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E-Mail Versus Face-To-Face Interaction: What’s Best for Workplace Communication?

Communication by the Numbers

I get the opportunity to teach clients about total communication, or all of the ways we communicate with other human beings. The first question I typically ask is; how much of complete communication comes from the words we communicate (spoken or written). The answers quickly start flying at me from the audience, and they are all over the spectrum, typically from 50 percent to 90 percent.

The answer to this question is an astonishing 7 percent. That’s right, the actual words we use to communicate only account for 7 percent of the total communication process. Tone and body language make up the other 93 percent. When we think about this tiny yet staggering percentage of communications coming from the actual words we use, it is easy to see why emails, texts, and other forms of written communications can be so damaging.

When we send a text or an email, we effectively lose 93 percent of the total communication process. Let’s think about this for a second. Studies have shown that when we read an email or another form of written communication, our brains tend to make up for the 93 percent of the lost or missing communication process.


Think back to a time where you received an email on a hot issue. As you read it, did you read it in the sender’s voice? Did you put your tone on it based on how the conversation went up to that point? I bet that you did! When we read an email or text, our brains will seemingly add the other 93 percent of communication that we lost by not talking face to face, or at least over the phone, where the tone of voice can be taken into consideration.

Speaking of the tone of voice, how much of the total communication process does it make up? The answer is a whopping 38 percent of the entire communication process comes from the tone we put to our spoken words. Remember that age-old saying, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”

Now, let’s think back to that reflection question. As you read that email, your brain is looking to put a tone to the words you are reading. It is no wonder that this happens when we need a tone of voice far more than the actual words that we are saying. The problem is, we are adding our perceptions, or perceptual bias, to the words we are reading based upon previous communications and/or how we feel about the topic and/or the person that is communicating with us.

So, the other 55 percent of the total communication goes to body language. Yes, you read that correctly. 55 percent of the entire communication process comes from our body language. When we communicate with others face to face, whether we know it or not, we are continually reading others body language for congruence with what the person is saying. Guess what, the person you are talking to is doing the same thing to you.

Let’s put it all together.

Assuming we are talking face to face with someone, the words they are saying are only giving us 7 percent of the message. How they are saying those words, or tone of voice, accounts for 38 percent. Moreover, how they are portraying the message through their posture and gestures are giving you the rest of the message, 55 percent to be exact.

We now live in a world where it is more convenient to merely shoot a text or email to a friend, family member, or colleague. The trick is to understanding when it is appropriate to send an email or text. If the communication is trivial, then it is more than likely okay. If the conversation may have a negative or upsetting tone, it might be wise to pick up the phone at least to give your tone of voice a shot at clarifying the words you are using. If it is critical information, something that the receiver will react adversely to, it may be wise to see the person and deliver the message utilizing all 100 percent of the communication process. Each layer adds clarity. Removing one or even two layers can put a beating on the message you are sending, not to mention the possible strain on the relationship between you and the receiver as a result of the diminished effectiveness that comes along with an email void of tone or vision.

Note – Most of my students typically argue with me that email is preferred as it is proof that the communication occurred. That is fine and entirely understandable. My advice, communicate appropriately based upon the situation at hand, then follow up with an email. Simple!

Think about this the next time you are about to send an email. Ask yourself, “Would it be better for me to call the person or even meet with them to deliver this message?” If the answer is yes, do it! It may take more time, but in the end, it will save you the time and energy it takes to have to clarify the message based upon receiver perception. If the message is damaging enough, you may find yourself spending even more time repairing a relationship, all because of an email or text that was taken the wrong way.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic and the courses offered, contact Power Dynamics at This class will be one that you don’t want to miss!

About the Author

Michael Gallagher, President and Lead Consultant – Power Dynamics, LLC, is a subject matter expert in the field of body language and kinesics, based upon his extensive experience as a law enforcement officer and detective. Michael is formally trained in interviews, interrogations, and kinesics and spent over ten years of his law enforcement career honing his skills surrounding communications. Michael has been studying communications and body language ever since and has dedicated most of his educational pursuits to transferring the knowledge he gained in law enforcement to the world of business.

Power Dynamics, LLC offers classes in communications that are custom designed for the intended audience. Whether you are leadership, middle management, or an individual contributor, there is always something to be learned surrounding this topic. The classes are designed for all employees as well; those that are forward facing to the customer as well as those who have internal customers within the organization. Michael has trained all types of business professionals on this topic, from senior leadership to middle management, customer service representatives, and service managers to name a few.

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