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Why do people call instead of emailing?

Logic: Because the conversation is more likely to go well

Megan Preston Meyer
Megan Preston Meyer


How many times have you “hopped on a call” with someone so they can “ask you something super quick? How often does that “super quick” turn into a half-hour explanation that could have been written down in bullet points in five minutes?

You have Slack. You have email. You have Microsoft Teams. There are so many ways to get in contact with you that are nice and organizable and asynchronous. So why do people always insist on in-person?

Because real-time, face-to-face conversations are more likely to go well – especially when they involve a request.

Think about it – it’s easy to click into Outlook and see the request from that one colleague that we’re, um, not best friends with1. We read it, we groan, we think about how unjust it is that we would have to skip our elevensies to fit it in today… and we add a Follow Up flag to the request and figure we’ll deal with it later.

Then, we either forget, or, if we’re feeling really feisty, we craft a firm-but-fair response that says sorry, markus, old chap, can’t do, gotta have my cuppa, which sounds even more condescending because we grew up in suburban Denver.

It’s easy to dismiss people via the written word.

Contrast that to when someone calls you, on the phone or the Zoom or – somewhen in the golden future – walks over to your physical desk in a physical office and taps you on the shoulder. Are you going to get all haughty and tell the bloke to sod off so you can snog your Earl Grey and jammie dodgers? Not to their face.

In-person, people seem human

The reason is simple: in-person, people seem human.

In 1934, Richard T. LaPiere published Attitudes vs. Actions, based on a road trip he took with a Chinese couple across the US. Anti-Asian sentiments were widespread during this time, and 92% of restaurants and hotels answered “No” when asked if they would “accept members of the Chinese race as guests in their establishment”. LaPiere and his companions stopped at 251 such establishments – and were only refused service once.

Holding an opinion is one thing… but acting on it, face-to-face with an actual person, is another.

Look at the Milgram experiment – a bunch of people at Yale were willing to shock other people to death for $4 compensation and because a man in a lab coat told them to. Close to 65% of the participants were willing to administer lethal shocks because, while the person they were torturing was in another room, the person telling them to continue was right there in front of them.

When we are staring into the eyes of a living, breathing human, whether they are asking us to administer pain or grant them a room key or make a tiny tweak to the vendor portal login screen really quick, we find it really hard to say no.

Now, obviously, not every person who want to talk to you in person is trying to manipulate you into capitulating to a demand - sometimes, it’s nice to just chat.

But now that you know that it’s easier to get a ‘yes’ in person, you can use it to your advantage. The next time you need something from someone, send your own version of the 5 min for a call? 🙏 Slack. Just send a follow-up with the bullet points, too – don’t be a total Markus.

1 Yes, Markus, please tell me again about your morning routine and how intermittent fasting has changed your life

Why Do People...?Communication