my client is calling me 7 times a day

A reader writes:

I work as a consultant for a few small nonprofits (that is, I’m not an employee and I work remotely). For a variety of reasons, I prefer to conduct most business via email. In the first place, for the work I do, I like having a written record of discussions, decisions, etc. Beyond that, I find the phone jarring, intrusive, and distracting and it’s difficult to actually get work done when your phone is ringing off of the hook. I even have my voicemail message set suggesting people email me instead of calling for a faster reply, as I pretty much respond instantly to emails (and if I can’t reply right away I put up an auto reply letting people know I will write back later). I also proofread my emails for thoroughness and clarity before sending them out. So, in short, I’m really good with the email.

Recently, the manager of one of the organizations I work for retired. She and I worked together for several years and our communications styles matched in that we both generally preferred using email over the phone for most things (except for calls we’d plan in advance or in extreme emergencies).

The organization’s new manager has taken to calling me multiple times a day to “check in” on things that I’ve already emailed him updates about, or on things we agreed to follow up on later, pending additional info I’m still waiting for, etc. Other times, he will randomly call to have some big group discussion about something, without prior planning. Several times, that has happened when I was away from my desk and then it becomes an issue of where am I and when will I be able to call back, which means I need to get to my desk as soon as I can.

What’s more, he will leave these totally useless voicemails when I don’t answer, saying things like “Hi, it’s (name). Call me back.” I mean… if you’re going to leave a voice mail, at least SAY SOMETHING in the voice mail beyond that you just called, which I can already see based on the three missed calls I’ve had from you in the past 20 minutes.

In addition to being annoying and distracting, this dynamic of constant phone calls is really stressing me out. I’m a consultant, not an employee, which means that I’m not accountable to the org for my whereabouts and activities during the day so long as my work gets done (which it does) and this constant barrage of calls is making me feel chained to my desk and phone at all times. And believe me, they don’t pay me “chained to my desk” money. Beyond that, his numerous “check-ins” on items I am actively working on are making me feel hounded, nagged, and micromanaged.

My friend advised me to try to “train” the new manager in how to communicate with me by telling him “I’m not available by phone, but I will be available by email” and by responding immediately to all emails, but not answering my phone (or calling back immediately). I’ve tried this, but so far it hasn’t been working. If I don’t pick up, I can usually expect several more missed calls until I finally bite the bullet and call back. And the issues he’s calling about are never “emergencies.” I’ve also tried preempting calls at random times by offering times when I COULD be free and available to talk – i.e. “I am free to discuss this at 4pm” but that doesn’t seem to work either, as it will often prompt a phone call to confirm the 4pm phone call.

Anyway, this is making me crazy and the longer I let it continue, the harder it will be to make it stop. It’s to the point where he and I chat on the phone six, seven times in a single day. Are there more direct – but still professionally acceptable – way to tell him that he simply cannot call me so often?

Well, first, I wouldn’t take your friend’s advice. Telling a client that you’re only reachable by email will come across as really rigid and not realistic for the way many clients work. And frankly, depending on what type of consulting you do, it might not be reasonable to avoid the phone as much as it sounds like you might like to. (Of course, if you’re highly in-demand, you can make all sorts of rules — but otherwise, you do need to be fairly flexible.)

But you can and should set some boundaries here. You’re absolutely right that, as a consultant with multiple clients, you’re not expected to be available at all hours and whenever the mood strikes this particular client.

And while some people will pick up on the sorts of cues you’ve been sending (not answering each call, directing him toward email, suggesting a specific time to talk), this guy clearly isn’t. That means that you need to have a more direct conversation with him about this.

I’d say something like this: “I want to talk about the best way for you to reach me when you need me. Because I have multiple clients, I’m not typically available for ad hoc phone calls throughout the day — but I’m glad to make time for them when we can schedule them in advance. But as a contractor, I’m splitting my time between several projects and can’t offer full-time availability to Citizens for Better Teapots. My rates would be a lot higher otherwise! But what I can do is schedule a weekly or twice-a-week standing phone call with you, and we could hash through all of these things on those calls. Would that work?”

