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Please leave a message after the tone

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

I once dated a girl who had a co-worker who insisted that email was the best way to get hold of him or to share information.

Their boss was from an older generation, and she preferred phone calls, as did much of their clientele. Despite this, he stubbornly refused to answer his phone. He would sit and watch it ring, even if he recognized the number, and would allow it to go to voicemail. His voicemail would then instruct the caller that “email is the optimal way to engage in all communications” with him.

He would only answer the phone in their shop if no one else was available, or if they had their hands full and begged him to.

This was before smart phones were as ubiquitous as they are today, though texting was an option at this point and just as quick as a phone call. Still, he insisted on email for all important work communications.

The kicker? Despite insisting that email was “the optimal” form of communication for every situation, he didn’t check his email on a regular basis.

Knowing all of this, my ex began only interacting with him in person or via email. If she had tasks she needed him to complete (she was his direct supervisor) she would email them to him. Important info he needed to share with a client? She stuck it in an email so she had a digital trail, and he couldn’t claim she didn’t tell him about it.

Because he didn’t check his email regularly, and because he insisted everyone email him about everything, thus flooding his box with messages, it wasn’t long before he started missing things.

Sometimes it was a note that a special order for a client had arrived, and he needed to let them know. He’d usually find those emails once he spotted the item in backstock and followed up to see if it was what he’d ordered or – more commonly – once the customer, annoyed at the wait, called to see when they could expect their item.

It all came to a head, though, when he missed out on the miso.

As I remember it, everyone was excited about this miso. It was some sort of special miso, that you could only purchase by the barrel, imported from Japan. They had a “packing party” when it came in, measuring it out into containers for distribution to customers. Everyone who helped with the work got to sample different foods made with it, like miso glazed barbecue tofu and noodles in miso broth, and to bring home a generous container of their own for making soup or what have you.

Think of it like the vegetarian hippie version of a Tupperware party.

The information was shared freely among patrons of the store and attached restaurant and the students at the cooking school where my ex-girlfriend taught; including via email.

You can see where this is going by now, I’m sure. Someone threw a big fit, claimed they were intentionally excluded, and stubbornly refused to back down when they were shown the email they were included on because they hadn’t been called or otherwise reminded of the event.

I might be misremembering some of the finer details, but the point stands – email isn’t the “optimal way to engage in all communications.”

The clutter of spam that overwhelms the modern email inbox aside, there is no immediacy with email. Sure, it’s there at your convenience (if you find it) but there are times when immediacy is required.

Then there is the tone issue. While not generally as prone to misinterpretation as the social media post (I believe we cling to some semblance of formality in constructing an email that is lost in social media) all written communication lacks the nuance that tone of voice can help bring to a conversation.

Conversation is an important word to consider as well. You don’t get the same back-and-forth in an email exchange that you can get in a conversation. There are times when it might be better to really consider your response before you put it down, but there is a spontaneity and energy that comes from real-time conversation – in person, over the phone, or even via text message – that can really build a personal connection between the people communicating.

For me, personally, nothing beats a face-to-face exchange when I really want to understand the thing I’m talking to someone about.

But if you just need to send me a quick reminder, or to schedule something, text is probably the best way to go. If I can’t take your call because I’m in an area without service, or in a meeting, I’ll always be able to follow up on a text when time permits. It’s also a handy reminder that stays on my phone and is easy to access.

It’s definitely preferable to email.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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