We receive emails from customers, clients and co-workers everyday soliciting advice or requesting information. Sometimes the email is concise, a clearly stated question that is simple and to the point. Other questions need clarification. My friend Sandi Knakal once offered, “After three emails about the same subject, I just pick up the phone.” I’ve taken that suggestion to heart and I can tell you, it’s good advice.

Email has its place: You can send questions and reply with answers when it’s convenient for you, without having to fit it into someone else’s schedule; today’s email programs allow you to save old conversations so you can refer back to the email at any time; and with email there is less chit-chatting, so the conversation can be more direct.

But there are those emails that contain more than one question or that require so much clarification that the the back and forth required would probably be handled quicker with a phone call. If someone sends me an email question, I try to answer in that form, assuming this is their preferred method of communication. But I stick with Sandi’s Three Strikes rule. When I start to feel frustrated by the limitations of typing, or when I’ve hit that “reply button” more than twice, I pick up the phone.

Finally, respond to all the questions that were posed in the email, or explain why you’re skipping some. Ignoring a question will not make it go away and will likely result in additional email, requiring even more of your time.

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