end. Highlight the important information, put it in a bullet format, then explain away to your hearts content” Most people will not read a 4-5 paragraph long email, so all that time you’ve spent is wasted anyway. They’re just going to call you anyway.

    13. Annony*

      Yep. Usually I call (or meet in person) if the question is more complicated than the person asking thought it was.

    14. Aquawoman*

      All of this. But I’d also like people to realize when email is better, specifically when there’s a non-time-sensitive, easily answered question.

    15. we're basically gods*

      If an email takes me more than 10 minutes to compose, it means that I really need to send it as an email, because then I’m 100% certain that the email will contain all the information that it needs to. Over the phone, that’s a lot harder to ensure!

    16. Bree*

      Yep, working in communications, I would much prefer a five minute conversation than e-mailing tracked changes back and forth.

    17. snoopythedog*

      If it takes more than 3 emails back and forth to solve a single issue or get the information you need, I’m calling you. I hate the phone, but I hate being distracted by 6 emails about the same thing. Lucky for you, I’ll probably email you to ask you when to call!

    18. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Except more than once, spending 20 minutes writing down my question has helped me answer the question for myself.
      Factual requests, those are fast to write and I can’t figure them out.
      Best practices? Ah that’s the 20 minute email I can delete without sending!

    19. Cobol*

      That’s fine, but on the flip side if you call me on something that was too complicated to email, I’m not going to remember at least half of what you said.

      I recognize the need for hybrid (i.e. call than send a summary email, or email and say I’m going to call to give color), but I’ve learned never to trust something just said over the phone.

  5. Phony Genius*

    If my answer to your e-mail will likely lead to a back-and-forth of lots of e-mails, you’re getting a phone call.

    1. Phony Genius*

      Oh, and if the answer requires pointing to several charts and diagrams, you may even be lucky enough to get an in-person visit.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Or the inverse — the person who sends vague, cryptically worded emails (and it’s not anything sensitive!) and when you clarify, you get even less information. They truly think they’re explaining, but you’re just more confused. It’s so much easier for me to call and have a 2 min conversation rather than play “guess what your co-worker is trying to tell you.”

        I do think if the OP is getting a lot of these, it’s worth making sure their emails are clear. Could just be the culture, but worth figuring out.

    2. Data Bear*

      Yup. When that happens with me, it’s most often because the writer has asked a question that seems simple but is based on a misconception that I can tell will require a lot of discussion to clear up, and that whole process goes at least 10x faster via voice.

      1. hbc*

        And don’t discount the people who probably don’t have a misconception about the simplicity but are hoping to get away with something. I had to learn the hard way that a text of “When’s the next grooming slot?” is often a trap, and we’re going to have a talk about how many llamas they’re looking to fit in and the exact services. Otherwise, you have someone whining that you said they could come in on Tuesday at 4:00. and you never said it would take longer for their herd of rabid, flea-infested llamas who all need custom dye patterns.

        1. Data Bear*

          OMG! Intentional misbehavior is an entire realm of end-user interaction I’ve never had to deal with. I now feel very fortunate.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I just had the reverse happen in my personal. I wanted to hire someone for X task here at the house. I emailed and said, I have constraint A, B and C. Are you still interested in this work?
          Then I had questions X and Y.

          I get an email back, “I will be by at 1 pm.” That was all it said.

          I was at work at 1 pm and did not return for several hours. I emailed to say I was at work and missed her email. I tried again mentioning two of the constraints and question X.
          Three days later I get an email, ” 2pm today?” omg.

          Fortunately, it all went very well and I am very happy with the help this person gave me. But the connecting part needs more effort.

    3. Ginger*


      I love email but I hate a back and forth dialogue that could be resolved in a 5 min phone call.

      On the flip side, some things really need more details and the dreaded webex is the tool of choice.

        1. Antilles*

          “A few emails” usually takes a huge amount of real-life time when you add up the various lag times – you emailed me at 9, but I didn’t want to break my train of thought and didn’t get a response out till 9:30…but then you were in the middle of something and didn’t respond till 10…but I have a meeting between 10 to 11:30 and didn’t respond till 11:35…but you take lunch a little early…and then…
          The item may not be drop everything urgent, but it’s still annoying to have an issue hang around for a day when it could have gotten addressed and resolved in a single five minute phone call.

      1. Observer*

        Yeah, I’m SO glad that our phone system’s conference call tool includes web conferencing that lets you do a screen share. It can be SOOO useful. I don’t is that often, but when I need it, it’s a huge time saver.

    4. Leela*

      This is a good point; usually I’m all for following up with e-mails because the paper trail is really important for any potential confusion that follows but if I’m writing a three-parter and you’re consistently answering 2 of my 3 questions and I have to keep following up because you’re not actually answering what I’m asking, I’m definitely calling

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      We actually have a rule on one of my teams that, if you’re not resolved it by the end of the second email volley, pick up the phone.

      I work with someone who will not respond to phone calls because they want a written record of everything, and it makes it very difficult to resolve things where there is a misunderstanding because the parties have a tendency to keep talking past each other. It drives even the most phone-averse of my team crazy.

  6. Chronic Overthinker*

    OMG, I get this all day long. I get callers who say, “oh, I got an email from so-and-so so I thought I would call.” I’m of the opinion that you should respond in kind. If you received an email, respond with one. If you got a phone call, respond with one. I do understand the need to maybe expound upon something in an email, but I prefer responding how you were originally contacted.

    1. Dan*

      I think an additional point in this direction is that if you respond to an email with a phone call, then the trail gets bifurcated. Generally when you take the time to compose an email properly, the information necessary is contained within it, and questions or concerns can be addressed in it, too. That way the communication problems can be resolved in one format, and referred to in the same format, rather than having different points of reference, as well as a reliance on remembering conversations in occasionally hectic workplaces.

      If it works in a decently sized email, keep future communication in that format.

      1. Quill*

        In my job it’s usually easier to do email on the longer things, because if I have multiple questions (who do I get access to teapot diameter certificates from, I need to confirm that these are spoutless teapots and not tea jars, Teapot Painting needs your kiln inspection certificate before I can order the pattern painted, etc) people are often only able to answer a few at a time and then either redirect me to the right person for others or tell me that they’re still waiting on another.

        Keeping the question with the answer – especially if my contacts are in wildly different time zones – is much easier on us all.

        In the meantime I’ll frequently get a call from someone who works close to me who wants to let me know “oh and another thing, I need you to calculate volume vs. sales for this month’s teapot metrics in addition to our usual spread.”

      2. alienor*

        What seems to happen in my office a lot: I’m copied on an email with 4-5 other people. I respond with my thoughts. Then, unbeknownst to me, two of the people on that email have a side conversation, by phone or in person, and reach a decision about how to proceed. Now I think we’re following Plan A when we’re actually following Plan B, but I don’t know that because I wasn’t there and no one replied to the original email with a “hey, we’re doing Plan B” update. Frustrating.

    2. Anon for this*

      Not when your billing rate is a couple hundred dollars an hour. A five minute phone call is cheaper than a carefully worded email that takes me 45 minutes to compose.

      1. Renata Ricotta*

        Yes. Especially when my email would almost definitely start with “that depends on a lot of factors.” Clients don’t want to pay for me to explain every potential scenario, just the one they meant to ask about (but didn’t quite give enough context for).

    3. Washi*

      I actually agree in most cases! Usually if I think we should switch to phone, I’ll reply to the email and say “I think this is going to result in a long back and forth over email, so I’ll give you a quick call to sort it out.” That way if they’re away from their phone but checking email they can still tell that I’m on top of it, and also there’s a record of how I said I was going solve the program, not just a seemingly-unanswered email in my inbox.

    4. Just Me*

      It does depend a lot on the complexity of the issue, but for simple matters, personal preference will generally rule even though it shouldn’t. When I would initiate communication with a sales person (related to employee benefits), I’d email them; then they’d call me back. If they initiated it, they’d call and I’d email back :)

  7. Dezzi*

    I’d also note that if you tend to ask a lot of loaded and/or pointed questions in your emails, you’re going to get a LOT of people calling you instead of emailing you back because they really don’t want to answer you in writing :P

    1. SweetestCin*

      I worked with someone who couldn’t quite figure out why nobody ever answered his emails via email.

      Certainly had nothing to do with his habit of using bits of the emails to throw people under the bus when *his* plans went sideways…something as innocuous as “hey, how much does it cost to decorate a teapot in Charleston SC?” would suddenly be used to figure the cost/profit ratio of a new teapot facility in Billings, MT, and the emailed reply would be brought forth with “well someone from the sales department told me it that the cost would be …” with no context to the original email. It was ugly. Nobody wanted anything they told him in writing anywhere.

  8. Marion Ravenwood*

    Honestly, I’d rather have this over the people who email you and *then* call you 10 seconds later. “Did you get my email?” Well yes I did, but I haven’t had chance to read it yet – either just call me (if it’s that urgent) or give me a few minutes to read it first!

    1. Dan*

      Preaching to the choir. I had to train some coworkers not to hit Send and then race over to my desk.

      “Is what you need to tell me in the email? If so, why are you here? If not, why not?”

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Yeah, I had a coworker who would e-mail me and if I didn’t respond within 5 minutes, would be standing at my desk. If our work was really that urgent, they wouldn’t have hired someone with 0 industry experience for his role. They also would put us up a lot higher on the food chain and pay us more.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          One co-worker regularly delivered a Trifecta: she’d call, then leave a voicemail, and STILL come over. In three years it never dawned on her that if I wasn’t on Teapot deadline I’d answer her email before she got to my desk–and that if I was on Teapot deadline, I’d tell her I couldn’t talk about any other topic until the Teapot was pouring.

    2. Leigh Ponti*

      Seriously! I have a number of folks that my office communicates with that will pull this same stunt. I’d totally understand a follow-up call if I don’t respond promptly, but to call within minutes of sending an email? Give me a break.

    3. Quill*

      “No, I didn’t get your email, all I saw is the push notification because I’m working in a software service that times out if I’m inactive!”

    4. Bunny*

      Or walk by your desk. ExBoss used to do that. Of course she had no concept of other people’s time. She’d ask you about an email she sent the day before after hours while you were taking off your coat after you arrived in the morning.

    5. Anononon*

      The one time I do this is with a paralegal who tends to batch her work throughout the day. When she’s doing one specific task, that takes a couple hours, she’s not checking emails. Every so often, I’ll need something urgent, so I’ll call her to give her a heads up.

  9. Marny*

    When I call in response to an email, it’s because the response isn’t as simple as the sender thinks and I need to have a conversation about my response. I don’t want to have a bunch of emails back and forth when a 5 minute dialogue could the matter.

    1. Zona the Great*

      So true. In that instance, I’d rather say “oh this will require a brief phone call. Do you have 10 minutes today to talk?”

    2. Crazy Broke Asian*

      Yep. When a coworker asks me to show them how to do something, I call them. It if they’re nearby, I get up and walk to their desk. It’s easier than screenshooting and writing down the steps in email.

  10. Czhorat*

    A phone call is synchronous communication – both of you interacting in real time. Emails and texts are asynchronous.

    If there’s back-and-forth, then a phone call often IS better. How many times have we seen this?

    Q>What kind of conference cameras do we need?>

    A> The small rooms get pan/tilt/zoom cameras. The big ones get webcams.

    Q> Isn’t that backwards? It would make more sense the other way.

    A> Yes. PTZ cameras for big rooms, please. 12X zoom

    Q> The cameras we use only come in 10X and 20X. Which should we use?

