It is almost 2020, and there are countless ways to be in touch with someone including email, a phone call, messaging apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, and even old-school postal mail. So how do you choose which form of communication is appropriate for getting in touch with someone professionally?

Here are some pretty basic guidelines to help you make that decision:

If I didn't give you my number, then don't use it.

If I did not give you my phone number, then perhaps there is a reason for that and calling me to discuss your startup at some ungodly hour is probably not a good idea. You know what else isn't a good idea? Sending me a message on an app that requires phone numbers, like WhatsApp. 

If you are a business contact, then maybe let's keep it that way and keep it formal, easily archive-able, searchable, and professional. That is what email is for. 

If you need an immediate response and we have texted before, then texting works.

If we already have each other's numbers, and you need to ask me a timely question, then by all means, messaging apps are the way to go. It is safe to assume people want to keep their inbox as clean and empty as possible so if you have a one line message or quick question you need a quick answer to, then yes, text me.

That said, please do not send someone your resume or a legal document that requires a signature over Facebook Messenger, not only because of privacy reasons, but also because of etiquette. Those messaging apps are for casual communication, and you sending me your resume so I can help you find a job? Well, that is serious business so email would make the most sense.

A phone call is appropriate only in one specific scenario.

Ask yourself one simple question before picking up the phone to discuss business: Is that person expecting your call? If the answer is no, consider messaging them to ask if now is comfortable for them to speak on the phone.

Phone calls, if you stop and think about it, are highly inefficient and when not pre-scheduled, they are even intrusive and inconsiderate. Just because you decided you want to talk now, I need to stop what I am doing to answer your call? 

How about you email or text and I respond when I am ready?

In a business context, at least in my world, phone calls are the right form of communication when they are arranged in advance. If the call was not scheduled, then yes, use digital communication.

Communication is at the core of everything we do in business, so maybe it is worth making sure we do it right.

Published on: Nov 20, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.