Brief thought exercise: why are people generally more receptive to “let’s hop on a call” or “let’s schedule a meeting” then a three-line e-mail that explains the situation?

I’ve wondered this constantly in different jobs I’ve had, and even aspects of the job search. You can write a pretty short, to-the-point e-mail that explains your situation or a project’s situation and one of the first series of responses you get is “Great, let’s schedule a meeting” or “Let’s schedule a phone call.” OK, but … the e-mail just talked about the status. Shouldn’t we wait to schedule the meeting until there’s something to discuss or consider?

I’ve always wondered why this happens. A couple of potential theories:

1. In the grand scheme of a work life, e-mail is relatively new (although a currency now). There’s a period of time where new things are still not completely trusted. Maybe e-mail is in that range.

2. People process e-mail very quickly, on the move or between other things, so perhaps sending out an opportunity to meet/discuss more makes them feel they’re really grounding the issue more.

3. Seeing people face-to-face to discuss an idea — or at least via phone — is very important to some, which is one of the primary arguments against the idea of “work from home.”

4. The true cultural currency of the modern workplace is how busy you are, so taking an update and turning it into a chance for another meeting only serves to make you that much busier.

The problem here is, meetings are the ultimate time suck, which can become the ultimate productivity suck. I wish there were more workplaces — and certainly more headhunters/recruiters — who were content to be OK with progress updates happening via e-mail, and bigger discussions happening in person/via Skype or phone.

If anyone has additional thoughts on this, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Ted Bauer


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