Why Do People Choose Meetings Over Email?
I want to pull on the metaphorical writing thread some more. (This short, vulgar intro was just the tip of the iceberg.) I’m sure everyone has seen this tweet (or some variant) by now:
For the first two weeks of COVID-19 lockdown, I was relatively free of meetings in my calendar. Week three, however, brought a deluge of new Zoom calls to my schedule.
This got me wondering. Why do people choose meetings over email?
Most people just aren’t as comfortable with written communication.
Most people learn to speak well enough to convey rudimentary thought by the time they are two years old. Writing takes about six years to catch up to speech as an effective communication medium, largely due to the fine motor skills required to write. That’s six years that humans naturally invest in spoken communication and social interaction. They have no alternative! And, as Malcolm Gladwell loves to remind us with the 10,000 hours theory: the more you do something, the more mastery you gain over it. My point being - of course most people are more comfortable at speaking than they are at writing! We’re socialized from the very beginnings of our lives to prioritize it!
Bandwidth of verbal communication is higher.
You can transmit a lot of information in a short amount of time verbally - especially if it’s a face to face conversation. Speaking in person adds a layer of body language, subtext, and emotional cues that are hard to convey in writing, or even over the phone. I strongly suspect that contributes to more satisfying outcomes. People are more likely to feel heard when a face to face conversation happens.
Verbal communication has a tighter feedback loop.
Writing doesn’t allow for a lot of modulation in your message. It’s right there, on paper. There’s no audience to read. That can be a positive or a negative. Perhaps your presentation is coming on too strong. In person, a savvy communicator can observe that their message isn’t landing, and adjust delivery accordingly. But I’ll counter that modulating a message could just as easily water it down.
Lost context carries risk.
We’ve all written an email that we’ve reviewed later and thought: “Geez - I was a prick in this!” And we’ve all received an email from the boss where we’ve come away thinking: “For fuck’s sake. I didn’t deserve that kind of treatment, did I?” The same problem happens in text messages. It’s easy to be brisk. It’s easy to be curt. It’s easy to be abrasive. Writing eliminates some context that is built-in to face-to-face meetings. People fear that loss of context, and the resulting detriment it might cause to their working relationships.
Writing holds more accountability.
It’s a common lawyer trope that, if you write it down, there’s evidence. Doubly true in today’s digital first world - most companies are required by law to maintain digital copies of email and internal communication logs (Slack, Skype for Business, etc.). Evidence breeds accountability, and accountability scares people. It can seem a little easier to operate when your true intent is never quite captured. That way, you can retcon your intent to what is, in hindsight, the acceptable position.
Seems like it makes it easier to blend in, but hard to build a case.
Why should I care?
You should care about this because you writing is one of the most valuable levers you possess. You should care because you value your time, and writing can help you reclaim it.
The more I leverage writing, the more firmly I come to believe that the brief shall inherit the earth. More on that later.