We have many ways to communicate: email, phone, instant messaging, and in-person. How do you choose which to use when? Get-It-Done Guy has a handy primer.
Use The Right Medium for The Message
The more emotion is involved in a communication, the better it is to do it by phone or in-person. You want as many senses involved in the conversation as possible.
You see, even when a person has a preferred interaction style, the mode you use changes how you engage emotionally. Stanley Milgram did a famous series of experiments in which he had normal people, just like you, deliver fatal electric shocks to experimental subjects. They didn’t actually deliver the shocks, of course, they just thought they did. Kind of like a good video game, only with real screams.
Milgram found that when you’re right next to someone, you’re not very willing to shock them to death. When you can hear them and not see them, you’re more willing. When someone else is telling you about their screams, you’re even more willing. I believe—and my experience bears this out—the more removed you are from someone, in terms of your direct experience of them, the less empathy you have for them, and the less they’ll have for you. Also, the more likely they’ll be to deliver fatal electric shocks to you.
This is why horrible bosses lay people off long-distance, by leaving sticky notes on people’s desks saying, “You might want to take an unpaid vacation day today. Forever.” By doing their dirty work at a distance, it’s much easier for them to collect their bonus and avoid the pesky emotions that get stirred up by seeing or hearing a laid-off employee weeping and howling in despair.
If you have an emotional message to deliver, or you’re trying to forge an emotional bond, do it in-person or by phone. Email and IM make it nearly impossible to manage the emotional side of a conversation.