    A> The 20X. 10 isn’t enough for the size space.

    Q> Should they be in black or white?

    That kind of thing happens too often when we fetishize email as the ONE TRUE BEST MEANS OF COMMUNICATION. If there is more than one volley back and forth then it should be a phone call. If you’re waiting for the answer and can’t handlg another commitment until you get it that might rate a phone call because of urgency.

    I hate talking on the phone, but sometimes it’s the quickest and best way to get somethign done.

    1. ItsAllFunAndGamesUntil*

      “Why do we have, or why does this spec say, (insert what they asked for on the phone) cameras? Those won’t work we need (what they absolutely did not ask for but you don’t have a written record of this call oops) is what always happens to me in that scenario.

      1. Czhorat*

        It’s WAY easier to clarify in a call – esxpecially if there’s more than one space, more than one option, or the user needs to be educated on options – than it is to constantly volley emails.

        Then you email the summary.

      2. Observer*

        So, follow up the conversation with an email. The combination often takes FAR less time than the email back and forth.

    2. MissMeghan*

      I also prefer email over phone, but there are a lot of things a phone can do that email can’t. I’d add that conveying tone is something that’s tough in emails. I’ve definitely had situations when negotiating a document where I started to think the person on the other side was a complete jerk, but was able to build friendliness and reach agreement quickly with a phone call, where we were making no progress in email.

      1. Czhorat*

        Tone is also huge. When meeting with clients, one of my employers had a hierarchy:

        In person > Video chat > voice chat > email > text message

        With each subsequent step creating less engagement and emotional connection. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but sometimes it does. Even to discuss dry technical things, I like to have first meetings in person to develop rapport and a feeling of mutual confidence and respect. Then you can email/text/IM when appropriate.

        1. Oh So Anon*

          I’m glad that someone’s mentioned this. It’s easier to build rapport and read between the lines when there’s more than just text on a screen, and paying attention to how to build engagement matters even when (and perhaps moreso) the content itself is dense and dry.

        2. Cardinal rules*

          That’s perhaps true for lots of people, but nothing is universal. In my case, you’d be getting WAY less engagement and connection in a phone call, because I’d be struggling to process what was being said, unable to think at all about your tone for trying to decode what you just said, worrying about missing something while I tried to figure out that last sentence, and wondering how many times I can reasonably ask you to repeat yourself because I have no idea what you just said. I can’t build rapport under those conditions. I’m struggling just to comprehend.

          There’s a reason I try to avoid the phone.

        3. Bunny*

          I see the logic, but I will skip video chat at any opportunity. I tend to feel like an idiot and the little video of me talking in my peripheral vision throws me off.

    3. JM60*

      A phone call is synchronous, but it requires an interruption to create that synch. This can be annoying, partly because interrupting the callee to force this synch is often the caller trying to be pushed to the front of the queue, rather than be triaged. It call also come across as the caller valuing their own time much more than the callee’s time.

      There are cases in which phone calls make sense, but I almost always prefer email because they can be triaged, don’t require synchronization (I can read it when I return from the bathroom), and it leaves a record so that information isn’t lost in the moment.

  11. Bee Eye Ill*

    My old boss used to email me, then immediately call to see if I got the email, then read it back to me over the phone. He had no sense of priority and never asked if I was busy. Total jackass. I quit there last year.

    1. Dan*

      Same. I used to get an email, followed by an instant message, followed by a phone call, all in 60 seconds. Let that boss go a while back.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Damn, this reminds me how much I’ve been blessed.

      The worst thing the worst boss I had did was CC frigging EVERYONE and so many Reply All to things that not all people needed. I had some glorious conversations with my reports about “Why was I even included in that, super awkward…”

    3. DecorativeCacti*

      My old boss would get my email, print it, hand write her response on the printed email, then walk it down to me and hand it to me silently.

      Never not the weirdest thing ever.

    4. Jdc*

      So we have the same boss!? I once flipped and said “no I didn’t read your email yet because I was pooping!!” He never did it again. Good grief let a woman go to the bathroom.

    5. Allypopx*

      My old boss was on the other end of the spectrum where he’d come into my office, say “I got your email, I haven’t read it.” and then have me reiterate the content.

    6. Old Cynic*

      My business partner used to send a fax and immediately jump on the phone to the recipient to see if it came through okay. Of course at that point the transmission hadn’t even completed so there were several minutes wasted on the phone…

  12. hamsterpants*

    I’m on the keyboard 10 hours a day. Ergo injuries are a real thing! Unless it’s a simple “yes, I agree” message, I’d rather call someone and risk annoying them than further exacerbate my carpal tunnel with optional typing.

  13. CreativeNameHere*

    I know this doesn’t apply to everybody, but I’m in a profession where I write a LOT, all day, every day. Sometimes, when someone sends me an email, I’ve just written 2000 words on something else, and four other long emails, and my hands just need a break!

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      See, I write and edit all day long and I still prefer email, lol. I express myself way better in writing than I do orally. I can also edit my response to remove anything that’s confusing or sarcastic sounding or whatever before sending it off to be received by someone else – I can’t do that orally.

    2. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

      I do a lot of drafting on the computer for architectural drawings, so for me it’s my eyes that need the break. If someone calls me and I’m in the middle of a pretty technical drawing, I’ll let it go to voicemail so I don’t get derailed. But as soon as I’m at a good stopping point I’m overjoyed to get up from my desk and take the call while walking around the sidewalk outside for a bit of rest for my eyes, stretching the old legs, etc. It’s a welcome distraction some days.

  14. Stephanie*

    Oh, I do this. Or IM people. Like other commenters have mentioned, it’s usually because (1) something wasn’t clear in your email or (2) replying will result in 17 back-and-forth emails that can be resolved with a <5-minute phone call.

    I had a former job where our company did research work for attorneys (we were not practicing attorneys). A lot of them didn't like having things in writing for discovery purposes (much of our work was doing background research to support ongoing litigation), so they often preferred to discuss things over the phone.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I will IM if there is something that needs clarifying. Otherwise it’s email. I do not check voice mails more than twice a year. I do not use the phone unless someone absolutely insists. Everything is in writing. Meeting minutes are saved like gold nuggets. All emails are archived. And when my team needs a CYA, I always have it. Not sorry.

  15. goducks*

    I too hate the phone. I don’t think it’s too much to ask someone, “Hey, can we jump on a call? I think this is a better conversation to be had via call than email.” If you just call me without doing that, I’m likely to ignore you. I sent you an email, please respond in kind.

    1. Jellyfish*

      My boss will email to ask if now is a good time for a call if we’re starting to go back and work. That won’t work in all situations, but I appreciate it.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yeah, my current company’s culture is to IM someone and ask to call them before actually doing it. Previous workplaces did not work like that, and I much appreciate the change. I hate being in a work groove and then being interrupted by some random phone call.

        1. Matt*

          I’d really appreciate that … at my place it’s “everyone calls everyone about everything anytime and you are supposed to answer”

  16. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I had someone recently call me and say “Let me pull up your email so I can answer your questions for you.” There were not clarification questions about what I mean, just seriously a bullet list of “questions”.

    It’s often a sales tactic as well I’ve sniffed out over the years.

    But I’m an unprofessional savage and I let my phone go to voicemail if I see it’s not someone I notice or want to speak to. Then I respond to their voicemail by email. Within that email I say “I’m sorry I missed your call! I’m much easier to contact via email, can we talk about it here?” and most of the time they cave to my pressure. But I’m in a high enough position that I’m pure evil on occasions, so don’t do this if you aren’t allowed to screen your calls!!!

    1. Hills to Die on*

      “Hi Weasel! What’s up? Oh, you tried to call? Oops sorry, I am in a meeting for the rest of the afternoon so I can email or IM, but I can’t talk…Yep, another one….I know – lots of meetings, haha! What’s that? No, I am leaving the office right after this meeting and then I have another one first thing in the morning. I can get back to you 3 weeks after hell freezes over if you want, or we can IM (saves all IMs) or email. Let me know – thanks!

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      “It’s often a sales tactic as well I’ve sniffed out over the years.”

      You just reminded me of a phone call I’ve gotten a couple of times in the decade I’ve been in the professional business world. A super pushy salesman calls and insists on sending me some documentation about his product or service or whatever. I say not interested, thanks, and he keeps pushing and pushing and pushing and saying “can I email this to you???”

      At no point in the entirely one-sided conversation does this man ask me for my email, nor do I offer it up. And I know he doesn’t have it because if he did he would have just emailed his spiel like all the other spam in my inbox.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Years ago when more things were done by people who didn’t have the programming to ring and wait for someone to pick up. [Nothing says “HANG UP NOW” than a moment of silence between picking up and a representative picking up the line, frigging auto dialers…], I was a shy young woman who was still learning the ropes. So I found out that if you put them on hold, they could only “hold” and waste time until like 90 seconds had passed, so they’d dump the call if they were on hold long enough.

        Now I just hangup while they’re talking =X

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          LOL, sometimes I hang on the line to see how long I can stall them. But that’s only if it’s a slow day at work and I’m in a mood. And if they’re polite and accept my no, then I hang up gracefully with a “have a nice day now.” But pushy salesman dude? Nah fam, he’s getting the runaround.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Sales people give up on me.
      “You can call [specific job title] and ask to be put on the agenda for the next meeting. If it is allowed she will tell you the time and day for the next meeting. You can present in person to the group. There is no presentation equipment available, so you will need to plan accordingly.”

      They hang up on me.
      I shouldn’t but I do laugh.

  17. Donkey Hotey*

    Used to deal with this A LOT at my Old Job. I would send the email, 3..2..1.. answer the phone call and discuss the situation. I got zen about it because my other option was dealing with a salesperson who would respond to “Is it A or B?” questions with “Yes.”

    What I started doing is sending out a second email after the call saying, “So, to sum up, [these are the things we agreed on], and I will act accordingly.” That got them their phone call and it got me my paper trail.

    1. DecorativeCacti*

      I hate those emails so much! “Our options are A, B, or C.” “Sounds good.” Scream for an hour.

    2. annalisakarenina*

      Whewwwwww my current manager does this sometimes! I did call him out on it, in a professional way, and it’s significantly decreased to only when he’s really busy and reads an email/IM too quickly, OR he’s doing it on purpose as a joke.

  18. Narise*

    I will take calls to discuss emails but if they are approving anything or requesting anything via phone I tell them I will move forward once an email is received. That way I have it in writing. If they do not want to put it in writing or delay putting it in writing then the project stalls but it’s on them. (Make sure to send a follow up stating still waiting approval from John on x to the group.)

  19. MissDisplaced*

    What’s up with people not responding to emails?

    You have your answer.
    Seriously, at my company there are some people who simply ignore emails or won’t respond to them for 2-3 weeks! I can’t wait that long so I will call. But it depends, if I know the person typically is good about responding to their email in a day or two, I’ll wait unless it’s really urgent, or if it’s something not easily explained via email.

  20. Dee-Nice*

    As an email person, I compromise by not answering the phone at all when I’m in the middle of something requiring a lot of concentration, and returning calls later when it’s convenient for me, or by emailing the caller and telling them when I’m available to chat on the phone. This has the benefit of allowing me to be really prepared to talk on the phone, and it subtly trains people who have strong phone preferences to email me first.

  21. Erin*

    If it’s going to take five more emails for details or additional information, I’ll call you every time. It’s just more practical and efficient.

