Communication Hierarchy: Identifying how and when to reach out

by Simon Huggins

by Simon Huggins

And now, I may surprise some of you…. I prefer texting over phone calls.


From a communication specialist, that’s sacrilege! 

Give me a moment to present my case before you decide to burn me at the stake.

I have a hierarchy of communication method preferences … as do you. We all have our stated and unstated communication rules.

With so many mediums to choose from, all of us have our own hierarchy. I’ll share mine and explain my reasoning. I’m not saying that my preferences should be your preferences. In fact, I’d love to hear about your hierarchy in the comments below!

First, let me go over the mediums and their pros and cons – as seen through my eyes. Then, I’ll share my communication step ladder.


This was a posed photo. Don't worry. I wasn't texting while talking to people.

This was a posed photo. Don’t worry. I wasn’t texting while talking to people.

It’s fast. It’s efficient. I also like that it gives me a moment or two to consider my response. I get to wordsmith my reply. I’ve always been one who chooses my words carefully. Texting gives you that luxury. Most questions can be answered via text and it keeps me out of my inbox, which I like. (I’ll get to email shortly.) If something can’t be answered via text, then it can be upgraded to an email or a call can be scheduled. Plus, I can have multiple conversations at once. Some people may hate that, but I don’t mind it.


by Stephen Coles

by Stephen Coles

I’m not a huge fan of email. It’s not email’s fault. It’s mine. Email did nothing wrong. It’s not you, Email; it’s me. 

For email, I have 3 issues to work through every time. First, I feel like anything that is written via email (rather than text) needs to be more formal, and much more thought out. I go over my emails multiple times before I hit Send. Some people are fine sending short emails quickly, like texts. I struggle with that. 

Second, emails don’t feel like interaction. Meaning rather than having a fluid back and forth – like texting or phone calls – there is a lag time. I have to read between the lines, anticipate questions, and make sure I hit all my bases. Email takes more time and focus. That’s why I tend to reserve my email conversations to my VIPs. 

The third problem with email (again, not email’s fault) is distraction. I prefer to reply to emails on my laptop (for said composing purposes mentioned above). The laptop can be a very distracting place. That very shiny web browser button calls my name so seductively. 

Phone Calls. 

PhoneI like phone calls….under certain conditions.  

Here’s my thing. We live in a wonderful technology age where Skype, FaceTime, and GoogleHangout are at our finger tips. And, we know how much information is conveyed via body language. So, we have the technology. Why aren’t we using it more often?! I would much prefer to schedule a video call than hop on a phone call.

If a video conversation isn’t possible, I’m perfectly fine chatting over the phone. I just prefer to schedule calls. I like being well-prepared and present. Shifting gears quickly from one thing to the next has never been my strong suit. (Just one reason why I’m rubbish at driving a stick shift.)

Here’s the dirty little truth about phone calls. While someone is talking to you, they are doing other things! They are driving. They are looking at emails. They are looking at papers on their desk. They are having a side conversation with their assistant through mime. Too many things are happening when people are on phone calls because they think that they can get away with it. I’m guilty of it too. If I’m on the phone with family or friends (not clients), I’m probably doing some cleaning while I talk. 

I’ve worked with sales associates who mostly do their work on the phone. They ask me how to pick up on influential keywords and clues on the calls. “Without the body language, it’s hard to pick up on things,” they say. 

That’s true…..kinda. Yes, being cut off from body language does mean that you’re missing 60% of the full message. However, studies have shown that people are better at picking up on a lie if they are only listening to the other person compared to if they are looking at that person. Hmmmm… so, sounds like you can hear more than you think.

I usually ask my phone sales clients what they are doing while they are on their call. Are they looking at their Profiling Tool? (If they are a client of mine, they better be.) More often than not, when we start our work together, they confess that they are looking at something on their computer while they speak with their prospect. 

I’m ok with someone doing other things if they are texting me. That’s the beauty of the medium. If they are doing something else while they are on a call with me, that’s just rude. And, that distraction comes through in the conversation. We are not as skilled at multitasking as we think. In fact, multitasking doesn’t really exist. So, that’s why I prefer….

Video Conversation. 

Shari Alexander and Lou Heckler Speech Coaches and Professional SpeakersHaving a video call with someone means that you have to stay focused on that conversation and nothing else. Having to focus on the conversation and knowing that you are seen is probably why most people avoid video calls. And it’s the exact reason why I prefer them! 

On video calls, you get the advantage reading body language cues! You are forced to stay present and aware during the conversation. And, it is easier to build rapport over video conversations than through any of the other media. 

Plus, you usually have to schedule a video call, which means that both parties are prepared. It is in both of your calendars, just like a meeting. Your colleagues are less likely to interrupt you if they see that you are on a video call, rather than the miming we discussed while you are on a phone call. I feel that people give one another more attention and respect when they see that they are seen. 

So, my hierarchy of preferences is…

Video Calls – my fave

Texting – quick, efficient, interactive, and can always upgrade to a call

Phone call – good. Preferred when scheduled

Email – love to use it to schedule calls or for more official correspondence 

There you have it. What do you think? What is your order of preference? 



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