Communication
March 6, 2013

Rethinking the humble telephone

For the past month, I’ve been thinking about the humble telephone.

The Harvard Business Review prompted this reflection. Dan Pallotta’s article Just Call Someone Already proposes that too often emailing is used to dodge conflict; he advocates using the good ol’ fashioned phone instead.  

Emailing does have its benefits. It’s good for messaging multiple people and for getting on the record, but it doesn’t prompt confrontation or a sense of connection. By contrast, it’s the spontaneous telephone call that gets work done quickly and with personal panache and candour. It might be anachronistic to say that the phone is a “technological marvel,” but Pallotta argues that just picking up the phone solves a lot of miscommunication issues.

Yes, it does. But, phone calls really fall in the middle of a range of communication methods. Talking face to face gives the most information, while emailing is the quickest.  Pallotta didn’t write his article about face to face interactions, though. He wrote about telephones because, despite their age, they are still the most convenient way to talk at work without losing too much of the human element.

Phone calls still represents a compromise, though. The richness of face to face interaction is sacrificed as the price of doing modern business. In an almost poetic moment, Pallotta thinks of the unannounced drop-in for coffee with nostalgia. The “great conversations” that spontaneity inspires are now nonexistent in business, which takes its toll on “creative thought.”

Are more telephone calls the answer?

In the public sector, how much do phone calls, emails, and other methods of communication really influence how people interact?  How often do public sector leaders remember that all communication methods have compromises and failings? And, how on earth is a phone call supposed to be the great solution when your other party is always “in a meeting?”

Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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