How to Decide Whether to Email, Text, Call, or Talk in Person

BY Judith Humphrey 3 MINUTE READ

Thanks to technology, we have a wealth of choices for communicating in the office and beyond. But herein lies the challenge. Email someone when you should have called and you might waste time going back and forth, or they might misunderstand your tone. Text your new boss when you should have emailed and you might risk her thinking you’re unprofessional.

Below are some of the most common channels for communication, and the ways to use – and not abuse – them on the job. Sure, some of these rules are fairly intuitive, but as workplace norms change, a little refresher never hurt.


Speaking face-to-face with someone is still best. “Every other method of communicating is just simulating person-to-person communicating,” says Jon Robinson, president of Lunar, a software and services company focused on sales and marketing. Whenever possible, seek out these one-on-one situations.

Group meetings are great, but since they’re more public, they’re not necessarily a good time to approach your boss, or anyone else, for a decision. Instead try a one-on-one meeting, a quick chat in the coffee room, or a walk to the parking lot (assuming the other person isn’t in a big rush). Or pop your head in your boss’s office and say, “Do you have a minute?” The beauty of these quick exchanges is that you can get an answer that propels you forward with a project or decision.

To make the most of more impromptu encounters, prepare! Know exactly what your message is and what you want from this exchange. You may have only 30 seconds, so get it right.


Sending emails is standard protocol, but here, too, you’ll want to refine your skills.

The beauty of email is that you can fully convey your thoughts on an important issue. You can do anything from propose an idea to your boss, to thank someone for hosting an event, to invite someone to become a customer.

The challenge of emails is that you need to structure them clearly and persuasively – or no one will bother to read them. You can also warm up your emails to sound more relaxed and friendly. For starters, use real, conversational language. Don’t say “in order to” when you can say “to.” Don’t say “however” when you can say “but.” Break up longer sentences into shorter ones. In short, write the way you speak.


Texting at work is becoming more and more popular, but it requires an especially deft touch.

At best, it’s an easy and friendly way of getting in contact, whether you’re letting a colleague know you loved the conversation you had over lunch, or telling your boss that you’re stuck in traffic and will be 10 minutes late for a meeting. These are quick hits that make you look responsible.

For these reasons, texting is becoming more acceptable in a range of business situations. Robinson’s company just released a study that shows you can successfully engage clients with text messaging. When asked, “Do you approve of a sales person with whom you have a relationship communicating by text?” 69% of respondents said “yes.” When asked “What is the easiest channel for you to respond to?” 53% of respondents said text, while only 41% said email.

Clearly, consumers are expecting – and even preferring – texts from salespeople and businesses in general. In his firm’s survey, Robinson says that prospective customers who receive text messages are twice as likely to convert from being a lead to becoming a customer.

But there are plenty of downsides to texting, too. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, writer Te-Ping Chen tells the tragic tale of an employee who meant to text “I luv u” to his wife but accidentally texted his boss. Learn from his mistake: Double-check to see who you’re texting, and make sure to proofread it, too. A typo will always reflect poorly on you.

“Make sure when you send a text, the recipient will feel comfortable with it,” says Robinson. “If done the wrong way, texting can lead to feelings of intrusion.”


Phone calls can be effective, depending on the situation. If you have a close relationship, you can call someone’s cell, and you may get her on the line. But if you don’t know that person well, don’t call someone’s personal phone number. For example, if you’re interviewing for a job, you’ll not likely impress if you call the VP’s phone.

In addition, a work line should be your last resort for communicating. Chances are, no one will pick up (because who picks up business phones any more?).

Leaving a voice mail is similarly ineffective. How many people will actually scroll through their messages and reply? If you actually want to connect with someone, try a different option.

About the author: Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto.

Originally published on fastcompany.com


Want to sound emotionally intelligent in interviews? Avoid these 6 expressions

BY Judith Humphrey 3 MINUTE READ

You may be well versed in interview skills, but it’s easy to drop a phrase or a comment that inadvertently signals you may not “fit in”. Nobody will tell you that’s why you didn’t get the job. Yet, an apparent lack of interpersonal skills is often the underlying reason candidates get passed over.

People skills are in fact one of the top requirements of most jobs today – and interviewers listen hard for any telltale sign that you may not work well with people. 

To avoid ruining your chances of getting that second interview or coveted job, be careful not to use the following seven expressions that may betray a poor relationship with others.


When talking about your last job, beware of dissing your employer by saying your talents were not fully used. It’s easy to fall into this trap, because you’ll want to give a reason for your departure. But saying your employer didn’t put your skills to good use signals more than a touch of resentment.

In the same vein, avoid saying your contribution was not recognised, or your skills were not a good fit with the job. Even saying nothing about your last job but simply that you are “looking for a company that can make use of your talents” conveys the impression that your last company let you down. So avoid the undertow of such comparisons.


You won’t impress a future employer, either, by saying your last job was boring. If you weren’t challenged, it’s your fault.

Employers expect candidates to take the initiative and create opportunities for themselves. Saying you didn’t feel “challenged” essentially puts the onus on your last employer to provide you with a stimulating, fully curated experience. That’s not realistic. Any recruiter will see such a comment as reflecting an “attitude” and poor people skills.


It may be true that you want your next job to offer you something “different” than your previous job had provided, but making a statement like this will send up red flares. The interviewer may think, “Wow, this candidate was miserable where she worked, that doesn’t bode well for hiring her”.

Instead of making such an implicit comparison that casts a shadow on your previous job, tell the interviewer in positive terms what you are looking for in your future role.


You might think you’re being generous by offering up this positive comment about your boss. The only problem is that the rest of the sentence beginning with “but” will undercut anything positive you’ve said.

The “but” may be followed by “we didn’t see eye to eye,” or “the job was less than satisfying,” or “management didn’t show the kind of leadership an organisation should have.” Whatever the next part of the sentence is, it won’t work for you. It’s a negative that shows you didn’t fit in for some reason.

So stick to positives by avoiding the word “but” altogether.


This may seem like a positive self-affirming statement, but if you use these words, your interviewer will likely see you as a loner who focuses on work rather than on people. The “worker” syndrome is no longer an asset, because in today’s companies, things get done by teams, by collaboration, by shared goals.

So don’t focus on yourself as a good worker, or your interviewer will hear your comment as a self-revelation that does not suggest an ability or comfort with people. Instead, you might say that you lead a team or are part of a team that has done great things in your specific area.


Recently, I’ve been told by a few VPs of HR that they are hearing this expression more frequently from job candidates, and they don’t like it. Imagine a 20-something newly minted graduate who gets a coveted interview with a senior executive, and when the executive asks where the candidate sees himself in 10 years, the young person replies, “I want your job.”

Whew! It may seem to be a statement that smacks of confidence or boldness. But unfortunately, it shows a lack of people skills, because the comment implies that the young person thinks he is capable of taking on the senior leader’s role and knows what that executive does. A senior vice president I know responds to such statements with, “What is it that I do?” And rarely does the job candidate know. Save such showmanship for less critical conversations, and instead provide an answer that is more realistic, and yes, humble.

These six expressions are frequently used in interview situations and should be avoided if you want to present a positive profile of yourself as someone who works well with people. After all, jobs will increasingly go to those who have strong people skills.

About the author

Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto.

Originally published on fastcompany.com