My Three Cents
Ken MakovskyThursday, July 9, 2015
Recently, I read an article that reaffirmed an opinion of mine, and I hope influences communications going forward.
The article, cleverly titled The Mouth is Mightier than the Pen (NY Times – June 27, 2015), refers to a recent research paper published in Psychological Science this month.
In the study, researchers asked participants to prepare a brief pitch to a prospective employer. This pitch was then delivered to evaluators in three forms: video, audio-only, and text-only. Researchers found that evaluators who heard audio or video versions of a pitch “rated the candidates’ intellect more highly” than those who read the transcript. Those who listened or watched also rated the candidates more likable and, critically, more employable.”
The rise of email in the workplace as the dominant communications channel is clear. It has quickly overtaken the phone as the primary mode of communication. Walk into any office and you will hear with great frequency the flurry of fingers striking keyboards, but rather than complementing old-fashioned conversation, the rise of virtual correspondence seems to have come at its expense.
Thus, it is my fear, confirmed by this study, that we may have prematurely abandoned the phone call. I know for a fact that the number of voicemails I receive per week is down by 75% compared to five years ago.
“How do we know that another person has a mind at all?” Dr. Epley (one of two co-authors of the paper) asks in the article. “The closest you ever get to the mind of another person is through their mouth.”
“People abuse text-based mediums like email. That’s a disaster in a lot of ways,” he says. “Email is really good for sending a spreadsheet, but it strips out some of your humanity.”
It is hard not to see Dr. Epley’s point. There is a trade-off when conversations are simply replaced by an email chain. We have been too quick to dismiss the virtues of the audible conversation in favor of the efficiencies of plain text. I can attest to these virtues. Makovsky could not be the firm that it is today had I relied solely on email. Conversations, either face-to-face or ear-to-ear, played a critical role in our success. When speaking to clients over the phone, I find them to be more engaged, less prone to negativity, and more prompt to action.
I don’t want to downplay the enormous role that email has played in the modern American workplace. Email has brought us enormous efficiencies and generated significant productivity – but often it pays to look up from the screen and pick up the phone particularly when you have something to discuss. Doing so allows us to display our differentiators: our pathos, our ability to care, and our dedication to our clients.
Will this study be the first of many? Perhaps it will bring readers to revisit their preference for conducting business behind screens. Email and texting have afforded the corporate world a great deal – but the charm of the dial tone can still pay huge dividends. Use your best judgment, optimize your channels of communication, but don’t underestimate the power of your own voice.