  22. CTT*

    I’m the rare Millennial who doesn’t mind when people call me; I get so many emails every day that things really can get buried, both on my side and the other. When it’s something that no one has to think about very hard and doesn’t have to be documented (for any of the reasons Allison mentioned) I like having the option of calling someone instead of dragging it out all day.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The vast majority of people who now do the whole “call me” instead of email are actually our generation, so it’s just an unfounded stereotype that Millennials don’t like the phone in my experience.

      It’s because we’re on the internet and lot of us internet folk are more inclined to being part of that stereotype given our choice to communicate in writing. The data is skewed.

    2. anony*

      I’m an older millennial and I don’t hate talking on the phone at all – but I absolutely detest it when it’s not the most efficient way to do things at work. People who interrupt my scheduled workday to chat doesn’t fit into my work life. I have to plot out like every minute of my day to get things done – it’s a mix of video conferences, in person meetings, meeting follow-ups (action items assigned to me), and ACTUAL work, plus time to drink water, pee, eat a snack, walk around so my legs don’t fall off under my desk. Phone calls from people who just want to talk it out are so disruptive and usually come while I’m in another call or I have 15 min between calls to go head-down and get something else done. Schedule time with me or answer my email, please and thank you!

  23. Paul*

    I went from a job where the primary form of inter-office communication to one where it is almost evenly split between e-mail, phone call, and instant message. I prefer e-mail, but I also prefer helpful responses to my requests and if someone prefers calling because that’s THEIR preferred way to communicate, that’s fine with me.

  24. Cam*

    My boss (who is frequently out of the office) constantly answers my emails with calls. I’m sure it’s a combination of her being in her late 60s and less comfortable with email, and not really wanting to commit things to writing (other members of my organization have had trouble with her misremembering what she asked for, and have started taking notes of her calls and emailing them back to her to keep a record).

    It’s infuriating because the conversation always takes f o r e v e r, because she has trouble staying on topic. My emails to her are often just “can you sign off on this” and only require a yes or a no. Even when it’s a yes, she ends up talking my ear off about things that have nothing to do with the email, or saying “have you thought about X and Y” about things we’ve already talked about at length. Also, she doesn’t call right away, and I often need to be away from my desk (and she knows this!), so I end up playing phone tag with her a few times before we can actually connect. It would be so much easier if she just answered the email. I don’t have to work with her all the time, but when I do I really can’t believe how she got so far in life being so scattered.

  25. blink14*

    I generally stick with email, but sometimes a phone call is a more efficient and easier way to respond. If my response has several unknowns or multiple scenarios, it is often far easier for to call the person than trying to type that all out, and make sure it makes sense. An email, on its own, is a one way conversation. A phone call allows for both sides of the conversation to happen at the same time.

    Sometimes I’ll get a voicemail and it’s easier and quicker for me to respond by email, it all depends on the situation and what the person is used to and comfortable with. Former jobs required a lot of phone use, and I got used to that – and I’m not really a phone person. But those jobs did point out why a phone call is still a great communication tool. A former coworker of mine pretty much refused to use the phone to the point of looking panicked when I suggested they call for something specific, instead of emailing, and I’d like to think that my gentle persuasion to use the phone worked in their favor – when they transferred to a different department, they were on the phone at least once a week, going from basically never.

    1. Leela*

      “A phone call allows for both sides of the conversation to happen at the same time.”

      A lot of the times when I’m e-mailing people, it’s because they won’t allow a phone call to be a two-way conversation and I wind up locked in very long one-sided conversations where they’ve guessed what I’m going to say and are really running with it without allowing me to interject and get us back on track, wasting both of our time. I wouldn’t mind the phone so much if people followed conventions like “it’s a two-way conversation” but unfortunately a lot of people don’t, and it’s insanely frustrating to sit there while you can hear the annoyance in someone’s voice as you try to interject like you’re just a mean interrupter, but the truth is they are WILDLY off topic but keep pushing so as to not allow themselves to be interrupted

  26. 1234*

    At CurrentJob, sometimes I would get phone calls responding to my emails. I send out emails about doing llama grooming for us (we have a pool of these people) on Specific Day and Time. For example, “Hi Llama Groomers, here is the llama grooming schedule for this week. Please respond with the following information…”

    Certain people tended to respond via phone call. In my email, I specially say “If you are available for llama grooming, please respond with the following information via email” with the words via email underlined and bolded.

    This is because I am busy with other things and will confirm them (always within 24 hours except in cases of weekends btw!) when I have a free moment. One time, someone called with “I got your email and I can groom Llama Fergus at 10AM on Wednesday.” My response? “Great, please email me the details I requested.” Her response? “Oh, you want me to email you?”

  27. none today.*

    I encounter this mostly with people who don’t want to be held to something in writing. I can’t stand it – putting something in an email has only ever been a benefit in my career. It’s so very frustrating.

    1. blink14*

      There are times when conversations need to happen “offline”, and then there are times when someone is trying to work the system. There are situations in my job where I will specifically tell someone their document/project/etc will not move forward until the request is in writing. Other times, an offline phone conversation with someone to sort out a problem or pass along information quietly is also needed.

  28. ThatGirl*

    I will say, in my previous customer service role the bulk of our communication was via e-mail, but with really prickly or sensitive cases we definitely had times where it was better to pick up the phone – sometimes just hearing a warm human voice breaks down someone’s defenses, and can convey tone much more easily than through text. I never really liked calling customers, but it was the best option sometimes.

    1. blink14*

      Yes! One of my temp jobs out of college was in the front office of a major religious organization. There was a hotline where people could call in, basically about anything, and most of the time it was to complain. A lot of these calls would happen after hours, and it was my job to deal with the live calls and log the details of the voicemails and then call back each person. 90% of the time, the person just needed to vent and rarely asked to be passed on to my supervisor or a higher official in the organization. On the flip side, there was an especially creepy live call that I reported to my supervisor, it went up the chain very quickly, and the highest official in the office dealt with it directly.

  29. Confused*

    I’m the opposite of a phone person, but calls make sense when you’re trying to resolve something time-sensitive or you’ve already sent 30 emails on the subject. Sometimes you need to hash things out in a real-time conversation. This is work. You are expected to adapt to a variety of communications styles, not just your own. I’m saying this as someone who hates talking on the phone, but as I work in a multi-generational workplaces with lots of people, certain generations prefer a phone call. It is what it is.

    1. Matt*

      I just think phone calls should be scheduled just like a meeting, and if it’s a short IM asking “can we phone”. Calls out of the blue are just like jumping a queue.

  30. 867-5309*

    Has anyone seen the funny tweet or meme that reads: Should we cover this quickly with 76 text messages?

    1. Well, there's this*

      No, but I’ve seen the blue ribbon meme. “Congratulations! You survived another meeting that could have been handled with an email.”

  31. Heidi*

    I always prefer email because I can get an entire thought out there before someone tries to interrupt me. They also can’t go back later and say I never told them that. And it gives me some time to do some research and come up with exact answers instead of guessing in the moment. However, there are some cases where people really want to talk on the phone, and as annoying as that is, I definitely prefer that over having an in-person meeting to discuss stuff that could have been done over the phone.

    1. Autistic AF*

      Same here. The extra context that comes with a phone call (volume, tone, etc.) makes it that much harder for me to focus on content, especially if I’m not given the opportunity to prepare. I dread the generic “can you call me?” as I both have to make the call and don’t know why. I also remember/process things I read much faster than things I hear, so I end up having to type or write everything down – I got an RSI from working help desk because I wouldn’t have remembered individual calls otherwise.

    2. earg b*

      I always prefer email because I can get an entire thought out there before someone tries to interrupt me. They also can’t go back later and say I never told them that. And it gives me some time to do some research and come up with exact answers instead of guessing in the moment.

      If I get interrupted, I either let them finish then continue on, or interrupt them right back and say I wasn’t finished. It depends on the situation, who it is, etc.

      If it’s something important, or I want to CYA, I send a follow-up email saying “as discussed prior, blah blah blah”.

      I never guess at an answer, if it needs more research I say so – “I’m not quite sure, let me look that up and get back to you.”

  32. Storie*

    They don’t want to put anything in writing.
    This happens more with sensitive topics (please see giant email breaches that have occurred and been covered in the news). But it can also be a way of avoiding accountability later.

  33. new kid*

    I don’t mind this too much in a work context, because my coworkers are typically good about asking to change the communication venue (ie. “can we jump on a call real quick to hash this out?” etc), but I’m dealing with it right now with a service provider in my personal life (home lender) and it’s driving me bonkers. He always calls while I’m at work and no amount of me shooting back an email with a variation of “hey, got your voicemail. can’t step away to return at the moment, but here’s the info you need…” seems to deter him in the least. I get that we all have preferences, but if you’re the one needing something from someone else, isn’t it better to accommodate the other person rather than continuing to use your preferred method that isn’t getting you the results you need?

  34. Oh So Anon*

    Some people have such massively different verbal vs. written communication abilities that they it’s difficult for them to choose email vs. phone vs. in-person communication in a way that aligns well with the complexity of what they need to find out about.

    I have the sort of an opposite problem to what the OP describes, where someone who tends to be extremely long-winded in person has a habit of emailing me very short questions that typically involve very short answers even though they work maybe 20 feet away from me. When it started happening, I was like “huh? why are you emailing me?” and they said that they didn’t want to disturb me. I explained that it takes longer for me to type up a response and send it than it would to just be asked verbally.

    These are the sorts of questions that, if asked by anyone else, could typically be handled in a 30-second interaction, and everyone else who has similar questions will just come to my desk and ask and it’s completely fine. The emailer may be picking up on my exasperation, but the answer isn’t to start emailing questions, it’s to figure out how to be appropriately concise when they speak.

    1. techRando*

      Why isn’t the answer to start emailing questions? It sounds to me like an improvement on the previous issue. In my field, there tends to be a bit of a thing about not interrupting someone unless you really need their help asap to keep working. Did this person come from an industry with a similar work culture maybe?

      (My job’s a tech job, where interrupting in the middle of someones 1-3 hours of highly focused work for 5 minutes actually takes about 20 minutes out of that workers productivity usually, from the time to recover what they were working on before & get back into the flow. We use IMs as much as possible to avoid that, which allows people to come to a natural stopping point so they can go to the restroom or get a drink before responding.)

      1. Oh So Anon*

        I hear you, but the person involved is absolutely not from an industry with a no-interrupting culture – their entire career has been spent in our current industry, which also tends to not do IMs as a form of office communication.

  35. Rusty Shackelford*

    I prefer email, but I’m currently dealing with someone who thinks phone calls and email are “too impersonal” and will just show up, unannounced, at my office. I’ve started saying “hold on, let me finish this before I lose my train of thought,” but honestly, I’d kill for a phone call. And I never thought I’d be saying that.

  36. GreenDoor*

    I use the phone as a way of disarming a tense situation. If someone’s email is terse or angry and I call them and talk in a calm, soothing, collaborative voice it’s a lot harder for them to stay angry or tense and our conversation is much more productive.

    I also had a supervisor who was very clipped and bureaucratic and “per my last email-y.” So I’d call her and use the same casual tone of voice I’d use with a friendly person. It’s really hard to be a hardass and use your show-offy legalese and bureaucratic-speak when someone is so friendly on the phone. I admit, I enjoyed rattling her that way.

    1. we're basically gods*

      Oooh, this would infuriate me, to be honest. If I was already in a bad mood or frustrated with someone, and then they insisted on calling me? I would be absolutely steaming. I would bite my tongue in the moment, but the condescension and refusal to engage in a medium that has inherent accountability would be something I would remember.

