In the age of remote work and instant communication, scheduling a call (or much worse, calling unsolicitedly) is the equivalent of calling a meeting in the workplace. If it is used intelligently and only when necessary, it can be a powerful tool to transfer information, increase productivity, and boost morale. If used liberally and too often, it can waste time, decrease productivity, and tank morale.
Chances are, if you’re a young person in the workplace, nobody has ever sat you down and explained the conventions of how to use phone calls effectively. If you’re particularly unfortunate, you’ve been trained to use them for everything by a superior or manager who himself doesn’t know how to ask, “Do I need to request a phone call or can this just be an email?”
Fortunately for you, this is one of those areas of professional and social intelligence where Praxis shines. Mastering interprofessional communication like this gives you a huge leg up on the competition.
Here’s an easy set of questions to ask yourself before sending an email requesting a phone call with somebody of whom you’re asking something — as well as some tips for how to phrase that email requesting the call to be respectful of the other person’s time and get what you need out of it.
This doesn’t apply to sales calls and emails.
Is It Urgent?
Yes! If it is truly an urgent matter and cannot wait more than 2 hours for a response, your best bet is to text or call the person’s direct line. This is the only time where it is acceptable to give a professional contact, especially one with more social capital than yourself, an unsolicited call. Urgent matters are those that require an executive decision from this individual and could result in injury, death, or the loss of a sizable sum of money if no answer is received. If you do make the call, make it quick, get to the point, and end it as quickly as possible.
No! If this matter can wait more than a few hours, it should be communicated over email.
I’m not sure! If you are not sure that the matter is urgent or not, it probably isn’t. In this case, the best thing you can do is send an email with the headline, “URGENT” and explain in fewer than 3 sentences what you need the other person to do or to what you need them to respond.
Do You Know What You Want to Talk About?
Yes! Good. Write down what you want to talk about into a bulleted list. Don’t leave it to your memory to recall. You don’t want to get into the conversation and stutter around and waste the other person’s time. Continue to “I Know What I Want to Talk About, Should I Schedule a Call?”
No! That’s fine. Shoot the person an email giving a general outline of what you need help with or what you want to discuss. If you are having general problems with something from work, let them know and ask if they can give you some guidance or feedback. Try to make the pain points as obvious as possible to reduce back-and-forth. Be as informative as possible in your initial email without being long-winded. Use bullet-points and paragraphs and have a clear ask for feedback.
I Know Exactly What I Want to Talk About, Should I Schedule a Call?
No, this is probably not your decision to make. This sounds harsh but even in the case of people whom you are paying to render a service, if those people are giving you advice and feedback, it probably best for you to wait for you to let them schedule the call. If you are asking them for their input and advice, they are probably more experienced on the matter than you and have the best knowledge on whether or not a call is warranted. Some types of conversations are just easier over the phone or over an app like Voxer than over email. The person you’re requesting a call with will know this.
I Don’t Know Exactly What I Want to Talk About, Should I Schedule a Call?
“Wait, what? If I don’t know exactly what I want to talk about, that makes a call more likely?”
The key word here is exactly. If you have an idea of what you want to talk about but can’t seem to muster your ability to distill it into a few concise bullet points, it’s possible there are deeper and more complex issues lurking in the background that can only be parsed out via conversation.
In his book High Output Management, Andy Grove eschews typical “productivity” approaches to management and encourages status meetings to be at least an hour. Why? If a meeting is too quick and bulleted (and not called for a specific purpose), then neither party will have the time or opportunity to work through deeper points or concerns that don’t lend themselves well to an agenda, like cultural issues, unhappiness at work, or points on which the party raising the concern may himself be confused.
“But I really think that a call will make this better.”
Chances are you feel this way because throughout your school-life and career-life thus far, meetings and busy-ness are indicators of progress. This emphasis on process-over-substance can get you far in a bureaucracy but doesn’t carry much weight in a world where pay and profits are measured by the value added by the organization.
Know that requesting calls is like crying wolf. If you do it too many times without any real need, eventually people are going to stop taking you seriously. Having good judgement for when a call is necessary is an extremely valuable skill that very few young people appreciate. Cultivate it and with it your professional judgment. As Grove’s advice shows us, there are times that call for one-on-one conversations — that just happens more rarely than most young people think.
How to Write an Email that Leads to a Call
Here’s an example of a poor email requesting a call.
“I’m having problems with my work. Can we schedule a call in the next few days to discuss some ways to fix it?”
Some issues here:
- This email doesn’t have a salutation and is way too casual for anybody but a good friend. Greet them, let them know why you are asking them in particular. With the additional typo, it looks lazily and hastily written.
- This email is not specific. What kinds of problems are you having? Cultural, technical, personal? Give the reader something off of which she can make a decision about what should be done.
- This email has no sense of urgency. Want to schedule a call in a few days? Sure, let me get back to you in a few days. Give the reader two-three windows of time in which you could speak. Do their work for them.
Here’s a better approach:
I am running into some issues at work and wanted to reach out to you to discuss.
I am being assigned to do tasks and work for which I do not have any training or background (e.g., IT architecture, website maintenance) and don’t know where to start. This confusion is leading to me to resent my work and my coworkers, which I don’t like and is a mindset I’d like to escape.
I could go into more detail if you’d like. If you prefer, we can schedule a call. I am available Monday, Thursday, and Friday after 7 PM.
This email is much better.
- It is professionally written. It conveys seriousness and that the individual took time to write it. If you don’t take your own time seriously, do not expect the other party to take your time seriously.
- It is specific without being overwhelming. It lets the reader know what the issues are while staying brief and opening the door to provide greater specificity.
- It conveys a sense of urgency by giving dates this week that the writer can speak. It doesn’t make the reader have to work just to figure out what the problem is.
This email leaves the door open for the other person to respond via email or to schedule a call, not placing undue pressure on them to schedule a call or to navigate the professional awkwardness of telling you, “no, I am not doing a call over this. Send me more info.”
Be like the second email.
See also: How to Use Email