Correspondence has been generally defined in this textbook as both the act of exchanging letters or memos (including e-mails) with another person; and the documents that are exchanged in such an act. This chapter expands the concept of correspondence to include that which is accomplished verbally as well: specifically, the act – and related documentation – of audible message exchange.
Think about the people in your life with whom you participate in correspondence. When did you last receive a card or letter in the mail (that is, delivered by the postal service)? Who sent it and what was the context or situation?
Now, think about how you correspond with people audibly (not via e-mail or text message) using your phone. Using first or familiar names, complete the table below by including up to 5 people in each category:
|Does not have/use email||Does not have/use texting||Professional contact (i.e., boss)||Expects answer or returned call||Uses a “land line” part- or full-time|
Finally, highlight the matching name(s) across the columns in the table. What association(s) might you make about the people with similar patterns in the table?
Does the person who last sent you paper mail also appear in the table? If so, what does that information suggest about the person in terms of their preferred methods of correspondence?
As you discuss the responses to the preceding series of questions with your classmates, reflect on the following considerations. Each of these five topics is addressed in this chapter:
- A telephone call may be the most appropriate form of correspondence for a situation
- Traditional phone calls effectively eliminate most non-verbal communication
- Certain situations require correspondence via voicemail exchange
- You must overcome unpredictable technical issues to deliver messages successfully
- Adequate preparation before a verbal correspondence, whether live or recorded, is crucial to successful communication
Direct verbal correspondence: telephone calls
When is a personal phone call required?
Text messaging has certainly made quick conversations and notifications more convenient and somewhat less disruptive to the workday. Evidence of this reality includes the now-common business practice of issuing company-owned cell phones to employees. As a result, professionals who count a cell phone among their essential business tools may correspond via text message with colleagues, direct reports, and supervisors frequently throughout a busy day. Text messaging is easy and instant when some or all of the parties to a project are in the field, traveling, working in different locations, or just on different floors of the same office building. Also, for those employees who are new to the professional workforce, text messaging provides a layer of comfort in a familiar task, given that you have likely been texting most of your life.
Sometimes, though, the audience, purpose, and context of a message dictates that an in-person, real-time phone call must be the mode of message delivery. Consider the name(s) you listed on the previous page of this chapter: if you must ask or answer an important question and you know the audience is one of those people who does not text regularly, should you risk the possibility the person will miss – or misinterpret – your message? Keep in mind that the audience’s needs and challenges outweigh your preferences, and the answer should become clear.
In addition to what you can determine is the preferred method of correspondence for your audience, the substance and purpose of the message cannot be ignored when deciding whether to make a personal phone call. Questions you should ask about how to communicate time-sensitive information or concerning news, for example, are best asked during your training as you learn about your employer’s expectations of members of its professional staff. Because you cannot anticipate every situation in a fluid business, you will benefit by learning you’re your supervisor and other mentors their experience and advice about the preferred uses of telephone calls and voicemail. Discuss the following scenarios with your classmates:
- Michael, a former coworker and acquaintance you have known for several years, has been terminally ill for a few months. Your friend, Sonia, considers Michael one of her close friends. When you learn at work of Michael’s sudden passing, you decide it is important that you give Sonia this news right away about her friend. Should you call her directly, or can you send her the news in a text message? Explain your response, and that of your classmates if they differ.
2. Ms. Nguyen, a project manager in your company, is leading her group’s effort to bid for a major contract that would be of great financial benefit to your employer. She is also working on-site in Eastern Europe this week, so she has directed you to get in touch with her immediately when the potential client’s request for proposals is issued. When you open the express-shipped bid packet mid-afternoon, you know it is the middle of the night in the city your boss is visiting. Will you send a text, call her directly, or send an email? Discuss your options with your classmates and justify your choices.
How are non-verbal cues expressed on a phone call?
