Sometimes It’s Best to Pick Up the Phone

May 6, 2024
Kelly McNees

In theory, no organization should be more aware of the risks of putting sensitive material in writing than a law firm. In reality, everyone fires off an email or a text — in anger or frustration or simple carelessness — that they later regret.

The problem is that once it’s in writing, it’s permanent. Internal electronic communications can be especially problematic if they are leaked to the media or used as evidence in court.

Even deleted messages are discoverable. “The ‘e’ in email also stands for ‘evidence’ and ‘eternal,’” a panelist emphasized at a recent general counsel conference in Chicago.

It’s not just email, of course. Text messages and messaging apps such as Slack, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp create a permanent record of your words. That’s why certain situations call for — see what we did there? — picking up the phone. Keep these guidelines in mind next time you reach out to a colleague.

  1. A phone call is the safest communications channel for anything you wouldn’t want repeated. As marketers and communicators, a guiding principle is not to share anything in writing that you wouldn’t be comfortable including in an employee newsletter. If a conversation should take place behind closed doors, do not have it in writing.
  2. Train employees on the high stakes of internal communications. We’re used to treating electronic communications so casually that it’s easy to forget the ramifications of email gone wrong. Emphasize with employees that they should operate under the assumption that their internal messages will be read by someone other than the intended recipient — and write accordingly.
  3. Keep up with evolving technology. Off-channel communications — unauthorized channels, such as apps on employees’ personal devices, used to conduct company business — can escalate a challenge to a crisis. Your firm’s policies should address off-channel communications, and employees need training to be aware of the policies and comply with them.

Remember that smartphones are still phones. They can make and receive phone calls, even if it feels awkward to use them that way.

Placing a call is your best bet if you find yourself doing a gut check. If you pause to ask yourself, “Should I put this in an email?” the answer is clear: Pick up the phone.