Texting, Face-to-Face, and Getting Coffee

Updated: Jan 30, 2019

Knowing when to text vs. call is an important soft skill

Soft skills and the art of texting

When is appropriate to text or call someone? When to get coffee and discuss that project?

It's the perfect subject for a Seinfeld episode, if it were still around and new material was being written. I can see it now. Jerry asking Elaine when it would be appropriate to have a texting breakup. But on a more daily level, several business professionals I talked to have emphasized the need for employees, often millennials, but not always, to know when an in-person phone call is best.


One small business owner I know has a rule. If a client emails with a complex set of questions, pick up the phone and call. Likewise, another senior manager has his own rule: if a topic can't be wrapped up in 3 emails or less, pick up the phone and call, or go talk in person. Is there a trend here?

Talking to people in person still matters

Smart phones are great. My wife and I get lost in Atlanta more often than we ought, the major city near my home. And her phone can get us out of the spider's web of this city's remotest corridors. But for their advances, we can tend to over rely on them and forget how to read real, paper maps.

One CEO of a construction company I know bemoaned the fact that no one answers their phones any more. No one listens to voicemail. And sometimes people will avoid conflict by not answering their phone but texting back. And yes, there are legitimate reasons for texting instead of answering, such as responding quietly via text when you're in a meeting. Texting does help with being unobtrusive. But when it comes to dealing with the grit of life--the conflict, the interaction, face-to-face is still hard to beat.

Of course, not every situation warrants a face-to-face encounter. Coordinating where to go for lunch is better done with a text sometimes. And perhaps you will get a quicker response after work hours if you text someone. Part of texting is respectful--the person can respond on their own time. People who prefer to think long before they answer like the power texting and emails afford for curating their ideas. The challenge comes when we forget how to engage in person.

Communicating negative information, providing critiques, anything that demands interaction, and building trust with people still call for sitting down with someone over a cup of coffee. It's old school, but it's also just better for building relationships. It's better for interaction. So what is your rule for your team? When do you text vs. go in person? Navigating this question effectively at work is a true soft skill.

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