When you have a conversation in person, you have access to a variety of indicators for how others are feeling and what they might be thinking as you communicate. Things like facial expressions, eye contact, other body movements and gestures, as well as vocal tones all represent non-verbal cues that contribute to how you perceive meaning in your interactions. A group of researchers in France developed a device that remodels recorded speech, allowing for controlled measurement of listeners’ physiological responses when they hear people smiling while they talk (Arias, Belin, & Aucouturier, 2018). The report of their research can be accessed here. Even without conducting such a study, however, you can become aware of the subtle ways some non-verbal cues may be transmitted through a telephone call.
Activity: listen to what you cannot see
Working with a partner from your class, arrange to have two telephone conversations – yes, regular phone conversations, without video-chat! Follow your instructor’s directions regarding the length and topic of your phone conversations. Perhaps you and your partner have a shared interest you can talk about; or, your instructor may provide you with an article, a paper, a video, or a book chapter to read or watch and discuss.
You and your partner should take turns asking questions and recording information about the conversation. In the first call, one person should be asking questions and recording observations about the responses, including non-verbal indicators noted during the conversation. Then, switch roles with your partner so you both can collect data using the following notetaking guide. Use a timer and record the calls if directed by your instructor.
|Question or topic||Timer stamp||Perceived facial expression(s)||Tone/speed/pitch change||Audible non-verbal utterances|
Indirect verbal correspondence: voicemail
If you think about a telephone conversation as being a direct correspondence, in which the parties communicate in real time, then an indirect correspondence might be represented by an exchange of carefully-crafted professional voicemail messages.
When is it important to leave a voice message?
- Did the person you called specifically ask you to call them?
- Does the person need to receive the message as soon as possible?
- Have you and the recipient been having difficulty reaching each other?
- Did you indicate in a meeting, on a call, or in an email that you would be calling?
Each of the situations noted above, and probably many others, indicate that a clear and complete voicemail message is warranted. A general rule to follow is that, if your attempt to contact the recipient and the message you are attempting to deliver are worthy of a phone call, you should close the communication loop with a voice message.
How can you decide what to say (or what not to say) in a voicemail?
Remember the path to successful communication is making clear, concise, complete, and correct choices. When faced with the need to record a voicemail, you will have a very brief period of time to sort your thoughts, set your tone, relax, and put your best effort forward to present a successful message. Recording a voicemail message is creating a document: similar to written documents, a voicemail can become a permanent record of communication, so it is as important to craft carefully as any other correspondence document. When recording a voice message:
Challenges of direct and indirect verbal correspondence
Expect the unexpected
- Occasionally, technical issues including dropped calls, poor quality recordings, and language barriers arise and cause communication efforts to fail.
- Whether you are corresponding directly in a phone conversation or indirectly via voicemail, recognize you may need to adapt and solve problems to successfully deliver your message.
Being professional means being prepared
- Make every effort not to hang up on a voicemail prompt: such behavior is unprofessional and inconsiderate.
- Before you make a call, write some notes for yourself about the important details of the message.
- Assume from the beginning that your call might not be answered: be ready to reduce your discussion to a moment of clear one-way communication in a voicemail message.
The act of communicating verbal messages, whether on a telephone call or a voicemail system, is a form of correspondence that relies on audible exchange. Telephone calls remain a standard method of correspondence in business, although text messaging is gaining popularity. Some situations simply cannot be addressed via text message; still other exchanges via telephone call prove difficult because non-verbal cues are elusive when parties cannot see one another. Regardless of challenges that arise to frustrate your efforts to correspond verbally, keep in mind it is your responsibility to adapt, adjust, solve problems, and communicate with respect and professionalism intact.
- Work with your partner from the activity “listen to what you cannot see.” Compare your notes from the exercise and discuss the non-verbal cues you both discerned as a result of your experience.
- Develop a presentation for an audience of your other classmates. You might make a video or prepare slides for an in-class presentation that informs your peers how to identify the subtle non-verbal cues for which to listen during telephone conversations.