      1. anony*

        same here, i’d find this absolutely infuriating. if someone dealt with me this way, i wouldn’t pick up their calls. ever.

    2. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      I use the phone when I feel like my own e-mail communication is starting to get clipped/likely to be perceived as being tense. Because sometimes I am pretty annoyed at someone (people always push back on accounting requests) and my hope is that if they hear my friendly voice they’ll remember I’m a person trying to do my best and not some faceless red tape trying to kill their dreams.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I agree with you, Greendoor. I have done the same. The cure for them is not to act high and mighty while hiding behind an email and/or don’t go into meltdowns over paperclips. Usually I get a calmer tone after making that personal contact and there is no further need to keep calling.

  37. KHB*

    Part of my job involves sending lots and lots of email queries to people outside my organization. Probably 98% of them answer by email, but a few will call (or email to ask that I call them), for various reasons that have already been given: They don’t want a written record of what they say (which is fine with me, since I don’t need one), they’re not totally sure what I’m asking, it takes less time for them to say what they want to say out loud than it does to type it up, etc. I don’t mind any of this so much.

    What I do mind are the ones who don’t seem to realize that they’re not the only person I’ve ever emailed, so when they introduce themselves as “Hi, my name is mumblemumble, and I’m calling in response to your email,” that’s less than helpful.

  38. Seacalliope*

    Phone calls usually result in phone tag for me, which is much more frustrating than actively scheduling a call after an email request. “Just pick up the phone” is bandied about in my office by a couple of people and it’s nearly worthless advice for my role.

  39. Meg Murry*

    Another possibility is that they don’t have the capability to send a detailed email right then, but they can call, so they do. Our sales reps are out and about all day, and while they can read emails on their phones (or at least see the subject line and who emailed them) they can’t always send a detailed response right then on their phones. Their options then are either to call during the work day or else wait until they can pull out their laptops and have access to a VPN to send a detailed email – which usually means they can’t send the email for several hours, often after our close of business. Because the only thing worse than a phone call is a garbled email that is full of autocorrect errors or voice to text that makes zero sense. Or as other people have mentioned – answering only 1 of 3 questions, or answering questions like “A or B?” with “Yes”.

    I’m not a huge fan of the phone, but I’d much rather have the conversation than have to interpret garbled emails or worry that the rep is going to hurt himself or someone else trying to email while driving.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Outside sales is definitely a type who’d call instead of email. Returning calls in the car and between appointments is typical, so even if they could send an email in that particular moment, they don’t because calling is their main mode.

      Come to think of it, nearly all the non-spam phone calls I receive are from someone in a car! Both work and social.

  40. Lydia*

    I’m wondering if there are solutions for people like me who have phone anxiety. While I can usually manage my anxiety for a scheduled phone call, unscheduled phone calls rack up my anxiety and often go unanswered.

    Is it inappropriate to set a “please don’t call me unexpectedly” boundary in the workplace? Of course, I would be the most comfortable with not calling at all, but I understand that I need to accommodate other forms of communication.

    1. Close Bracket*

      I handled my phone anxiety by taking a job that required me to make a lot of phone calls.

      It is an overstep to expect other people to manage your anxiety for you. You have to figure out where the anxiety is–answering calls, placing calls, interacting on the phone whether you placed it or answered it, saying no to people–and take steps to learn to manage your anxiety.

      1. Lydia*

        I am working to manage my anxiety, including forcing myself to make and receive calls as well as seeking therapy.

        Interacting on the phone is always difficult for me, but it is easier if I can prepare. My main concern is that I will come across as unreliable if I am not regularly answering my phone, or if phone communication takes me longer since I have to mentally prepare myself prior to making a call. Typically, I feel more comfortable and communicate more effectively with some written notes, so a phone response might take a few minutes even at my least anxious.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I remember reading about phone anxiety here. It took me a while, but I remembered one of my early jobs that had a lot of phone work. My stomach would go into a knot. In my personal life I used the phone often. So it really wasn’t about using the phone. It was about sounding intelligent when I had no idea what to say to the person’s question.
        I made myself answer the phone. Those were some very long, long days. I would hunt down someone to tell me what to tell the person. The answer was at least five minutes long and I did not have pen/ paper. Oh those were some very long days.
        Baptism by fire? I never had that big an issue at any other place. The questions were less diverse and most of the time I understood the question even if I did not know the answer. Big differences in types of work.

        Only recently has my contempt for phones come back. Voice quality is so bad here, that I end up having to just hang up on calls several times a day. There’s also several times where I repeat back what the person just said. In both cases I feel bad for the other person.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      There are probably a few options that should work for you:
      1. Let the call go to voicemail, listen to it and gather your thoughts, return the call/set up a scheduled call (a friend of mine has her office phone set to DND at all times for this reason)
      2. In the email you send, add a line at the bottom “if you want to discuss in person or over the phone, I am available at X time today or would be happy to set up a call in the next few days”
      3. If you receive an email and know a call is inevitable, proactively schedule a face to face meeting/phone call with a little message like “realized I can’t answer this effectively over email so think a call is best but can’t do it right now and don’t want to lose track”

    3. KHB*

      I’ll sometimes tell people “If you want to talk about this on the phone, please just give me 5 minutes advance notice, so I can make sure I’m at my desk and not in the middle of something else.” I’m not sure that would work in every situation, but maybe you could try something like that?

      You could also indicate to people that you’d like to be the one to call them: “If you’d rather discuss this over the phone, what’s a good time for me to give you a call?” That probably won’t stop all the unscheduled phone calls, but it might stop some.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      You can, but you can’t call it “please don’t call me unexpectedly.” You can email and request to set up a time to call, but it needs to be more about “so I can set aside time for you” and less about “so I can emotionally prepare for your call.”

      1. Lydia*

        Of course! My comment was an imperfect phrasing to express my sentiments. I would probably say something along KHB’s above suggestion of “If you’d rather discuss this over the phone, what’s a good time for me to give you a call?”

    5. Cait*

      My anxiety is generally dismissed. I’d generally rather jump out a window than be on the phone. I’m interested in what would be considered reasonable accommodations (legally). I explain my issue to everyone but if they don’t struggle with anxiety or mental illness, they don’t get it.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Just be known for not picking up your phone when they schedule you without notice.

      Do you work around others who will see you not answering your phone? Turn down the ringer or turn it off. If anyone asks, say that you’re not available for sudden calls most of the time due to your other pressing obligations.

      We’ve trained ourselves to pick up the phone like we’re dogs hearing the meal-bell. Unless your company requires you answer the phone immediately, just don’t.

      I’m not a fan of the “sometimes people have disabilities, you should keep that in mind.” when fighting for one side and not the other. Anxiety is indeed a disability, not much different than having arthritis, so typing hurts or having hearing issues, so listening is difficult. You don’t tell a deaf person to just suck it up and find a way around things without requesting others do something to accommodate them. Anxiety is still one of those things people like to sweep under the rug and act like there are just easy life hacks that work for everyone.

      Sometimes the other answer is proper medication if necessary.

      I was able to break my phone anxiety on my own but I won’t act like everyone else can. I used to have to also walk in circles and have conversations with myself to speak to people in person as well. That was not a healthy work around needless to say. I’d physically get ill when all I had to do was say “Hey Phil, do you have a receipt for this purchase you made?” It’s crippling to many.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        I mean, I’m on proper medication and I still don’t handle phone calls very well. I can make them, now, but I usually have to scream into a pillow pre- and post- call to get the brain weasels to calm down.

      2. Matt*

        “We’ve trained ourselves to pick up the phone like we’re dogs hearing the meal-bell. ”

        This. 1000+

    7. Filosofickle*

      Honestly, in my experience it’s usually fine to simply not pick up phones when they ring. I do pick up if it’s someone hard to reach or a really important situation and I want to avoid the phone tag, but usually I let it ring. Then I call back after I’ve calmed down, or email back responding to their VM or requesting to schedule a call.

      A while back, there was a client kerfuffle and they were trying to reach me in a panic. We had no phone listed on our website or in our email footers. So they emailed me and I saw it and got back to them back right away, solving everything. They were shocked, even a little indignant, that we had no numbers listed. That’s because we didn’t want phone calls! We were a tiny company of 2 + me as a freelancer, operating on personal mobiles. There was barely an office, much less an office line. Shrug. That’s the only time in many years that came up.

      I grew up in a world of land lines and I never had phone anxiety then. I loved the phone! But over the years the phone ringing has started to freak me out. I’m okay being on the phone, it’s just the disruptive nature of ringing, and also text pings. Even from people I really like and want to talk to! I prefer email for almost everything.

  41. ASW*

    I generally let my phone calls go to voicemail unless it’s a number I know (internal calls come up on caller ID and I have a post-it with senior managers’ cell numbers next to my phone). 95% of the time, it’s a sales call or they don’t leave a message (so it’s probably a sales call). This has the added benefit of letting me decide when to return legitimate calls instead of being put on the spot with no warning. I often need time to digest and process the information they are giving me before I respond and I can’t do that very well on a phone call.

  42. Mrs. Wednesday*

    Part of this is generational, in that I expect the unexpected phone call. Taking a call out of the blue is no big deal for me because I was a young adult before answering machines were a thing. At home, we let the phone ring during dinner and times like that. So when I’m at work, I have no trouble letting a call go to voicemail. I get it – it’s different when you constantly have a phone with you, plus email, IM, text. It’s communication overload.

    But sometimes a short phone chat is just more efficient and not unlike someone stopping by my office with a question. Unless I’m otherwise engaged or on deadline, of course I’ll talk to you. It’s part of being at work.

    My preference is using email for stuff that it will be useful to have a record for. If someone emails me, I would likely follow their lead out of courtesy unless, as others have said, the email isn’t clear or I see nuances the sender doesn’t. My disability makes verbal conversation much easier than typing and obviously there are people whose disabilities are the opposite.

    I do NOT use email for criticism or discipline (unless I’ve tried to talk to someone and they’ve refused or I’m documenting a conversation), and am seriously committed to a no-snark-in-writing policy.

  43. Falling Diphthong*

    If I email someone, it’s because I don’t want to talk on the phone.

    This sounds like you don’t like talking on the phone, and so always default to email when there’s a smidgen of wiggle room. And other people don’t care that you don’t want to talk on the phone.

  44. Lee*

    “I’ll sometimes let the call go to voicemail, then email later with, “Got your voicemail. I’m in back-to-back meetings and will be hard to reach today — any chance email will work?”

    I have a few clients who love to chat when a quick email will get the job done so I do this allllll the time – its usually enough to get them to correspond via email if they know its either that or waiting for another day to talk on the phone.

  45. Kella*

    This reminds me of the time I emailed one of my instructors to schedule which Tuesdays he’d be teaching next month. I sent him a list of dates that were open. He said he’d talk to me in person that night.

    When he saw me that night, the first thing he said was, “So, which dates are open?”
    I said, “I don’t remember. It’s in the email I sent you.”

    1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

      Agh! That’s the worst! I work with a lot of people aren’t excited to do business by email because they’re in an old school mentality. I get it, change is hard…but some of these folks are like 30 years behind the trends.

      The worst is to send someone a set of plans via email, list all the things you need from them and the scope of work, then an hour later get a phone call and they’ll ask, “So…what do you want me to do?”

      IT’S IN THE EMAIL! I made a list for you! For the love of all things holy, just reeeeeeeead it!

