Why I Hate the Phone (and other thoughts on business communication)

relationsipsThis is the first time I’ve posted a blog in a while, as my social media activities have been on the back burner for the past month. Nothing against y’all, but I’ve had family from the Netherlands staying with me and there is only so much of myself to go around. I did keep tabs on other people’s posts and tweets so I know I have a lot of good stuff to catch up on, but I’ve mostly been confined to lurker status.

During this period of social abstinence a few thoughts occurred to me about my usual forms of interaction.

If you’ve read some of my other posts you know I’m not a fan of the phone call. The whole ritual of identification, the introductory small talk which must strike the perfect note between cordiality and business and the polite extrication noises at the end are not my idea of a roaring good time. Of course I have learned to do all the above or I wouldn’t have a functioning business, but I infinitely prefer the streamlined, low-stress effectiveness of a simply e-mail. “Dear so and so, this is my point, best regards”, done.

phoneAnother reason I prefer e-mail is because they have built-in time-outs for formulating a response under pressure. It’s much easier to say no to a subpar offer when the terms are spelled out in black and white than when you’re talking to a desperate project manager who is asking you if there is “any way at all that you could find it in your heart to take on this rush project at a slightly lower rate just this one time please, I would really really really appreciate it”.

I’ve collected a few stand-by phrases over the years that come in handy so I don’t have to think up a whole new response when I’m put on the spot:

  • I’m sorry, [normal rate] is the best I can do.
  • That doesn’t work for me; I’m going to have to pass, sorry.
  • In that case I’m going to let someone else take this project, sorry.

This usually ends the conversation with a mumbled “ok thanks anyway”, but it’s still awkward and much more difficult than the cheerful efficacy of an e-mail. Of course this is exactly the strategic point of the phone call, and the reason why I don’t feel bad about parrying these overtures with an e-mailed refusal at times. It beats getting talked into bargain basement rates because you can’t say no.

Yet another reason I don’t like the phone is because you can’t see facial expressions, and being a visual person that leaves me feeling like I’m talking into a void. You’d think that Skyping would be the ideal solution for someone like me, but you’d be wrong. Skyping simply combines the stress of the regular phone call with the added distraction of wondering if that hung-over looking apparition avoiding eye contact in the lower right-hand corner is really what I look like.

busines lunchAs much as I like e-mail for business purposes, though, nothing really beats personal contact for building relationships. It has been incredibly enjoyable, these past three weeks, to have leisurely conversations over coffee, wine and the occasional Limoncello, and it reminded me that e-mail may be efficient, but even the most efficient business ultimately stands or falls on relationships.

If I lived closer to my clients I would make a resolution to take them out for lunch occasionally, but unfortunately that is not an option. So I’m starting with my colleagues. I went to my first NCTA meeting this year, and discovered that there are a handful of translators in and around Fresno. I got in contact with them and organized a few informal get-togethers.

I wish I could say we have a thriving Fresno group now, but it has actually not been that easy. Most, like me, are introverts with extremely busy schedules, so getting everyone together in one place on the same day is an accomplishment I think deserves a prize in and of itself. But I’m not giving up yet. Virtual contact is easy; real-life relationships are complex and require work.

If you have experiences you’d like to share about building relationships with clients/colleagues or starting groups I’d love to hear from you!

8 thoughts on “Why I Hate the Phone (and other thoughts on business communication)

  1. I much prefer e-mail or even Skype instant messages too, Marie. I particularly hate it when clients in my source countries phone out of the blue, rattling off demands in their language when I’m deeply engrossed in translating from my OTHER source language. Some days my brain adjusts quickly, but other times I can almost hear the cogs clunking as I switch from one language to another and it puts you on the wrong foot from the start! Then there are hearing issues: one client, a charming French lady, I’m sure waves the phone around as she speaks at breakneck speed and so half of what she says is lost in the ether and I’m forever asking her to speak up or repeat herself – does not make for harmonious conversation! Maybe it’s just my ears failing with age or my introvert self, but I’d much rather have it all set down in black and white in an e-mail…

    • Thanks for sharing, I can totally relate to that horrible feeling of getting off on the wrong foot because your mind is still switching gears; I had the exact same experience with a client calling from Holland in the middle of the night once. And that lady waving the phone around while you try feverishly to keep up with the conversation, priceless! Thanks for a great chuckle to start my day with 🙂

  2. Very nice article, Marie.

    Email is indeed not a personal communication medium (although it can be quite close depending on context and purpose), but in a business setting, one doesn’t always have to get “personal”.
    For example, working with agencies (not business practices, typically those with all those stressed PMs) doesn’t necessarily require anything more than email. In this setting the relationship building is limited anyway, so the conversation is typically focuses on the here and now and get right to the point. At other times a more personal touch might be needed, but it might be needed only periodically.

    Personally, I would suggest developing some preemptive reactions to avoid even being put on the spot, especially if one has trouble saying no when put on the spot. For example, if a PM calls you and you get the feeling that the conversation leads to you eventually being put on the spot, ask them to send an email with all the details, you will go over it, see if and what you can do (never promise anything more than that), and get back to them within X amount of time. The same can be used if one already finds oneself on the spot – ask for the details again (a little stalling tactic), and/or ask to get everything in an email so you could go over it carefully and properly. The end game here, of course, is to create some separation, and take back control over the conversation by transferring it to a medium you feel more comfortable in and/or that is more appropriate for this type of conversation.
    I like your responses, they are very polite, clear, non-apologetic, and put you in control.

    I’d would also suggest never to finalize a business transaction only on the phone. The details can be discussed, but a follow-up, recap email is always a must. One great advantage of email is that everything is documented. You have a built-in, almost effortless audit trail. When a conversation is strictly down to business, I too prefer to have it in writing (IM also works, and it does have a little more personal/casual touch into it).

    Email is a great communication channel when used correctly. There are times in which a phone/VoIP call is more efficient and effective, and conversations better contained in an email conversation.

    Communication management is just another skill business owners need to develop, and context, purpose, and interpersonal skills all play a role in formulating the right balance.

    • Hi Shai, thanks for your in-depth response! Very helpful, and I especially like your points about preemptive reactions, creating space, and never finalizing anything over the phone. Maybe you could write a blog post or article to elaborate on this; I know it would be helpful to a lot of people.

  3. And I thought I was the only one who hated the phone 🙂 Many people don’t believe me when I tell them I don’t really enjoy talking on the phone, as I am an extrovert and quite talkative to be honest. I too prefer emailing. Chatting with my friends and family does not count – that I do often and I have no problem with it. But for business, emailing is my favourite means of communication.

      • You’ll laugh, but one of the reasons is that I hate my phone voice 🙂 And when it comes to business, I prefer to take my time and write a detailed email, making sure I miss nothing of what I wanted to say. Which can always happen on the phone. Of course, I understand why phone calls are necessary and I do use them, but I still like emailing more.

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