Should I Call, Email, or Ping? A Guide

I’ve spent 10 years in consulting and here’s my dead simple guide for whether you should email, call, ping or tweet (don’t) with your client or coworker

*Ping*, *Ping*, *Ring*, *Click*, *Swoosh*, *Hey!*

Every office worker knows the daily barrage of Pings, Rings and Heys as information flits to-and-fro between you and people near-and-far. During days with a full calendar I’ve found myself using the communication method that’s in front of me rather than the one that’s the best for the situation. This has so often created more work for me!

Psst, if you’re busy, I get it. There’s a visual cheat sheet at the bottom ⬇️

When I’m not at the water cooler, I’m putting out fires. And, after a few years working remotely it’s only become more apparent how important it is to have a communication strategy. There it is again, communication, that general term with a mushy definition that’s the secret to all marriages (and professional relationships). Sometimes known as “soft skills,” communication is something we really don’t think about getting better at unless we’re on high school debate team or in Twitter jail. Bottom line is, a few spare seconds determining how we communicate something can save us from future days spent cleaning up the fall out of those poor communications gone nuclear (at worst) or misunderstood (at best).

I’ve spent 10 years in consulting and here’s my dead simple guide for whether you should email, call, ping or tweet (don’t) with your client or coworker.

Speaking of tweeting, let’s focus on the 4 most common methods of communication in the work place. (Snail mail just missed the cut 🐌 ).

  • Email
  • Phone Call
  • Instant Message (e.g. Slack, Teams, SMS messaging, AIM, etc.)
  • Face-to-Face (e.g. in-person or video chat)

Systems are only useful if they’re used. For that reason, and after much ballyhooing, I’ve boiled the variables driving which method to choose to just 2.

Is it urgent? 🤝 Is it important?

Let’s Break it Down

Urgent + Important = Phone Call 📞

If something is on fire, pick up the phone.

The phone is great when you run into a show-stopper, or identify something that will imminently result in a work-stop (or other catastrophe) if left unaddressed. Most commonly these take the form of information you have to share rather than information you need to request. Surprises fall into this category — if you have something to share that’s going to cause a huge swing in someone’s expectations it’s best for a phone call.

Urgent + Not Important = Instant Message 💬

If you need to call Andy and don’t have his number at hand, ping Bobby for it.

Sometimes you just need to know something now. You could be on the phone with a client and have a question for someone not on the call — you both have busy calendars, respect that person’s time and secure the info in a quick ping to your colleague (and re-consider the audience for the next meeting). Anyone who’s used Microsoft Teams or Slack can tell you that the sheer amount of notifications will drain the soul from your body if you let it. For that reason some people ignore pings. Save the important stuff for other methods. Keep instant messages to the unimportant.

Not Urgent + Important = Face-to-Face 👋

If you’re delivering a performance evaluation, do it over video chat.

Scheduled meetings most commonly fall here. Status meetings, team meetings, or scrums are commonly scheduled because they’re important and not particularly urgent. People are busy. Requests or meet ups that need space and time to manifest are often scheduled when people become available. These type of engagements (particularly if recurring) are great for addressing current or looming roadblocks (work-stops and risks, respectively), and expectation setting. If things are going great today, but you are seeing early signs of problems in the future (certain or uncertain), raise the yellow flag and get time on your manager’s calendar and make it known.

Not Urgent + Not Important = Email 📧

If you have a status to communicate, email it.

Emails are great for exchanging communications where you do not need an immediate response. They signal to others a message, but not a need for an immediate response. While everyone would like to be on top of their inboxes, often people are not. If someone isn’t getting back to you have a day or two feel free to bump them with a reminder email or if it’s becoming more urgent and/or more important consider one of the other methods. Email’s the best place to send Will Smith & Chris Rock memes, just don’t expect a response. Speaking on behalf of all email readers, keep it short. No one has time to read a novel and if it looks like a novel odds are that details will go missed.

Exceptions (Because Of Course There Are Exceptions)

Obviously you can call someone and shoot the sh*t. Of course you can drop critical information into an email. Often email is a useful tool to prime the receivers’ expectations for something you’re going to talk about next time you’re on the phone together. Sometimes important things start as pings, and morph into phone calls or video chats.

Add this framework to your toolbox.

Share it with the junior folks on your team so they don’t have to learn on the fly (or after a mistake).

Establish shared expectations for how to communicate and your team will be better off for it.

How to Communicate Heuristic

Bonus Considerations

If you are a junior team member, the above holds true. However, I’d add that it never hurts to check with your manager before risking coming in hot. This is a simplified, or “starter” framework for communication. There’s plenty of room for nuance that’s outside the scope of this essay.

Thanks for reading. ✌️& 💜.

Written while listening 🎧 to Flogging Molly.

You might like: The Bare Minimum Guide for How to Run Effective 1:1s.

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