  46. Cafe au Lait*

    I work at a remote part of campus. When I get emails, sometimes I’ll call you back just to say “hey,” and shoot the breeze because I’m unlikely to meet up with you in person. But we’re working on a project together and knowing what you sound like is important to me to know what type of voice you’re using in your email.

  47. CupcakeCounter*

    My policy is to call after the 3rd email if things aren’t progressing correctly.
    I’ve sent 3 emails and no response? I’m gonna call and if you don’t take it and its an option, I will most likely show up at your desk.
    3 emails back and forth and the questions still aren’t fully answered (usually because of skimming on one end so only 1 part of a 2-3 part question is addressed), time for a call.

    There are circumstances where I will call as soon as the email comes in but those are rare and usually because the email is either missing a LOT of information I need and/or there is a lot of nuisance and context that needs to be discussed or a very tight timeline. I usually reply to the email and let them know this will probably require a phone call and give my and ask for their availability (i.e. I’ve got some free time now if you are available or I’m running off to a meeting but could give you a call after lunch if that works on your end). In general I prefer email or IM so if I’m calling, there is usually a good reason for it. I actually get a little pissy when people respond to a call/voicemail with an email that barely touches on the things we need to discuss.

  48. WantonSeedStitch*

    My clients (all internal: they’re the front-line fundraisers at our nonprofit organization) tend to be the kind of people who either won’t read a long e-mail, or will skim it and miss things. Consequently, I know that if I have a lot of information to communicate or I want to make sure I get answers to a number of different questions, it’s best for me to call them or make a face-to-face meeting with them, even if they contacted me via e-mail. When I communicate with my own team (prospect research), I like using e-mail or IMs because our team are absolutely the kind of people who will thoroughly read things and digest them, and who like having things in writing to refer back to.

  49. DaisyJ*

    The worst for me is the person who I send an email to and then they WALK to my office from somewhere else in our massive building. I don’t really want the phone, but if its my choice of that or you walking in and being face to face, I guess I’ll take the phone call. Answering the email would be so much better!

    1. Aquawoman*

      See, I think the worst is when someone emails you and then calls you 30 seconds later to ask if you got the email.

      1. Donkey Hotey*

        Oh MY yes. That seems to be a thing at my new job. I once smiled at the person and said no, I hadn’t read their email “because the electrons were still catching their breath from their run down the stairs.” Got the point across.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      We have a sales rep who does this. Every single time we email about something, he shows up at our office.

      Granted, he’s literally always on the road and out doing rounds for his accounts. So his go to is to just show up. Nobody here has really caught on to that yet and so I always get people acting salty about “John from That Place is here…wtfffff.” “Yeah we had something happen, so I emailed him that it was an issue. So standard practice he shows up to confirm he received the email and is working on the solution.”

      Like the only response we need is “Damn. I’ll look into that, I’ll get answers and get back to you.” But nah, he “confirms receipt” in person. If I didn’t generally like the guy, he’s warmed on me, I’d be a lot saltier.

      1. DaisyJ*

        I’d be horrified if our outside sales team showed up at the office to reply to an email. Would just be so weird. So I guess maybe my annoyance at support staff should just be overlooked… :) :)

    3. Oh No She Di'int*

      Oh dear lord, I have a similar situation. It’s not a massive building, so the walk isn’t all that far. But still, she shows up at my door 5 or 6 times a day for the most pointless and needless “clarifications”.

      My email: “Please send a TPS report to Joe”
      Her, popping into my door 5 minutes later: Helloooo! So you want me to send a TPS report?
      Me: That’s right.
      Her: To Joe?
      Me: Yes, to Joe.
      Her: Ok. The current TPS form we’re using?
      Me: Yes, use the current form.
      Me (screaming in my mind): PLEASE just send a *&#$^ TPS report to Joe, like you do every frigging week!

      This. 5 or 6 times a day!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        The same person 5 or 6 times a day???? We’d have to have a chat. And I’d be privately wondering if this person was capable of doing their job.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Actually it might be a bit more. I downplayed it because I didn’t want to seem overindulgent. You are 100% correct, and we have that on our agenda to discuss for our next one-on-one.

  50. NodakH*

    Email is my default preference, but I also acknowledge that this format can lead to issues, misunderstandings, etc. It’s pretty easy to read an email in a tone that is different than what the author intended, and then assume they meant something they didn’t.

    I believe there’s huge value in hearing someone’s tone of voice over the phone – and having them hear me! Whenever I get the sense that there’s a disconnect or a miscommunication (and potential conflict) is looming I immediately pick up the phone.

  51. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I’ll just gently remark that sometimes the “preference” for email over phone call or vice versa can be a disability issue. We can refer back to discussions about video v audio calls to remember how people use different media or different senses to process information.

    Which is not to say that EVERYONE who prefers email has difficulty hearing, or that EVERYONE who prefers phone calls is dyslexic; just rather that if a particular person insists on a particular format it might end up being for your benefit as much as theirs. Unless I know you well and can take copious notes, there’s not much point our talking on the phone (and I’ll end up emailing later either way).

  52. Retirement's a Coming!*

    I have arthritis. Tapping away at a keyboard is increasingly causing enough pain in my hands I can’t sleep. Yes, I’ve seen my doctor and a specialist. If you want to hear back from me, answer your phone. You are welcome to try to designate a time, and I will try to arrange my schedule to accomodate you.

    1. Cardinal rules*

      I can’t process sound effectively without visual stimuli to contextualise it (I can hear it, just can’t make sense of it). You want to hear back from me? Answer my goddamm emails. I’m not answering the phone only to have to ask you to repeat yourself endlessly, get nowhere and have to resort to email anyway after an unproductive and pointless 20 minutes on the phone.

    2. Observer*

      Shrug, you both have a valid point. But it’s really not reasonable to expect people to KNOW that and just do things your way because YOU know that you have this problem.

      And you need to find a way to work around the times where your way doesn’t really work, or you’re shifting a lot of your work to someone else. And, with current technology, there are actually a lot of solutions that could work with your specific problems (both of you.)

      1. Cardinal rules*

        *shrugs in Gallic* There is no technical solution to my issue. I have tried everything the market offers, believe me! It doesn’t help. The only thing that could actually solve the problem is voice-to-text software hooked in to my phone feed, which is so slow and glitchy that it is entirely useless for real time communication such as phone calls. When we tried it, people got SO aggressive and rude at waiting for the software to process what they had said so I could read it that they refused to stop talking, so it became impossible and I had to end the calls. It was incredibly frustrating.

        After several months of trial and experimentation with the options available, my company agreed that the only reasonable accommodation for my disability was to communicate everything in person or by email. No phone calls. I no longer have a phone at my desk, and I am not listed in the phone directory. So that’s what we do. People like “Retirement’s a coming!” who refuse to co-operate with that? They can either email or they can do without my help, but they cannot force me to talk on the phone – and as I am in charge of some major processes and trainings, that is a lot of work for them to go around.

    3. lasslisa*

      I have RSIs that often cause the same problem. I’d like to suggest you also try voice recognition. I don’t have it on my computer yet (just haven’t gotten around to it) but I have it on my phone and it’s become indispensable. It’s made composing email nearly painless again.

  53. KP*

    I normally call in response to an email when someone has fundamentally misunderstood something important or if the email was sent with “high importance”. People are normally riled up in both situations and talking brings the anxiety down in a way that email usually doesn’t.

    Also, it’s quicker for me to call because it shortens the back-and-forth of the conversation. I can know immediately what you’ve misunderstood. OR, I can better understand the scope of what you need from me if you’ve got a “the entire world’s on fire!” problem

  54. ap*

    I prefer email to phone too in most cases, but yeah, this is a “get over yourself; your way is not the only way” letter to me.

    Fine to cut people off if they are chatty though.

  55. Oxford Comma*

    There are two reasons why sometimes I will call rather than respond via email:

    1. Answering you is going to mean a ton of back and forth and one phone call will clear it up
    2.. It’s a sensitive subject and I would rather not commit my thoughts to email

  56. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    If you send out 100 e-mails and are getting dozens and dozens of calls back, I have to say I think the e-mail wasn’t as clear as you intended, or you’re asking people to divulge sensitive or personal info.

    I usually respond to e-mail with e-mail, but if someone’s message is abstruse, or they’re fishing for personal info or something, they get a call.

  57. James*

    I do this. A lot. Often it’s because the other person thinks it’s an easy question, but given my information it’s a nightmarish quagmire of regulatory conflicts. This stuff isn’t easy to answer via email, and in a phone conversation I can answer questions more quickly. Often my information prompts new questions, and my answers to those prompt new ones, so our options are email back and forth for days, or have a half-hour phone call.

    And sometimes there’s the issue of committing things to writing. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean what you’re saying is wrong, unethical, or even questionable. Sometimes I’ll have very technical discussions with folks, and until we get a firm understanding of what our views are we don’t want to commit to anything, however tentatively. It’s psychological; once you write something down, you’re attached to it.

    But if you don’t like phone calls, do what my dad did: set aside a time to answer voicemails. Just because a phone rings doesn’t mean you’re obliged to pick it up.

    1. WorkingGirl*

      Yes! If you aren’t able to speak right now, either send it to voicemail or keep the phone on silent/DND.

  58. LogicalOne*

    People sometimes need an answer right away if it’s a time sensitive subject. Sometimes people are too lazy to respond to an email and just want to be told rather than type away and spend a generous portion of their day on an email. Perhaps the tone of the email comes across as confusing and they want clarification from a live person. Maybe there is too much to respond to which would take 20 minutes vs a few minutes with a call or if they are the type of person that asks too many questions or sometimes don’t understand things the first time, then a chain of emails could be time consuming. I get that.
    Then again, some companies save emails for many years on an outside server in case an HR thing comes up in the future like if an employee feels they were wrongfully terminated then the company can sift through many years’ worth of emails for evidence. At that point, possibly talking about something rather than emailing it would be a wiser choice. In case you don’t want something FOIA’d, better not put it in email. But if it’s something as mundane and quick, then why not.

  59. Steve*

    One thing I’ve noticed is it is easier to set a meeting time via phone. You get someone on the phone, ask them to open their calendar and ask if time #1 or #2 will work. They then suggest time #3. Maybe that works and if not ask for another time.

    While this sounds simple, it’s so much quicker to do over the phone rather than email.

  60. Delta Delta*

    I drive a lot for my work. I am sometimes able to see emails if I stop in a parking lot, or to get gas, or something like that. Then when I’m back on the road I’m able to call to respond to the inquiry. Not perfect, but legal and a way to be efficient with my time.

  61. Chronic Overthinker*

    Alos, slightly off-topic, but don’t just show up unannounced with no appointment. If you haven’t called/emailed to request an appointment, you’re most likely not going to see the individual you want to today.

  62. Erin*

    Ugh, I was hoping for a magic answer here, haha. Usually when this happens to me they start talking my ear off (I have to hear about their entire business) and they’re essentially wasting my time (I needed one detail on one event they’re hosting).

  63. Fenella Lorch*

    I served in the US Navy during the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell era. The Navy’s lawyers knew that DADT would one day be an explosive issue. Standing guidance to Navy flag officers and senior civilians was “If you are discussing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, pick up the damn phone.”

    Sure enough, in late 2014 the US Congress subpoenaed all of the records the services had referring to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Air Force turned over 30,000 pages. The Navy turned over four messages.

  64. Happy Pineapple*

    What’s even more annoying is the coworker who sends you an email and then almost immediately calls you to check that you received it. I had a coworker who would call you within 30 seconds, often less, of sending her email to say, “Have you gotten my email? …” and then essentially read it to me. It drove me NUTS. Either call me or email me, don’t do both and tell me the exact same thing.