If he pushes back, you could explain something like: “You know, the advantage of hiring a consultant like me to do this work is that you get expertise in ___ without paying the full-time salary and benefits that you’d pay to have someone on staff who does it. But the flip side of that is that I’m not available all the time the way a full-time employee might be; I have other clients and other commitments on my schedule. In the last month, I’ve started receiving calls from CBT several times a day or being expected to join group calls at the last minute. As a contractor, that’s not something I can do. But I’d be glad to schedule a weekly or twice-a-week standing phone call for us. Would that work?”

If he agrees to that, then from there it’s reasonable to expect he’ll stop calling so much outside your scheduled phone calls. But if he continues, it’s reasonable to let most of those calls go to voicemail, and then you can shoot him a quick email later that day saying, “Got your voicemail, won’t be free most of today — can it wait for our call on Friday?” (That said, it’s smart to be willing to answer some of these last-minute calls — meaning one or two a week, not two a day. Consultants who are at least somewhat flexible are generally more valuable.)

Another option, if it continues, is to tell him that with the amount of availability he’s requesting, you need to raise your rates to cover it (if it’s something you’re willing to do at a higher price — but you might not be willing to do this at any price, and that’s reasonable).

However, throughout all of this, keep in mind that you need to know how much you’re willing to push this. Are you willing to lose the client over this? It’s possible that he’ll decide that he’d rather work with someone who is available all the time. If that’s an outcome you’re not willing to tolerate, you’d want to modify your approach accordingly.

{ 205 comments… read them below }

  1. sunny-dee*

    FWIW, I disagree with AAM on the “unrealistic and too rigid for the way most clients work.” When I was freelancing, almost all of my contact with clients was rhe way the OP described — prescheduled phone calls, prescheduled meetings, and the bulk of everything done over email. That is the best way to keep track of things. “We agreed X would be done by June 1, and Y would be mocked up by June 15.” There is a huge problem with mission creep without that.

    And, also, as the OP says, a client doesn’t get 8 hours a day. They get what part of the day I designate them. I schedule all of my work around my deadlines for all of my clients — e.g., Client A may not get any time today because of a deadline for Client B, or I may be giving 2 hours each to clients C – F.

    I just wanted to let the OP know she’s not alone in her habits. :)

    That said, AAM’s advice is sound. Let the calls go to voicemail, stay connected actively in email, and maybe set up a weekly status call. Other than that, sometimes you have to grit your teeth and put up with a ringing phone. :(

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it depends on the client and the nature of the work you’re doing. I have a client who can call me any time they want — it’s hugely helpful to the work for me to be that flexible and it’s made me a lot more valuable to them that I allow that, and plus I personally like them and they don’t abuse it. (That said, if they were calling 7 times a day, I’d absolutely say, “Hey, we need to revisit our arrangement, because it seems like you might really want someone full-time in this role.”)

      On the other hand, with my writing clients, we never talk on the phone and I’d push back if they suddenly started requiring it. The rates I charge them are for freelance pieces, not for additional phone work on top of that. So it really depends.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Yeah, I think that level of detail makes it make a lot of sense, and it definitely mirrors my experience. I was a freelance writer — hence, my heavy dependence on email. That said, I had one or two regulars who really could call me any time, but they never abused it — I heard from them maybe once a month.

      2. Vicki*

        ” tell him that with the amount of availability he’s requesting, you need to raise your rates to cover it”

        “The rates I charge them are for freelance pieces, not for additional phone work on top of that.”

        Given that phone calls cost (the consultant) more in time and energy (and lost time because things that could be written down aren’t), this is not unrealistic. I agree that the OP state that “realtime” availability has a different rate.

        And pick realistic values.

    2. AVP*

      Yeah, I think it just depends on your job function. There are some freelancers and contractors that I find it really easy to schedule time and projects with – IT, web coders, photographers. But if it was for, say, a social media person or a creative director, there has to be at least some expectation that a lot of things are going to come up on the fly, and that they need to consider that when planning out their schedule and taking on new clients.

