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Monday, December 28, 2009

I hate talking on the phone

I hate talking on the phone.

When I was a teenager, I lived my entire life on the phone. I even worked a part-time job just to get money to pay for my own phone line, so that I could talk on it as long as I wanted without anyone kicking me off. I was a master of all forms of phone activity, including three-hour time-killers in which we covered nothing of substance, the non-emergency (except in gossip terms) emergency break-through, and some really exceptional prank calls.

Somewhere along the way, though, the phone and I had a break-up. Probably because I developed a raging hot love for email, which suits me on far more levels: I can talk to you whenever I feel like it, even at 2 a.m. I can answer you when it's most convenient, or after I've pondered my answer for a while, or during the commercial break from Law & Order. And I can talk to you without you knowing that I have a mouth stuffed full of tacos.

In a work context, I'm even more pro-email and anti-phone. Lots of conversations that would take five minutes in person take 30 seconds in email. If you email me instead of calling me, I can concentrate on other things without interruption and answer you when I'm at a good stopping point. I can write you back after hours, when I finally have time to focus on what you're saying.

Obviously, email isn't good for every situation. There are times when email is less efficient than talking by phone or in person, or where the situation simply requires a real conversation. (And god knows that I learn things in phone interviews that I wouldn't have realized from email, like that the candidate is crazy ... or, alternately, spectacular.)

But I have to think that in 10 years, we're going to be using the phone even less than we are right now. And I will not be sorry to see it go.


Becky said...

I JUST wrote a post about this same topic (although from a personal perspective rather than a professional one). Of course you put it much better than I did. I agree with you 100%.

BossLady said...

I hope the phone doesn't go by the wayside completely. But perhaps I am in a different arena that has different needs.

I often find that something that would take 3-5 exchanges over email can be quickly resolved in one phone call, which might mean more actual time, but really gets to the resolution faster.

I also find that younger folks in my area of work tend to email more than I'd like (our focus where I work is customer service) and I fear at times it is to avoid difficult conversations or put them at a distance as email is wont to do. This just drives me batty.

But I'll agree I also love the freedom that email allows in time management. I guess in the end, its about picking the right tool for the job, and knowing your audience.

Meggity Mak said...

I totally agree. Now if I could only convince my old fashion co-workers that 4 out of 5 times it is best to email me instead of call me.
What I hate more than talking on the phone is listening to voice mails. What a waste of time!
But the BEST is getting a phone call from someone that wants to let you know they just sent you and email. Seriously?!?

Mary said...

I HATE talking on the phone. But, that's no wonder since I am more of a writer than speaker.

Plus, email is great for people like me who have a hard time with verbal directions. Something that is written and somewhat tangible is so helpful to me.

But yeah, there are definitely times when just a QUICK call can replace several emails.

Mary said...

On a side note, my best friend used to have her own phone line- I was so jealous. We used to literally giggle the night away with stupid voices and impressions of people.

Aubrey said...

Agreed! Phone conversations open up the floodgates for ramblers, mumblers, and airheads. I say send me an email and save me the agony!

Kevin said...

That's lame... Email supplies an opportunity to completely abolish personal courtesy. In the wake of text-based-communication's takeover, you manager types seem to find it acceptable to simply not reply in lieu of a direct answer and reasonable explanation. An email conversation usually stretches over days, not five seconds. If you really cannot spare the five minutes to actually speak to me than you are not an employer worth dealing with in the first place.

Ask a Manager said...

Jeez, Kevin, generalize much? Email may "supply an opportunity to abolish personal courtesy," but that doesn't mean people use it that way.

I don't know if you're referring to hiring-related communications or work communications, but I can't think of a single time I've ignored either.

But if you want a five-minute phone conversation about a job you're applying for that you haven't yet interviewed for? Yeah, I'm going to ask that you email me instead. There are probably 300+ applicants for that job. 300 x 5 minutes each = 25 hours of work.

Evil HR Lady said...

I love to "chat" on the phone with friends and family. But work, information gathering, etc, should be conducted via e-mail as much as possible.

Not only is it a more efficient use of time, it gives documentation of what was communicated.

The Happy Employee said...

I always read posts and articles about how you should avoid email and use the phone instead. I always loved email and hated phones (at least at work).

I once even tried to concentrate hard enough to make my phone disappear into a parallel dimension. It didn't work, but I let the next couple of calls go directly to voicemail.

Great article. Thank you !

class-factotum said...

I was aghast when my husband drove to the furniture store to deliver some information for his parents. First, because why couldn't his parents take care of this? Second, he was delivering information - a product number. Why didn't you just email this? I asked him. Maybe they don't use email, he answered.

My husband is an engineer who works from home. He lives and dies by email. Why he thought that somebody else wouldn't use email is beyond me. We had a 45-minute fight on the topic. (Well, part of it was because we were at his parents, which is always stressful, but that is another story.)

I have a friend who also hates talking on the phone (as I do). She'll answer when I call because she says if I call, it is not to talk -- that I get to the point and hang up.

