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The human touch, alternatives to email

More notes from ‘Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home’ by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe published April 2007. I was surprised and happy the authors touched on when to use other communication methods. This is one of the most important messages of the book in my opinion.

Rule: conveying an emotion, handling a delicate situation, testing the waters—all are usually better undertaken with the human voice.

A handwritten note is personal. Unfortunately it’s a rarity these days. See ‘When did you last receive a hand-written note?’

A phone call is intimate because you interact in real time. You can hear the vocal inflections, the hesitations and react to them.

A conversation in person brings all your senses into play. You can observe the gestures, the facial expressions, hear the emotion...and react accordingly.

Communicating with a handwritten note, a phone call or in person has weight that email will never have.

Email is a silent method of communication
Technology should complement personal communication, not do away with it. For example, email can be a good method to confirm a joint decision. Email doesn’t work for decision-making that involves a lot of equal voices.

As someone noted in a comment this week, some work groups find Instant Messaging effective for collaborative efforts. I tried IM for a short time with an eXtension colleague but didn't give it much of a chance so I'd be interested in how you use it for work and your comments, pro and con for IM.


Like every tool, you have to learn how to use IM. It's a great for situations where you expect follow up questions and need further clarification. It replaces those long strings of email replies and replies to replies that sometimes pile up.

Some tech service lines use them and I find it preferable to being put on hold on a telphone line.

I like IM for quick spousal communication, too - the quick "who is getting the kids... or remember I have drinks with the girls tomorrow night" etc that needs an acknowledgment but doesn't need to be an interruptive phone call. I think IM is respectful of the other person's time, like email is - and yet it is more immediate than email can be. I think it is similar to email in that it can be easily misused but it's not a good forum for lengthy exchanges of details to be used as reference later, so there's less opportunity for mis-reading and mis-interpreting tone, etc....