    3. OP*

      “I just wanted to let the OP know she’s not alone in her habits. :)”

      Thanks! :-) Honestly, from my experience/observation, most people seem to prefer email as their primary or at least first type of communication, with phone calls really only happening when planned in advance to discuss a particular issue, or if emails aren’t generating a response in a reasonable timeframe (a day or two).

      Until now, I don’t know that I ever worked with someone who so strongly prefers the phone to email as their primary/preliminary mode of communication.

  2. WorkingMom*

    I really like AAM’s answer here. My gut reaction to the first part of the letter was, “if your client prefers phone communication, you need to adapt to your clients preferences.” BUT, near the end of the letter I could definitely associate with the OP – I have a client who explicitly demands that I am available during all hours in case she needs me. If I don’t return her call within 15 minutes she starts calling my boss and asking where I am. My boss recognizes the nature of my job is NOT to be on-call 24/7. My job does require to be on the phone much of the day – which means if she only calls and gets my voicemail… chances are I’m already on the phone with another client.

    One of the things I reiterate to this client is that the “fastest” way to reach me is via email – if she has an urgent question she’s better off emailing. 50% of the time even if I’m on another call I can still keep up on email and answer simple, urgent questions that way. Or – I can let her know I’m another call right now, but schedule a time for the two of us to discuss on the phone.

    For clients who prefer phone chats – I will have the phone chat with them, but always follow up with the “to recap our conversation…” email to document what was discussed, decided, etc.

    I think setting expectations with the client is great – but at the same time you also have to adapt to client’s preferences to a certain degree. Learn to be more comfortable on the phone while also managing the client’s expectations so they are not always irritated that they can’t reach you by phone. Good luck, OP!

    1. MaryMary*

      I currently work with clients, and the most appealing thought about moving in-house is the idea of vendors and consultants having to adapt to MY communication style!

      I’m also an email person, I hate the phone. Not only do I do the “to recap our conversation” thing, but I will also type up a detailed email, begin it with, “I will call you to discuss this,” and immediately call the client after I hit send.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        That would drive me a little nuts, actually. Give me a few minutes to read it first if you want to discuss, or I’m not going to be giving you the most intelligent answers, because I’ll be trying to listen to you and read the email at the same time. But that’s me, and anyone else’s mileage may vary.

        1. MaryMary*

          That’s good to know. I usually only do it if it’s something the client has asked for, particularly if I need to do a lot of research or explain something tricky. And half the time I get VM when I call, so people do have a chance to read my email before we talk.

      2. Jamie*

        I’d want a few minutes to read the email – but if it’s something I can read while we’re talking (not wildly long and dialoguey) I’d work with this.

        I am absolutely a conversation recapper via email also – I do not know why everyone doesn’t do this.

        We have a conversation and you say X and promise Y. I send it to you in email, and then when you don’t remember saying that and I pull up the email…you don’t have an email where you responded to me that it was incorrect.

        It saves the trouble from faulty memory or less innocent lapses.

        Once I had a verbal conversation about an issue I was having with someone in which that person blamed another employee for the issue. This was an official conversation so I followed it up with a recap email, to which their response continued the conversation clearly indicating that they were blaming the other employee.

        In a meeting later about this issue, with others involved, I brought that up because this issue was a BFD and what he was accusing the other employee of was fairly serious. The other managers looked askance at what I was saying – because it didn’t sound right. They said they didn’t recall having that conversation with me, nor did that person do the thing they said they did.

        I pulled up the email to refresh their memory.

        Without that it’s a they said/they said – with the email it was pretty clear who was lying.

        Recap emails will save your ass – or in this case someone else’s ass.

        1. OP*

          Yes! Unless a phone call is VERY quick/casual, I’m almost always going to put together an email afterward to recap and reconfirm the points of the conversation. It’s just good sense to do this, especially in a sticky situations like the one you described.

    2. OP*

      Yesterday, he and I had 10 phone calls (I checked my call log) and so I decided I needed to be more direct and send a “Best way to reach me” email in which I emphasized – as you said – that the FASTEST way to reach me is by email rather than by phone. That is, I can be most responsive and helpful to them via email. He hasn’t reply to my message yet, so we’ll see how this plays out.

