When We Communicate …

“Some opportunities knock softly. Pay attention”

Mark Hobbs, Partner, Fundmetric

One thing I know to be true after 28 years as an entrepreneur: “You just never know”. Something seemingly insignificant can turn out to be an amazing opportunity and …vice versa. Our ability to notice opportunities and respond is crucial to our success. For me (and this will come as no surprise) the phone has always played a major role in allowing me to uncover opportunities.

Take for example this past week. I received an email from someone I didn’t know, congratulating me on my appearance in The Wall Street Journal. The note also said “I am totally with you on your mission”. That certainly sparked my curiosity so I headed over to my favorite research tool – LinkedIn. Turned out this person had already sent me an invitation to connect. His name is Phil Simon. He is a champion of improved business communication with seven books already published, the latest one (and I love this title) Message Not Received.


I certainly accepted his invitation to connect and sent him a quick note as well. Then, a few hours later, this message arrived “Happy to chat” and his phone number. Of course, I called him. We had a lovely conversation about writing and communication and some of the challenges we face. And then, we discovered opportunity. For me – a interview in The Huffington Post, for which Phil is a freelancer. For Phil? Well, he’s about to share with you some of his wisdom. Enjoy!

My Beef with E-Mail

There’s nothing wrong with e-mail in the abstract. I love receiving unsolicited messages from friends and legitimate inquiries about my speaking services. Who wouldn’t?

Still, e-mail fails us on several levels.

First, it’s terrible for effective conversations. As I discuss in Message Not Received, it gives the false appearance of one-to-one, in-person communication.  Consider this article from Psychology Today Avoiding Email Catastrophe,  a 2006 series of studies by two psychologists, Justin Kruger, PhD of New York University and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago.

In short, Kruger and Epley wanted to determine if people were as good as they thought they were at discerning the subtext of a message. Participants were only able to accurately communicate sarcasm and humor in barely half—56 percent—of the e-mails they sent. And if that isn’t bad enough, most people had no idea that they weren’t making themselves understood. Beyond that, e-mail is often downright inefficient. We all know people who try to manage conferences and projects via e-mail. They send mass e-mails to schedule meetings. E-mail was never designed to be a collaboration tool. You can’t search your inbox as effectively as you can search 25 trillion web pages. It usually takes us less than one second on Google to get what we want. Our inboxes contain 20,000 messages. At least a few times per day, many of us can’t find a key piece of information in our inboxes.

This Is Not 1998

This state of affairs might have been acceptable fifteen years ago, but not anymore. There are far better tools for these types of activities, and it’s criminal that e-mail has remained so dominant for so long. SmartSheet, HipChat, Asana, Slack, Flowdock and scores of other tools are much better suited for truly collaborative work, never mind the old-fashioned phone. Yes, we must use it.

I stop short of providing absolutes in the book, though. All communication is contextual. We should always be respectful when communicating with others, especially with new acquaintances—and that includes both the words we use and the means to communicate them. One size never fits all. Let’s say that you’re trying to develop a potential relationship with a new partner, superior, or client. A greater degree of formality is probably wise, especially in comparison to a colleague whom you’ve known for fifteen years. Communication has always been contextual and certain mediums can be better than others.

Marshall McLuhan famously said  “The medium is the message.” He’s absolutely right.

No, you shouldn’t try to kill e-mail, but you should try to limit its use.

Because we check our inboxes so frequently, we often don’t know how much e-mail we receive every day. That number is actually  120 to 150 e-mails per day. Some people just send rubbish, but the larger question for me is why so many subjects have to be “discussed” via e-mail in the first place.

Over the past two decades, e-mail has become the “de facto” tool for internal communication. It’s one of the killer apps of the Internet era. That need not be the case.

On a personal level, I abide by a three-e-mail rule. After three, we talk. Beyond that, don’t write a treatise. Recognize that some (in fact, many) conversations are best held in person, not in Outlook or Gmail. I try to minimize the number of e-mails I send every day. Quality trumps quantity.

Let’s say that you and I and some of our friends are scheduling a call. I can send a clear message about my availability, but so what? Even if an e-mail is clearly written, it’s not the best tool for the job. That goes double for task management, project management, and general collaboration.

Simon Says

I’m not anti-e-mail; I’m anti-inefficiency. Incessant e-mail chains kill productivity. Brass tacks: E-mail should not be our default communication tool.


What say you? Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology authority. He is the award-winning author of seven management books, most recently Message Not Received. He consults organizations on matters related to communications, strategy, data, and technology. His contributions have been featured on The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, NBC, CNBC, Inc. Magazine, BusinessWeek, The Huffington Post, Quartz, The New York Times, Fox News, and many other sites.

Enjoy your phone work everyone!

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What's The Phone Lady doing?


  • Remote learning experiences + one-on-one coaching for women entrepreneurs (More info about this three-year program here.)
  • Team and individual coaching with a national moving company to refine their sales process
  • Remote half-day training for provincial tourism representatives
  • Remote seven-part sales training program for US-based SaaS
  • Remote webinar on accounts receivable communication for industrial-services company
  • Remote webinar on validation to college students in entrepreneur program
  • In-person workshop on job search skills for women in the trades
  • Remote half-day webinar on written correspondence to customers

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