In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, Vanessa K. Bohns wrote about her new research that found that “people tend to overestimate the power of their persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of their persuasiveness via face-to-face communication.” This is consistent with previous research that showed that negotiations in person are more effective than negotiations by video, which are in turn more effective than negotiations by email.
In the new study, participants asked strangers to fill out a survey—either by email or in person—and to predict how successful their request would be. While participants expected that both types of request would be equally effective, in reality, the face-to-face requests were 34 times as successful! As Bohns notes, this means that “despite the reach of email, asking in person is the significantly more effective approach; you need to ask six people in person to equal the power of a 200-recipient email blast.”
Therefore, while email can be significantly less stressful than speaking, the latter will almost certainly be more successful. If you have the opportunity to ask face-to-face, take it!
Update (4/17/17): In a post today on The Science of Us, Matthew Hutson highlights some additional research on the benefits of speaking over writing. For example, according to one study, when a “hire me” pitch is presented in writing, the candidate is viewed as significantly less intelligent, likable, and hirable than when the same pitch is spoken. A follow-up study found one potential reason why: when we read someone else’s writing, we hear it in an unnaturally monotone voice. Another study confirmed that it’s significantly harder to discern the tone of an email compared to speaking. And yet another study found that conflicts are more likely to escalate when they play out over email than when they play out face-to-face or over the phone.