  65. Not So Super-visor*

    I often advise employees to call on something urgent if they have not received an answer on something urgent and have waited an appropriate amount of time. That may also be because my company has 50+ offices and most emails for requests on things go to a distribution list (Example Chicago Teapot Sales distribution list might have 5 different employees on it). When a direct report comes to me and says “well I sent 2/3/4 emails but no one responded,” I always advise them to call the office if the matter is urgent.

  66. Jennifer*

    That email pop up “Can I call you?” sends a chill down my spine.

    But ultimately Alison is right. Sometimes you are going back and forth over email or messenger when a phone call could have cleared things up in 5 minutes.

  67. anony*

    I used to be a project manager for academic publications. A few times a week – mind you, I did this work for 10 years and dealt with hundreds of different authors per month – I’d get phone call responses to my emails.

    My emails would contain explicit instructions to review a set of article proofs and clearly list out changes in 1 of 3 different ways (numbered list, an electronic/scanned copy of hard copy markups, or a marked up PDF). I’d get calls a few times a week from people who interrupted my day and wanted to “talk through” their article changes and have me mark them up while they dictated long, revised sentences to me so I could “read back what they wrote” and they could think it through.

    It was constant. I got them so often I put a note in my proof notifications that said “I mark up hundreds of articles per week. Please do not call regarding your proofs, all corrections must be submitted electronically.” Yet they continued to come.

    Point of this pointless story is that a lot of people think they’re entitled to your time. (“A phone call is easier for ME, so screw YOU,” essentially.) If I email you, I expect an email response – and if you must talk something through, a slack message or quick email saying, “this would be easier over the phone, do you have a few min to talk today?” is the right way to do things. At least in my world. (Not in academic publishing anymore but still am a project manager and still don’t have time for unscheduled calls from people who don’t like emailing. Tough!)

    1. PLM*

      (“A phone call is easier for ME, so screw YOU,” essentially.) If I email you, I expect an email response” …Turning that around ,you’re kinda saying an email is easier for Me so screw You for preferring a quick phone call. A rather unbending attitude. I think there’s room in business communication for all kinds of ,you know – communication.
      I’ve dealt with people who want to send endless long involved emails that never seem to actually answer the question posed when a quick phone call could clear everything up quickly and efficiently. My time is better served by getting on the phone and getting an answer rather than slogging through someone’s endless emails.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        I understood anony’s comment to mean that she or he works in some sort of company or organization that is providing a service to these academic authors, probably an academic journal. These aren’t coworkers. They are authors; if any money is changing hands, it’s quite likely not coming from them, but from readers and university departments. So yes, they need to follow anony’s protocols and rules, whatever is easier for anony. Some of those instruction emails are long and they are tedious. But if you want your article published, that’s what you need to do.

      2. Zona the Great*

        I think it really depends on who needs the what from whom. You need a policy clarified and call me to ask about it? Nope, I need you to email me because policy is too intensive to research in my world and I don’t think I should have to be the one to take notes from the phone call.

        You email a person saying you need to know how to do X and they say they’ll need to walk you through it on the phone, you schedule a phone call.

      3. anony*

        PLM: you’re incorrect when you say there’s room in business communication for all kinds of communication. in certain situations, there’s no room for flexibility. when i was a project manager for a major publisher, responsible for project managing the content of (and account managing the editorial staff of) 28 academic journals, i didn’t have time to speak with authors on the phone when they wanted to do a collaborative, verbal developmental edit stage 3 days before publication. (if you’re not familiar with the writing and publishing process, a developmental edit comes before you even SUBMIT your content to a publication. it comes before peer review and acceptance. it comes before copyediting. it comes before proofreading. so when we’re doing a final proof signoff 3 days before publication, no… i would die on that hill and not accept phone calls where people wanted to rework their content over the phone with me – by dictating entire sections of content and expecting me to rewrite for them! accepting an author’s email with a numbered list or marked up PDF of minor final corrections and trafficking that to a typesetting vendor would take approximately 5 minutes per article, was fully compliant and on the record and aligned with the formal process i was required to follow at my publisher and on behalf of the academic societies i managed. I did dozens and dozens per day amongst my other responsibilities. accepting a phone call from an anthropologist or philosopher who’s rethinking the direction of their article and wants to bypass the editor in chief, peer reviewers, and established publication process and have me help them rework their content is not only inappropriate and unethical but a massive waste of my time as a project manager, and also not even remotely my job.

        you missed the point of my comment if you think that i’m unbending/inflexible and should take phone calls for things that have to be done over email.

        it’s all moot, i don’t do this work anymore. but your comment irritated me, and i have insomnia so here i am.

      4. Matt*

        The point is that those two preferences aren’t exactly commutative, as phone is much more “invasive” than email. The caller basically tries to force the recipient to drop everything and answer right now. The email writer essentially says: please answer at your convenience.

      5. SarahTheEntwife*

        I think that all other things being equal, the person who initiates the conversation gets to set the medium. I don’t like phones, but if someone calls me I’m not going to demand we switch to email unless it’s something requiring a lot of details I’ll need to remember later. But if I start the conversation by email, I’m annoyed when someone calls me instead (again, unless it’s something that needs a lot of back and forth that would be better suited to realtime communication).

    2. Oh No She Di'int*

      Oh boy . . . I’m sure I’ll step on some toes here, but the other thing about academic authors is they think everyone is their research assistant. I’m in a similar field, and we’re frequently asked to look up source material, verify quotes, etc. None of which is our job. YOU write your book. Don’t try to get me to write it!

  68. Database Developer Dude*

    I’m just annoyed because other people getting to have their preferences means I never get to have mine. Why do I always have to be the one to adapt? If someone’s email only, I have to use email only. If someone’s text only, I have to use that. If someone’s voice only, I have to use that. Why do I always wind up having to be the chameleon?

    1. It Me*

      I suspect many of us feel this way and it’s a dizzying conundrum to think about. I EVERYONE accommodated everyone’s preferences, how would the world work? lol I often feel like I’m always accommodating others and never being accommodated myself – but I’m also working on just letting this assumption go because ultimately it doesn’t really matter.

      1. Lucette Kensack*

        It’s also almost definitely not true. We just remember and dwell on the times when we were inconvenienced because they are more memorable than the times that we seamlessly moved through the world in the way we prefer. It’s why people with various privileges have a hard time seeing that they’ve been lifted up over and over again; the times other people accommodate us are basically invisible to us.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Seriously? You’re telling a black man in the workplace who is NOT in management to check his privilege? *smdh*…. I don’t even know what my preferred method is because I -always- have to communicate in the preferred way of everyone else, regardless of the work situation. I’ve not had time to develop my own preferences. Go away.

          1. Lucette Kensack*

            I didn’t ask you to check your privilege, but re-reading my comment I can see how I blurred two ideas:

            1) It feels like we are inconvenienced more often than we do the inconveniencing because being inconvenienced is simply more memorable (and being accommodated is invisible.)

            2) This is a similar mechanism to how privilege is invisible to those who have it.

            I did not mean to suggest anything about your relative privilege at work (because of course I don’t know anything about you) or conflate the question of whose communication style is accommodated with the larger question of how privilege works on our lives (although certainly privileged people — for example, folks higher up in a hierarchy — are more likely to have their communication styles accommodated.)

          2. Sleve McDichael*

            So that sounds like you may actually be pretty flexible with your communication style. Its not unusual to not have a preference, you just mostly don’t hear flexible people talking about it. For the people with preferences, they are usually strong and innate. I haven’t liked speaking on the phone since childhood, I used to HATE when my Aunties and Uncles called on my birthday. My nephew on the other hand has been trying to join in phone calls since almost before he could talk. A dislike of phone calls can ramp up to almost fear in some people, so be glad you don’t have it!

            With regard to accommodating communication styles, we all have to accommodate those above us and those we want favours from. If you’re new to the workplace, know it doesn’t last forever. If you’re more senior and this bothers you then you can start being more assertive with your preferences if you choose to settle on something. You CAN call a subordinate or a colleague back if they emailed you (or vice versa). When you change your behaviour you will slowly lose a slight air of ‘DDD is always flexible, I appreciate that.’ but maybe that’s not really valuable to you, in which case, go for it!

            It’s not worth stewing over, because either you’re the most junior on your team and in the same position as junior people everywhere, or you’re not, in which case you have the power to email people back too. Let calls go to voicemail and email the person. Don’t give in after the first return call. Be pushy. (Note that you loose teeny tiny amounts of capital every time you do, but those other people are loosing capital with you, so it’s calculus that every person has to do for themselves. It’s up to you. But be aware that choosing the path of least resistance is still a choice.)

          3. Ego Chamber*

            It’s rude to tell someone to go away when you’re posting on a site you neither own nor moderate. This isn’t your space. You don’t get to make the rules (which Lucette Kensack was following btw).

      2. Oh So Anon*

        Well, I just go through life assuming that my desire to be accommodated is entitled, whereas other peoples’ desires for their preferences to be met are a-ok. Works for me!

    2. Valprehension*

      Do you really think that there’s no one out there responding to your communications in your preferred mode even when it’s not theirs? I think the problem is that when someone is accommodating your preference (by responding to your message in kind), it’s invisible to you, whereas when they switch medium for according to their preference, that’s blatantly obvious.

      Also, sometimes it might actually make sense for you to change a conversation from their mode to yours – when there’s an objective reason to do so, by all means do it!

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        My preferred mode depends on the reason for the communication. If I’m calling a family member to chat? CALL me back, don’t email me, because I’m trying to be sociable. If I’m (as the Secretary) emailing the Treasurer for Lodge business and asking specific questions? Email me back with the information I’m seeking, I’m trying to conduct business, not be sociable.

        1. Valprehension*

          Ok, but my point is it’s very unlikely that everyone is always using their preferred mode when communicating with you – it’s much more likely you just don’t notice when you’re being accommodated.

        2. KitBee*

          It seems that you prefer to use phone for social interactions and email for business interactions, which is reasonable but not a universal norm. It could help to make your preference more explicit in your communications. For example, in your email to the lodge treasurer, you could say, “Please reply to this email at your convenience with the answers to X, Y, and Z.” Or when you leave a voicemail with your family member, you could say, “Just calling to catch up; call me back when you have time to chat!” It may not work all the time, but I’d guess that at least some people will pick up on those cues and respond in your preferred medium.

    3. Nonnie*

      If you get a response in your preferred way, though, do you see it as someone accommodating you or just the two of you having a “normal” interaction?

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        As stated above, getting a response in my preferred way depends on the reason for the comms in the first place, and it never happens.

        1. Not Me*

          Seems like you’re trying to play the martyr here. If no one ever responds to your communications in kind (call back with a call, email in response to an email, etc.) then it’s almost certainly your communication style and not that everyone one else in your life is getting their way and you have to adapt. More likely, as Valprehension said you just don’t realize it when someone else adapts to you.

          1. ProductionGirl*

            I feel like I can relate, in the sense that if I am not using someone else’s preferred medium, I don’t receive an answer AT ALL. Those people drive me crazy. LOL

            1. Not Me*

              I’m sorry, I just don’t believe for a minute that either no one ever responds to your emails with an email or your calls with a call. I think it probably happens a lot, but the times it doesn’t happen stand out more because they annoy you.

        2. Ele4phant*

          Really. *Every* time you email someone for a work reason they always call you back?

