Every time I get in a relationship with someone, early on I establish a rule: We will not be having (long) conversations on the phone.
I suspect it's been a deal breaker at times, or at least a red flag (I'm thinking of you, Mr. Get-Anything-I-Want-on-the-Phone Conductor).
This morning, I overheard a conversation between several colleagues that went something like this.
"I hate making phone calls!"
"It's not like I've had really bad trauma on the phone, I just don't know what to say, it's always so awkward."
"I find ways to avoid calls. I'll send an e-mail if I can. I hate calling my credit card company."
"I don't like talking to anyone unless I really know them."
I suddenly felt as if maybe I weren't alone. (Is it a generational thing?)
This conversation was not even sparked by a particularly unpleasant phone calling task: It was a series of phone calls that needed to be made to Writer's Digest contest winners, people who are hopefully thrilled to hear from us!
Unfortunately, unlike my colleague, I have experienced traumatic moments on the phone, including:
- Hearing a string of foreign expletives a mile long (followed by heart-breaking news and a hang up) after finally gathering the courage to make an international call
- Being brazenly belittled, insulted, and ridiculed by agents who don't like the initial offer or contract they've received
- Being asked by an authority figure to lie to someone over the phone, while they watched to ensure I did so
- Hearing writers (whom I don't know) sigh loudly, say something mean, then hang up when I say I'm not interested in their project
There are maybe two or three people in the world with whom I can have a truly meaningful and productive conversation on the phone. For everyone else, I do my best, but so much is missing:
- body language
- facial expressions
- that intangible vibe in the room
- eye contact, eye contact, eye contact
When it comes to business life, though, quick (even long) phone calls are far superior to endless, indeterminate e-mail chains, and an absolute must when you're working in a company with many locations and telecommuting employees.
But when it comes to phone communication vs. written communication with unknown people in my business, written always wins: I never, ever want to hear your pitches on a phone call, I don't want to return your call asking for submission guidelines (it will turn into a pitch), I don't want to brainstorm ideas with you. For the love of God, take two minutes to find my e-mail address online (easy if you Google my name) and send a quick note. It's less intrusive and you'll actually get a response.
I have to ask the writers who do this: why make phone calls to people you don't know or have a relationship with? Maybe you think that because the e-mails aren't getting answered, the phone is the only way to get through, but not many people pick up the phone anymore without knowing who's on the other end and/or expecting the call. So why waste your time? Find other ways to connect.
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