Business Email: Is a Conversation Better?

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published August 26, 2009, updated December 22, 2023
Business Email: Is a Conversation Better?
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

This month’s newsletter explained a very effective, but often overlooked, technique to disentangle yourself from convoluted, unfocused, irate or too lengthy emails. Shift the business email to a conversation.

Simply respond, “Let’s discuss over the phone. What is your number and when is a good time to call?”

A wise client in our email course, who works in the financial services industry in Qatar, asked this question, after reading this month’s newsletter:

Sometimes, the verbal discussion leads to a negative result that an official email would not solicit. A discussion is easier, and more off-the-record. For example, when I discuss a customer issue with a colleague before responding to the customer, the resulting answer is often less customer-friendly, since there is no trail or documentation linked to my colleague.

However, if I send the same colleague an official email describing the same case, and stress its urgency and need for a solution, he is more compelled to move and research an answer, before replying to the email officially.

Isn’t email the best forum to ensure a thorough response? What is your opinion?

Great question!

There are two issues here:

  1. Stopping convoluted emails from draining your time and muddying communication in your company.
  2. Documenting verbal conversations.

Do not feel obliged to stay in email, if you receive a message that is better suited to a conversation. Email is best for straightforward communication. A conversation is far more effective for complex or controversial issues. If it will improve the business communication (always the primary goal) to shift from email to a conversation, do it.

To document the discussion, simply write up a new email and summarize the conversation you had with your colleague. Thank your colleague for his assistance and document the actions you agreed upon. This will:

  • Stop the email madness and shift you to a better communications vehicle (in this case, a conversation).
  • Document your conversation:
    • Your colleague will be forced to take your request seriously. Your colleague is unprofessional to respond more diligently to an email than a verbal conversation. Since you know he has this proclivity, let him know you will summarize your conversation into an email for “his files.”
    • Write a new, clean email that correctly reflects the issue at hand, and your mutually agreed upon resolution.

You will save time, stop the time drain of trying to resolve an issue in email that is better suited to a discussion, require your colleague to respond thoroughly, and it will be better documented.

Thank you for a smart question!

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Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published August 26, 2009, updated December 22, 2023
Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.