      1. WorkingMom*

        Ugh, 10 times!! That’s out of control. I’d be losing my mind, this particular client I referenced has often maxed out at 3-4 times and that was grating. (Granted it was within an hour, but still.)

        I do find that the direction of the ‘fastest way to reach me’ works – in addition with statements like, “email is best for me to be able to track and respond to requests” etc.

        Hang in there!!

        1. OP*

          Yeah, I really wanted to emphasize in my email that I WANT to be responsive and helpful to them and the best way to do this is to communicate for the most part via email.

          I’m absolutely open to planned phone calls – including regularly scheduled ones, which we do have once a week – and obviously if there is an emergency or something that requires hashing out via conversation, that is a different story.

          1. Ruffingit*

            I wonder if it might be worth meeting this guy in person and just being as brutally honest as you can. “Steve, I simply cannot accommodate 10 phone calls a day with the schedule I am keeping for other clients. What can we do to make you feel comfortable with the work process?”

            It seems that “email is best” messages are not getting through so perhaps an in-person meeting where you can see facial expression and body language might be helpful. This is just beyond over the top in my view and I think it may be time for a come to Jesus with this guy letting him know this simply cannot continue.

            I have to wonder why he’s doing this. Is he new in the role and afraid that if he doesn’t micromanage, it will reflect badly on him? Is he bored and wants to talk to someone? Is he devoid of understanding about the norms of the workplace? Whatever the problem, this has to stop, I can’t imagine what you could possibly be discussing on 10 phone calls. That is insane.

            1. OP*

              I’m not really sure what could be behind this – whether it’s just his style or an insecurity thing because he’s new and feels he needs to manage the h#ll out of me or something (I TEND to think it’s a combination), though this morning my husband jokingly asked whether this guy may be in love with me ;-)

              Regarding an in-person meeting, I currently live in a different state so that isn’t possible until I return home for a visit, but I do agree that meeting me in person might really help.

              1. Jamie*

                I’m wondering if he’s got issues with his own organization and/or competency and he’s leaning on you as more of a partner (non-romantic) than a consultant.

                He’s asking you for things you’ve already given him – that will happen with everyone on occasion – but the frequency is making me wonder if there is another component at play. I’ve worked with people who don’t really feel as if you’re working together on something unless you’re talking about it or in the same room. They don’t really get the concept of everyone doing their own part and checking in, etc.

                Do you get the vibe that he’s emotionally needy? Not in a romantic way, but that he’s lonely and just needs the interaction.

                Don’t get me wrong, it’s still so not your problem, I’m just thinking it sounds like he gets something out of the calls that he isn’t getting in email. Is there a literacy (unlikely) or technology (not unheard of) issue at play. Like he has no idea how to set up email on his phone so if he’s away from his desk this is the only way he can do business?

                Just oddly fascinated by people like this, because they are so foreign to me.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  I think it’s worth exploring why he’s doing this. That is an important part of making it stop. OP may never know the answer, but thinking about it costs nothing and who knows, maybe she will hit on the answer.

                  There is definitely some massive insecurity on this guy’s part and possibly some loneliness or boredom. You can only bother the people in your office so much because they can walk away. Here, he has a captive audience of sorts because he can call and call and call and couch it as business when it’s so clearly not.

                  Whatever is going on here, hard limits need to be set and adhered to by the OP. There is just no other way to handle it. No phone calls get answered until the scheduled calls. Period. She has to go hard core brutal boundaries on this guy otherwise he’s just going to keep this egregious behavior up.

                2. OP*

                  I’ve been wondering about the real cause of all of these calls since last week, when I sent AAM my question and decided he wasn’t going to stop until I did SOMETHING to stop him or directly, unequivocally tell him I’m not always available to talk. Here are my theories of possible motivation –

                  1. He may be insecure about my working relationship with the org because he’s new there and he feels like if he isn’t constantly and actively managing me, I won’t do work or something. Related, he may not have much experience working with consultants so he doesn’t get that the relationship is different than an employee relationship.