          And whenever you call someone and leave them a message, they always email you?

          And it’s all people all the time? This is very hard to believe. It would be hard to believe if it was just a couple obstinate people doing this, but you’re telling me all people from your professional and personal life always choose to respond to you in a different mode than you originally approached them in?

          It’s more likely to believe that most of the time you don’t notice how people are responding to you or if it’s their preference, because from your end it’s all working flawlessly.

          Only when they don’t do you notice.

          1. uncivil servant*

            This actually seems like a pretty easy fix. Want an email? Write an email, call the person and read it. Want a phone call? Send an email. If it’s not that simple, then they are getting their way sometimes.

    4. hbc*

      You get to keep your preference when you’re the one who has information the other person wants, and/or you can affect that person’s employment or otherwise have power. Not that anyone should be wielding that power ruthlessly, it’s just…if your boss prefers to send a dozen texts rather than an email, you’re going to have to be really persuasive or resign yourself to a text marathon.

        1. RagingADHD*

          I’m really curious as to what the alternatives are to a) persuade the boss to do things your way or b) put up with it.

          Do you manage to somehow strongarm or threaten bosses into doing things your way? Just stop communicating with the boss at all? Both of those seem problematic for keeping a job.

          I suppose it could be c) endure it with constant and increasing frustration. But that also seems problematic for your stress level.

    5. Friday Nights*

      Because you’re effective and adaptable. That makes you more productive than if you were rigid.

      No – seriously, that’s the answer.

      If Phil is “phone only”, Phil will only be able to work with people who are also phone only. If Phil highly valuable in other ways, people will go out of the way to contact Phil by phone, but Phil will not be able to interact at all with people like Emma who is “e-mail only”. Similarly Emma can’t work with Phil, even if it’s needed. If Phil isn’t super valuable in other, unique, ways, then people will avoid working with Phil, and Phil won’t be able to work with super valuable people like Emma. Chris (who is a ‘chameleon’) can pick the best asset to fill the need every time.

      1. Eeeek*

        Most jobs just involved both. I’ve never heard of the idea of phone or email only, you would be laughed out of my office if you expressed one of those preferences and that includes directors and VP’s. Lol. Oh I’m “email only” is that a joke?

    6. AnotherAlison*

      Honestly, I’m just ecstatic if I can figure out someone’s preferred way of communication so that I can get a response. My manager is spotty on replying to any and all communications. I prefer email, but what I really prefer is getting a response. Different methods work better for different things, so I’m a chameleon by my own doing.

      1. Jdc*

        I guess I figure it’s my dang job to take the call. I prefer to not be working at all and to be on a beach but I am paid to take that call, not have my preferences catered to.

    7. Myrin*

      I mean, unless you’re an extreme kind of pushover who never voices so much as a single opinion on this matter, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll actually end up in the scenario you’re describing. It will probably end up naturally being a pretty even give-and-take.

      1. Lissa*

        Yeah, I always wonder when people claim they are “never” accommodated, especially because so many people say this – if it’s a few people I totally get it but everyone assumes they have a special or unique characteristic which means they are somehow eliciting the reaction. I mean, either there IS a reason why, or it’s just a massive coincidence. Unless it’s a literally everyone sucks but you thing…which again seems statistically unlikely.

    8. Amethystmoon*

      I feel like that too and I’m a support person. If we don’t adapt to their ways, then it gets put in our reviews and such, so we’re essentially forced to. I have a boss who doesn’t seem to like electronic communication, but works in another building (yeah I know, it’s weird). So he will often call rather than text. I guess some people are against reading and typing? I don’t know.

      1. aebhel*

        Yep–I’d prefer not to deal with most things via phone call, both because I don’t really like talking on the phone and (more importantly in a business context) I have a really lousy memory for details, but it’s my experience that while some people have very strong preferences, *most* people will respond in the same medium unless there’s some reason not to.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          My biggest problem with voice (phone or in-person) is my memory. If you tell me to do something, unless it gets written down, it may not be remembered. If you want all your dealing with me to be voice, realize that I may miss details if I don’t write them down, like when you stop me in the hallway.

          Sorry, not sorry.

          I have stood there, in the hallway, with my lunch in my hand, and asked a person to drop me an email with the details of what they wanted. They answered “Oh, just remember it, it’s not that hard.” I had nothing to write with or on. I had to explain that I literally can’t guarantee to remember it for five minutes while I walk back to my desk with my lunch because of brain damage. I had to have the same conversation about not remembering random stuff thrown at me when away from my desk multiple times. (I don’t work there any more, fortunately.) It was a very un-fun way to have to point out the non-visible parts of my disability.

          1. Cobol*

            One of the greatest things about being more senior (in my career, not age) is the juice to be able to say if you don’t email it to me I won’t remember it.

    9. Annony*

      Efficiency. If you actually care about missing people trying to contact you or absolutely need the information from them, it is far easier to adapt to how they want to be communicated with. In order to insist on only one form of communication you need to either not care that you will miss some communication or you have to be high enough up that you are sure everyone will conform to what you are asking.

    10. Quickbeam*

      I feel you! I hate IMing from my desk top and prefer e-mail for substantial conversations. I’ve lost that battle. Just hoping I retire before the next new thing arises.

    11. Rorybird*

      Well that’s true, but if I send an email I feel like-pending unusual circumstances-the etiquette is to email back

    12. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      I know, right? I usually prefer email. You would not believe how many people act all superior and condescending for preferring the phone, as if preferring email is a character flaw. I agree that in some cases, phone is best, but it’s okay to prefer email. And why do we always have to bend to someone else’s preference?

    13. RagingADHD*

      You can always even the score by emailing people back when they leave you a voicemail. If it makes you feel better.

  69. Observer*

    General rule of thumb, when you are getting this many request for call back, it’s a sign that either the culture is VERY phone heavy or – and this is far more likely – your emails are not as clear as you think and / or they cannot be answered as easily as you think via email.

    1. Allypopx*

      Yeah I work with a large volunteer corps that trends older, and a lot of people definitely prefer phone calls…but if I email for the most part they get the hint and email back (not that I always disregard their preferences – my time budget just does not allow me to chat on the phone with 200 people a day).

      If you’re getting a ton of calls, they’re likely for clarification of some sort.

    2. Antilles*

      Agreed. If this is really a regular enough occurrence to annoy you, odds are that you’re using email for stuff that should have been a phone call to begin with.

  70. Leela*

    I am having a very challenging experience at my current job where I e-mail someone a question about why my staff isn’t getting paid properly, and the person in charge of that calls me and says one thing. I pass that on. Later it turns out nothing got fixed and the person in charge of it says the opposite of what she says the first time and claimed that she’d never said the first thing and that I must have misunderstood (this has been an ongoing issue). She has flatly refused many times to respond to me via e-mail which is leaving me holding the bag to employees and she’s been spoken to many times by her manager but she won’t listen and her manager has a very throw-up-my-hands-well-i-tried mentality.

    The best I’ve been able to do is to follow up our phone calls with my hastily scribbled notes trying to make sense of what she’s even talking about because she’s a very indirect communicator with a language barrier and CC her saying “Just for later reference, here’s what we decided” but of course again, if she goes back on what she said she just claims that I misunderstood and she’d said something else, and she will never, ever, respond to or confirm my follow up e-mails.

    I agree with you OP, maybe sending follow-ups is a good way to go here but that depends on the culture and individuals at your workplace. Frankly I find that most places are too siloed off and understaffed for phone calls to be effective because people just ramble off whatever answer they can as quickly as possible to get me away so they can get back to their huge mound of work that usually has nothing to do with me.

    1. Observer*

      In your case, explicitly state that unless you hear otherwise, this is what you are going with.

      And kick this upstairs to her Boss’ boss.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, time to bring in more people to this party. Especially since the problem is people’s pay.

  71. PLM*

    I find emailing back and forth can get annoyingly time consuming when a quick phone call can clear up any questions quickly and efficiently.

  72. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    Ugh! Boss level of this: responding to a Skype/Lync message with an in-person visit as they “thought it would be easier to talk this way”.

    It isn’t easier for me, dumbass, as you have just interrupted me on a deadline! But yeah, let’s talk…

  73. LP*

    I also prefer email only, but after a few emails were taken to have a tone which I did not intend at a new job where people didn’t know me well, I was advised to begin calling so the recipient could hear my intonation and better understand my meaning. It’s really cut down on the frustration of being misunderstood or assumptions being made about my “real meaning” when my real meaning was exactly what I wrote! And now that I’ve been at my new job for over a year and people know me better, I can send more emails and people read it in my voice because they know me.

  74. Antilles*

    I always find this talk of preferences odd, because to me, they’re all just different tools with different purposes. Barring specific physical limitations (either health or geographic), it just seems like one of those “use the right tool for the job” kind of things, the same way that you should be using a ladder rather than improvising with a stack of cardboard boxes.
    Email, phone calls, text/Slack messages, in-person meetings, team-wide conference calls, etc are all different communication mediums. Each one has benefits and each one has drawbacks. The method of communication should be dictated primarily based on what’s most appropriate for the task at hand; not personal preference.

    1. Allypopx*

      What’s most appropriate can be subjective though. Those with a preference for email typically (not always, but typically) feel they communicate more clearly in writing. As Alison points out, there’s always the benefit of having a written record. It can be faster, it can be easier to multitask. Those things may be most advantageous just from a preference based point of view, or they can be most advantageous from the point of view of the sender but not the reciever, or one side could simply be wrong about what’s most efficient but spending time arguing about it would compound that inefficiency. It’s not as simple as sorting things into buckets.

  75. Argh!*

    When I can see that the email is unanswerable without a bunch of back-and-forth I will call or come to someone’s office rather than play email tag. You may think you were clear, but you aren’t the one who decides whether you were clear – the reader is.

    1. Matt*

      I’d dissagree with that. Many times have co-workers come to me claiming to not have “understood” my email when they haven’t actually read it. I’m not talking instructions or processes that can be interpreted, i’m talking clear data such as dates/times/file locations, etc… that I have laid out very specifically and as clearly as possible.

      My usual response is “that info was in the email I sent you.” and they usally get the point right away not to interrupt me for that stuff again.

  76. Zona the Great*

    I have a person in my down-line (for lack of a better term) who is long-winded, uses bizzare cliches that take up too much time, repeats herself, and uses 5-minute hypothetical scenarios to ask a very straight-forward (to most people) question. She also only leaves voicemails that say, “have a question please call me back”. No–make it easier for me to help you by telling me how I can help you.

    I now never pick up the phone when she calls. She’ll always say it’s too much to write it all out but what happens is the responsibility to record the questions and information becomes mine while I frantically work to write down all the things she said in very unclear terms. Yet the problem needing to be solved is hers.

    So there’s two evils here. The evil of breaking all phone etiquette rules. And the evil of never, ever, ever picking up the phone. But here we are.

  77. RobotWithHumanHair*

    My old boss was notorious for this. What made it more aggravating was that he would receive the email, but then call me without even having READ the email. Not even a cursory skim of the email to see what the subject matter was. It was such a waste emailing him, but I did it to have a paper trail of goings-on…at least on my end.

  78. I'm just here for the cats*

    Recently had the opposite happen. My mom and I are guardians over a mentally handicapped family member, who does not live with us. There was some paperwork that needed to be complete and we had questions. My mom had called the social worker and left a voicemail. Instead of calling back she sent an email which really didn’t help because we still had questions.

