My career coach indirectly pointed me to something on LinkedIn this afternoon (he “liked” it and it showed up in my news feed) that was a great read, and had me thinking about more than just the subject.

It first reminded me of how I used to joke that the iPhone does everything except let you make a phone call. (That’s not why I’ve only ever owned Android smartphones – my being a Linux user and developer made me partial to them, more than anything else.) But that also points to an important reality of cell phones today, which was summed up by someone recently (can’t remember who): they are not really phones, but small computers that have phone application software. And think about how many apps you have on your phone; I probably have about a hundred. That means the phone is about one percent of all the apps I have.

But more to the point, it had me thinking of how differently we often communicate nowadays, and I’m as guilty as the next person of some of this.

For one, think about voicemail. If you’re calling a friend or family member, and they don’t pick up, what are the chances that you leave a message? If it’s the other way around, how likely are they to do the same? I know people who say they would rather someone who calls them not leave a message, just wait for a callback once they get to their phone or are in a better place to talk. They figure, they’ll see who called from the caller ID (remember when that wasn’t commonplace?) and just call the person back, or the caller will text them.

Which brings me to another change: so many would rather text than talk. Brian Hart shared a story at the aforementioned link about a client who seemingly could only text. I think a lot of us have met someone like that, maybe more people than we care to admit. I have known some people who have had a phone that can only send and receive text messages – no phone calls.

Although I have had my moments, I am not exactly the most accomplished phone person of all-time. There have been times when I have worked the phones exceptionally for a given situation, but many more where I have not. I try to use the other methods talked about to substitute – often because of things like time – and often to little if any avail. Often, this is partly because of time – one thing I don’t want to do is call someone after they have called it a night, so unless I know someone to be a night owl, I generally don’t call someone past 8:30, maybe 9 p.m.

But this leads to problems. I know plenty who have an e-mail address, but rarely check it, if they ever do. Many more might check, but don’t necessarily reply. Text messaging has the same issue as calling – time of day unless I know someone is a night owl. Although I will use Facebook or LinkedIn messaging, I prefer not to if e-mail or a phone call is a good option.

In the same vein that the article talks about how text messages cannot replace the interpersonal value of a phone call, I often think of something that happens countless times in the workplace. How many times have you exchanged a series of a dozen or more e-mails – mostly rather short – with a co-worker over an hour or more? Do you think perhaps taking a walk to the other person’s desk might handle all of that a little quicker? I have been one to walk over to someone’s desk after getting an e-mail, especially if they are just a few steps away.

Of course, there’s something else that could take care of that a lot quicker than a long e-mail exchange that we don’t seem to use as much in an office setting nowadays. That would be a phone call.

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