                  2. This place has huge staff turnover and I’ve heard from former in-office employees that the atmosphere in the office is… unproductive and at times also uncomfortable. I’m not sure how that could relate to the phone calls, but maybe?

                  3. He doesn’t really have much else to do/work on so he focuses on managing me via calls, etc. in order to being “doing work”? I can’t imagine – if he were legit busy with other things – that he’d have a whole day to dedicate to phone time with me.

                  4. He is indeed in love with me.

                  5. Maybe he’s insecure about other people understanding him/his requests so he needs a voice conversation to confirm comprehension on the part of the other person? Of course, I would argue that putting things in writing USUALLY leads to better comprehension because you have more time to think about phrasing and word choice and because that conversation is saved for future reference.

                3. OP*

                  Just wanted to add – I don’t know him well enough to really tell whether he is emotionally needy/insecure in general. I can’t make that call about him (yet, anyway), but who knows?

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Hmmm, I wouldn’t actually have any of those reasons on my list of likely possibilities! I’d say the most likely thing is that the guy is new and hasn’t quite processed what it means that you’re a contractor rather than an employee (and that may not even be his fault — who knows how the arrangement was presented to him), and he’s a chaotic, disorganized manager, so he’s treating you the way he’s probably treating others there — with a bunch of chaotic, disorganized communications.

          2. Brigitte*

            I think part of the problem is that you’re using your preferred method (email) instead of his to clarify this issue. He’s probably not even reading your emails at this point.

            Email is best convo would be best done over the phone, or in person. That way, you can be sure to get buy in.

      2. Brigitte*

        OP – Have you actually had this conversation over the phone? I totally sympathize with you on this issue, but it’s not going to go away if you’re not direct with your client — and it’s very likely he’s simply not reading your emails.

        Training him/changing his expectations is only going to work if you have the discussion on the phone. You might want to schedule a phone call to go over how your working relationship with go, more broadly, and talk about communication as just one part of it.

        1. OP*

          I have told him on the phone that email is best, but my grand announcement about it was via email. I’m going to wait and see if his behavior changes at all in response to my email – if not, I will have to tell him on the phone, and/or in person when I go back home to visit my family (I’m currently in a different state).

          My hope is that this will have done the trick but if not, it means he’s ignoring my emails, like you said.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Don’t wait until you travel there, not unless you have a trip planned in the next week. If the behavior continues, you need to talk with him directly on the phone about it. If you wait a while until you can do it in person, you’ll have allowed the behavior to become more ingrained and it’s likely to be more awkward that you didn’t address it head-on sooner.

            1. OP*

              Thank you, and I agree – if he continues all of these calls then I absolutely need to speak with him on the phone about this instead. I didn’t receive any calls yesterday, but I’m not sure how to interpret that yet.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Honestly, I think this guy just hasn’t processed yet that you’re different from an employee, and you need to spell out for him what that means.

            1. Ruffingit*

              Amazing how many people have trouble with that one. They just cannot wrap their heads around the fact that they are basically a customer, they are not your employer. As a contractor, I’ve had that issue myself. People just don’t get that I am not obligated to do things employees are obligated to do nor do I have a ton of time to give them unless they want to pay for it. “But we hired you!” Yes, but you didn’t pay for 8-10 hours a day of my time. If you want to, we may be able to negotiate that. But I am not an employee who is obligated to give you a full day of work each and every day. If you want that, put me on the payroll, supply me with benefits and let’s go!

              1. OP*

                Precisely. Here is the thing – I have personally had a very good working relationship with this org but having worked with these guys for a few years, I know that the culture of the org is to try to squeeze blood from a stone. I’ve seen them guilt trip/chew down/cry poverty to SO many various service providers and other consultants, and then when the service provider/consultant agrees to work for a reduced rate to accommodate their budget, the org proceeds to threaten/badger/pester and make further demands of them (all for the same low rate, of course). They expect employee-level immediacy/service essentially for free.

