Our latest Guestpert Advice comes from Emerson alumna, Fran Berrick ’85.
Fran is the founder and head coach of Spearmint Coaching.

A client of mine recently misread signals from a high-value contact and turned down an offer to meet in person at the contact’s office and scheduled a phone conversation instead. By doing so she missed a rich opportunity to experience the company’s culture and potentially connect with more professionals at the organization. I know, because she shared their email conversation with me as we strategized her next steps. When I asked her about her thinking, she said she was concerned about taking too much of her contact’s time and, more honestly, nervous about meeting face to face. 

By the time you read to the end of this sentence, a million text messages will have flown around the world—adding up to an average of 23 billion per day. 

Digital communication—whether texts, e-mails, Slack chats, or Facebook messages—has rapidly evolved from a handy way to keep in touch with friends into a major business tool. A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that “80 percent of professionals currently use texting for business purposes and nearly 70 percent of employees think texting should be used for interoffice communication.” But although your fingers can tap out a note in seconds, an expanding body of social science research indicates that good old-fashioned, low-tech talking is still the most effective way to get results.

Photo of someone talking in person.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology tasked participants with making requests in person or via e-mail—and also asked them to predict which method would yield the best result. Both groups estimated that they’d succeed roughly 50 percent of the time, but the group who made face-to-face requests was 34 times more successful.

The reason? According to a UCLA study, “seven percent of a message is derived from the words, 38 percent from the intonation, and 55 percent from the facial expression or body language.” Nuance and tone are often lost when we hide behind our keyboards—but they’re nearly impossible to miss when we look one another in the eye. 

Quicker access to empathy really did lead to more efficiency.

Furthermore, we’re far more likely to be honest when we talk in person. A UMass-Amherst study found that the greater the distance—either physical or psychological—between two people, the more likely they were to lie when communicating via e-mail. 

And while face-to-face communication remains the gold standard, talking on the phone is also a great way to quickly resolve an issue. Allen Gannett, the CEO of a DC-based marketing firm, put himself under the microscope for a month, electing to pick up the phone instead of replying to e-mails. He found that “the phone saved me time because neither of us had to be overly verbose to give context. Simply hearing somebody’s tone… made it easier to understand where someone stood and react accordingly. Quicker access to empathy really did lead to more efficiency.” 

Baby Boomers and Gen Xers lived through the transition from oral to written business communication, but Millennials—many of whom have grown up fearing anything awkward—vastly prefer typing to talking. Sherry Turkle, a developmental psychologist at MIT, studies the effects of digital communication on adolescent brains. She’s found that habitual texters are slower to pick up on the non-verbal cues that are crucial to forming meaningful relationships—in effect creating a vicious cycle of awkwardness. 

Image result for phone png

So even though it may seem daunting, it’s important to remember that in person and phone meetings are valuable tools for job seekers. While no one expects you to read your accomplishments aloud over the phone, a follow-up call to a connection at a company with regard to a referral can be a great way to ensure that your résumé rises to the top of the pile. If you have sent an email to a casual contact asking for a face to face it is appropriate in many situations to check in that the email has been received- with an assistant or by calling the contact directly. Be respectful of their time, and always remember to close with a thank-you. A targeted phone conversation can lead to an in-person interview—and that, as we noted earlier, is where the magic happens.

The bottom line? Digital communication is here to stay, and it is a great way to convey highly specific information, like “I’m running ten minutes late.” But using best practices in professional communications is important for job seekers too: if there is an opportunity to network in person—informational interviews, coffee with a contact, etc.—grab it. Providing or requesting feedback, asking a favor, and gaining nuanced understanding are all better face to face—so swallow your fear and talk it out.

My client bumped into an acquaintance she knew was a senior manager at an organization she had just submitted an application to online. Within minutes their conversation produced results: an offer of referral. She understood the meet up was serendipity (good luck moments happen!) but the results proved to her my point regarding the power of IRT conversations.