  79. learnedthehardway*

    I will sometimes respond to an email with a phone call, if the issue is complicated enough that I don’t want to write out several potential answers, based on information that is missing in the email.

    Sometimes, I’ll also call when I want to say something that I REALLY do not want copied / forwarded to anyone else.

    And then again, sometimes I will email in response to a phone call, if it’s an easy answer and I know the conversation will take longer, or if I REALLY want my answer to be in black and white, where it’s not subject to misinterpretation. And then, there are the times I when I really don’t want to talk to someone at all, so will email as a way to give them an answer but not have to discuss anything further.

  80. Stormy Weather*

    In one of my consulting jobs, consultants did not get phone numbers assigned to the per company policy. I could make calls out, but I tried to avoid it because people could not get to me by phone. I had to explain that multiple times.

    Some got very huffy with me, but they still didn’t get my personal phone number.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I think this is increasingly common, with the hot desk / WeWork model: many employees simply don’t have a phone where they sit. Good luck ringing my spouse during the work day. They do all informal conversations by Slack.

  81. Anon Legal Concerns*

    I have worked at a company where we were told never to discuss certain items in email without putting a company attorney on the To: line and noting the email as privileged. Alternatively, we could do a call–that was fine. Be sensitive to the possibility that your correspondent may not be able to write certain things in email.

  82. FiveWheels*

    My preference is usually email, not least so there’s a record of everything.

    My former boss’ preference was to always phone.

    He would insist I call people when an email would be easier (eg “please see sketch map attached – can you amend the boundaries on the formal map and send it back to me?”), no matter how many times I explained that certain clients and certain topics preferred email, he would insist that I was wrong and that phone was better.

    We had one client who appeared to have a phone phobia. They all hated phone calls, used email for everything, never picked up, and replied to voicemails by email.

    Instead of realizing that hey, some people preferred emails as strongly as he preferred email, my boss just insisted the client was wrong. SMH.

    1. Allypopx*

      Right…but part of being in client facing roles is picking your battles, and sometimes when the client is wrong you just roll with it….

      That sounds super frustrating I’m sorry.

      1. FiveWheels*

        Exactly! Just like I have to suck it up sometimes and phone people who I know won’t respond to things that are easier by email, oldboss should have been able to say “these people won’t take calls, but they’re paying me so I might as well communicate the way they want me to.”

        There were other issues in that job – I wanted an email trail to cover myself, and oldboss never took notes of phone calls yet expected me to work on his files. So he’d tell me what he remembered of a call some time after it was made, but there was no evidence of it, and his description of the conversation was often very different from the other party’s.

        There were a lot of issues there, ha.

  83. Kdt*

    Simple, if I see the conversation being complicated with a lot of required nuance, I’ll send an email back replying let’s schedule a meeting.

  84. LDN Layabout*

    My current reason for responding with a (skype) call instead of an email is because I work in data and there’s a lot of people who use what we do who will just go ‘I couldn’t download it, send it to me’ and I refuse to.

    (It’s a waste of our time and, let alone giving permission, our director’s basically told us never to send it directly if we can access it via the dashboard, aka there are no system issues)

  85. Ex Lawyer/current therapist*

    As someone who used to bill in 1/10 of an hour, I often made phone calls to eliminate a back and forth that would have resulted in multiple billings for what could easily be handled in a shorter phone call. As a therapist and a lawyer, I am also very conscious of what can and should be put in an email. Often this results in a summary email after a phone call, but I also try and be careful of what I put in writing.

  86. PNW Jenn*

    I’m brand new in my job and have been picking up the phone as a way to get to know my new colleagues. Yeah, an email would be more expedient but it’s nice to hear someone’s voice sometimes.

    1. Ciara*

      Oh nooooo, don’t do that. If the email is more expedient, use it! Otherwise what you are teaching your new colleagues is that you don’t know when an email is appropriate, and that is not a good look!

  87. Rorybird*

    Hey…OP here! Gonna take time to read through all these comments but Alison’s initial thoughts were great. I truly just hate taking in the phone… it’s probably the small talk I hate most. But if I have a preference other people are allowed to too!

  88. Asenath*

    I’ve no particular objection to using phones, but by far my favourite method of contact is email. This is undoubtedly because I spent so many years in a job when I really needed a written record of every request I got and every one of my responses. And I put notes on a spreadsheet for more rapid reference. Naturally, many of these requests went quite smoothly, but for the ones that didn’t, my records saved my skin more than once when there was some screw up discovered months down the road. The best methods of communication depend a LOT on the job you’re doing. My phone rarely rang, I refused to give out my number for texting, and that suited me just fine. I didn’t get complaints from most others, who had as much interest in having a clear understanding of what was agreed as I did. There were, of course, the ones I had to adjust my method to – one used only phone and another phone and fax (yes, fax), but those few I could work around.

  89. Curmudgeon in California*

    I hate it when someone’s response to an email is “Oh, we don’t do that over email, I need you to call me.”

    Seriously, phone lover, I wanted to waste business hours chasing you down on the phone, I would have started with the phone. Now I have to play phone tag to have a simple request done. I realize that it’s just your way to excuse billing me at lawyer rate for five hours on a thirty minute paralegal task, but my time has value too. (Seriously, a law firm handling my mom’s mortgage charged me $500 for a statement and a total due, which was just a spreadsheet printout and a boilerplate letter. The person I talked to was not a lawyer, but an admin or a paralegal.)

  90. Retail not Retail*

    We use radios and sometimes a person will say “are you near a phone?” or “call me on my cell phone” because the conversation is too private or complicated or you’re in too noisy a spot for the radio to work right.

    My work enemy of course just calls our supervisor or manager behind our backs so no one hears because he doesn’t trust us.

  91. Dream Jobbed*

    I can’t type. If it’s going to be a long answer, unless I need it to be documented, you’re going to get a phone call.

    1. Clara*

      I can’t process verbal information over the phone. If you want any sort of coherent input from me, you are going to have to email me. There are voice-to-text options you can use if typing is impossible. There are no equivalent services that can make a phone call comprehensible to me in real time.

  92. Jedi Squirrel*

    I have to press eight million buttons to access your voice mail, and then you spoke so quickly I have to listen to it a dozen times just to make sure I have your information correct.

    Just email me, dammit!

  93. James*

    I’ve encountered a number of folks who want to call to avoid putting things in writing. In my line of work, though, eventually SOMEONE has to end up holding the bag. I’m more than happy to do so when it’s my responsibility, and in fact have a bad habit of taking on more responsibility than I’m supposed to, but am not allowed to (legally, per company policy, or per my role on a project) in some cases. Thus my favorite email in response to a phone call: Email all relevant staff on the team (often much larger than the group on the call) to the effect of: “Per my conversation with Jerry on February 24, we will be moving forward with X, Y, and Z. Jerry, please let me know if you have any additional information or if I’ve misunderstood anything. Thanks!”

    It’s professional, it’s within the standard practices of my profession, it establishes a written documentation of the conversation, and it lets Jerry know that I’m not going to be his liability shield. A very useful tool when working with sub-par subcontractors.

  94. small clean rat*

    If your email is angry, rude, aggressive, or scolding, I will continue the conversation via phone or face to face. If you want to express any of those, you don’t get to make yourself feel better by drive-by rudeness hiding behind email.

  95. Chaordic One*

    It’s been my experience that usually the people who call on the phone tend to be “extroverts” and they don’t write very well or express themselves well in writing.

  96. shinychariot*

    I have a boss who will call me to read a spreadsheet out to him line by line. I’d prefer an email any day.

  97. Perbie*

    For me at least, i do it when an email chain is getting long and confusing and just talking to someone will be way faster

  98. agnes*

    One phone call often replaces dozens of back and forth emails. It’s part of how business gets done. There are some things that you just cannot sort out easily with email. Are you trying to do that? our team has a rule that if we need to email back and forth about something more than twice, then we need a phone call.

  99. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    While I also prefer email to a phone call, 10 back and forth emails is way more annoying to me than 1 phone call. Just because you think your email is easily understood or only requires a quick response doesn’t mean it’s clear to others. And tone can not be conveyed through email (or if attempted it’s generally misunderstood).

  100. Turtlewings*

    I have one coworker who frequently *walks to my office from another building* to answer my emails in person. It makes me crazy but alas, she cannot be stopped.

  101. Sue*

    And if you want the answer in writing for documentation purposes & they call you back, email them after your conversation, and write “Just to confirm/clarify our discussion about… here is what is happening. Please let me know if this is correct.” I will usually get an email confirming it. I have worked in the past with people whose first language is not English & with Deaf staff, and sometimes there are misunderstandings, so this help to clarify things also.

  102. Impska*

    I hate the assumption that just because I’m emailing you, that automatically means I nothing but time to talk to you right this minute. In actuality, my schedule is highly regimented and this is my scheduled email time. When you decide to interrupt me with a phone call, you’re making it so that I can’t complete my scheduled task. If you require a phone call, call my secretary and schedule one. Also, I work in an industry where I generally need my client’s answer in writing. I don’t have time to listen to them tell me their answer, then compose an email about their answer and ask them to confirm that it is, in fact, their answer.

    As it turns out, the phone number in my email signature is really my secretary’s phone so people can’t get me on the phone. They still try. They will tell him that I’m expecting their call, that I asked them to call, that we’re having an ongoing conversation right this minute. They also like to refuse to let him write down their answer or get them additional information, even though he’s perfectly capable, because they only want the boss.

    It’s annoying.

  103. Librarianator*

    I have ADHD and email is one of the things I will put off *forever* it’s just my kryptonite. So sometimes I’ll call to get the task finished rather than not answer because I can’t get over the procrastination hump.

  104. BlondeSpiders*

    Ugh. I loathe talking on the phone, but I recognize that sometimes it’s necessary to get a quick answer. And that’s how I use it.
    In my position, I use a shared mailbox with 2 others. I need a record of the information so my team knows what’s going on! At least once a day I’ll overhear someone on my team say, “Can you send this in an email? I need to make sure the info is accessible for the entire team.”

  105. G*

    I think if the response to someone’s email requires a long long long response, it’s better done over the phone. In my experience, people don’t have the attention span to read a long email. So a phone call is easier.

    Also, think paper trail. Some things you don’t want on paper. Email is forever. Even if it’s deleted, it can still be found and can haunt you later. I have phone anxiety as well, but something things just shouldn’t be written down, and some things are best discussed either on the phone or in person.

    1. Matt*

      Opposite for me – I often don’t have the attention span to follow a long call, at some point I don’t remember anymore what was talked about ten minutes ago. If I have it in reading, I can go back and re-read things as needed.

      The problem for me as an email person is: if it’s phone vs. email person, the phone person usually “wins” – since they are the ones who call (and we are the ones who are supposed to pick up), and the medium change from email to phone (calling in response to an email) is much more accepted than the opposite one (emailing in response to a call).

  106. Catz*

    This can be a little tricky for me, as I work in admin for a government office, so there’s a LOT of communication going on all the time. However, I’m Deaf, so I’m not able to accept phone calls in response to emails or other means of “non-verbal” contact (other than face to face discussions), so with HR’s approval, I stated in the employee directory to contact me via email, Skype or Team only and added this in my automatic signature at the end of emails.
    For the first year or so, reception would get calls for me, but now 5 years in, I don’t get them any longer unless there’s a newbie in the branch offices.

  107. slayerofvampyres*

    I rarely respond to an email with a phone call, but when I do I always explain it’s because the issue is easier to explain over the phone…otherwise there’s a lot of back and forth and wasting time.

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