With email, you have documentation. I love email.

The Engineer said...


Much less likely to ramble in writing. Get to the point. Get an answer. Get it done.

Anonymous said...

Work in a law or insurance office for one day and you'll forever learn the value of having something in writing. If someone insists on calling me with sensitive instructions, they get a 'per your call' email that I want an affirmative answer to. I've been in too many situations where 'Well, I guess you misunderstood me' or 'I never said that' are trotted out.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the BossLady. It's about choosing the right method for the task on hand.

I find it a lot harder to build any sort of relationship with my suppliers and customers if I rely entirely on email. There is so much useful "off the record" information that will never be put in an email.

Also, it interrupts my workflow if I need a piece of information to complete a task and I have to wait 24 hours because my question got lost in someone's overflowing inbox (note: I work in an area where delays in the information flow cause serious problems).

My current pet peeve is our IT helpdesk. They insist on being contacted by email only. Fine. But then you won't get an answer for days (are they working on this or did they forget about me?) or the answer to a complex question consists of about 3 words that do not help at all.

Overall, I am still a fan of the telephone - not for everything but for a lot of stuff. It also depends on the person that I am communicating with. With those who tend to answer quickly and to the point, I'm happy to use email.

Cassie said...

I prefer email over telephone - probably 99% of the time. The exception would be if you needed information quickly and therefore could not wait until the recipient checks their email and respond.

One of the reasons I don't like telephone conversations is because of the possibility of misunderstanding information - people don't enunciate so you have to ask them to repeat themselves. And don't get me started on voicemail!

Of course, the paper trail with email can be a bad thing too... we had a situation where a contractor's supervisors were copied on an email - which put the contractor in a bad situation because he couldn't help us resolve the situation since his bosses were now aware of the problem. (In the end, we were able to work out a solution, but not before my boss yelled at me for two days because someone else sent out the email and copied the bosses).

DC said...

It's true that Kevin is generalizing, but in some ways I have to agree with him. You, AAM, seem to have the right balance of phone vs. email, and you respond accordingly. However, I've encountered many managers over the course of my job search who do not have the same organization as you. If it takes someone over a week to get back to me via email, yet they refuse to accept phone calls, it only further emphasizes to me that this is someone I may not be comfortable working for - especially if it's only a simple job-related question that could be quickly answered in a 30-second conversation, when we've already established a correspondence about a job opening.

That said, I can see where Kevin is coming from. So far the people I've communicated with who do not accept phone calls do not have a very good track record in my book of getting back to me via email. You, AAM, are in the minority, or else I have just somehow found myself in a pool of communication with imbeciles. (too much?)

fposte said...

While they both have benefits, for basic stuff I like email--I work focused with documents, and phone calls come at just the wrong time. I have one very nice colleague who just doesn't quite get it, and who will call to tell me she's sending me email--fortunately, she's lovely and it's ultimately just funny.

Anonymous said...

I also hate using the phone, which is a little tricky as it forms a large part of my job (I'm a medical secretary). We didn't get a phone at home until I was well into my 20's so I'm not comfortable with it and much prefer face to face contact - people are much less rude to me face to face!

Anonymous said...

The phone is the worst form of communication in modern use. In person, a moderate pause or silence while mulling over ideas is more acceptable; over e-mail the pause to think is not even noticed; over the phone it quickly becomes, "Are you there?" In person, you have body language and facial expressions; over e-mail you even have emoticons; over the phone you just have a disembodied voice.

I've also found that as a woman, men are much more prone to dominating a phone conversation by using their booming low voices to simply talk over my naturally softer and higher voice, or using a lot of "ums" and "ahs" to connect their thoughts so that I never have an opportunity to inject my own response into a pause. Over e-mail it's easier to "get my fair share" of the discourse.

Tangential, but germane: I also loathe in-person meetings, which inevitably last at least an hour and cover topics which could have been covered in 2 or 3 quick e-mail exchanges, leaving an e-paper trail for everyone's records.

Chris H said...

I have to disagree with your post today. (Though I love the blog!).

Each form of communication has its place. Email is fantastic for passing along info, simple questions and updates. Where you need something more is if there is more of a discussion that needs to take place. Chat programs such as MS Communicator can fill in some of this void, Videoconferences are becoming as easy as phone calls as well. However, when performance is important you can't wait for people to get around to responding to email and a phone call is necessary. Much harder for them to avoid and you can get results much quicker.

Kim Stiens said...

As someone else mentioned, in personal conversations, its very easy for one person to dominate another. This is especially true in my case; I'm very non-confrontational, and am much better at communicating in writing than in real-time. I don't consider this a personality flaw or something that needs to be corrected, but it seems a lot of people do. People think of phone or in-person as being more personal or more legitimate, but in reality those are just forums where people with dominating personalities and a good speech skill set have a natural advantage. Email evens the playing field, giving a slight advantage to people who are good at writing... which is something that everyone should at least be baseline good at.