                Now, I can’t blame this new person for that culture, but I have seen it in him already as he told me to threaten to take our business elsewhere when this one service provider couldn’t immediately produce (as in – less than 24 hours) a sample of something for us, never mind that she had agreed to basically halve her normal rate for us.

                I don’t know that this info is relevant to the phone call thing, but I guess my point is that people LOVE free/inexpensive work and have no qualms about abusing your cooperation if you let them.

              2. Sunshine DC*

                Not only that, it violates the law to treat a consultant in the same manner as a staff member (or a temp staffer)! Often, when I begin work with a new client, I meet briefly with their legal staff to confirm that nothing in what I am asked to do is in the realm/scope of a staffer’s role – i.e., that I am not managed/supervised in all things as they would be. Otherwise, they would be obliged to take out all the taxes from my check, among other things.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Hmmm. Do you know for certain that he knows how to use email?
        I have people around me that will send out an email once in a while. It is such a HUGE effort to get into email and type of out a letter, you would think they moved Mt. Everest using a hand shovel. This comes from several reasons for them, not being able to see well, not typing well, not understanding how email works and the latest wrinkle causing email issues is annoyance with Windows 8. (Okay, pure hatred of Windows 8.) I had two aunts that tried email. They were actually doing well with catching on. However, they did not believe they were doing well, so the situation deteriorated.
        Is this a possibility?

        1. OP*

          I will admit that I don’t have much info about his past professional life, but I think he had kind of a high position at his previous place of employment, given his title now, so I’m inclined to think he knows how to use email.

      4. Jeff A.*

        A little late to the game here, but wanted to throw in my $0.02 (which I know AAM will disagree with).

        If you bluntly tell this client that you cannot continue taking this volume of calls from him, and he persists, I would honestly just start letting all his calls go to voicemail, and only return the call once before the end of the day, say at 4:00.

        It doesn’t seem like he’s giving you any information that would change the previously agreed upon project deadlines you’re working with or change the scope of the project, so it’s (IMO) not unreasonable to impose a limit on his direct contact time with you this way.

      5. KrisL*

        I spent a long time working in tech support and have found that for some reason I don’t really understand, some people do communicate perfectly well by phone and yet don’t communicate well with e-mail. Maybe they’re strongly auditory instead of visual.

        All the same, he can’t be constantly interrupting you. How are you supposed to get your work done?

    3. Vicki*

      There’s “comfort” (I hate phone calls, I really do). But there are also very sensible reasons to prefer email – documentation being a major one.

      I’ve had in-house clients who have wanted to “come by and talk about the project” or call me to tell me… something. I always suggest we try IM.

      When we get to the end of the IM conversation, I say “and now when you need to you can refer back to the chat transcript and all of the examples I’ve given you.” The usual reaction is “wow”.

      Many people just have no concept of documented conversations.

  3. CanadianWriter*

    This is basically my worst nightmare. Nobody I write for has my phone number, and this is why.

    1. WorkingMom*

      I once had a client ask if I could text her when I sent her time-sensitive emails so that she would know to check those right away. Umm… NO. If you can’t keep up with your inbox speak to your manager.

      1. Brigitte*

        That’s so funny. My team often works this way, because we do a lot of writing and strategic work, and it’s disruptive to have email open in the background. We’re always saying, “When you’re ready for me to look at the next draft, text me.”

        1. Jamie*

          Perfect example of how different approaches work in different environments. There is never a right and wrong way on these things – just what works for the team involved.

          I can totally see how that could work – on the other hand if someone were to text me to tell me there was an email for me I might revoke their network privileges until they learned their lesson. :)

          1. Brigitte*

            I know! This would never fly in my past jobs, but the difference here is that everyone on my team works remotely (yay low overhead!).

            So it’s not as though I can pop into my account director’s office. :-) Texting is our version of poking your head in or ringing the office for a quick update.

            1. Jessa*

              Exactly and it’s not the same as send email, then text. You have a purpose for the text. It’s so you’re not sending piles of stuff before they’re needed and so you’re not sitting there staring at your email waiting for however long it takes the other person. That’s a LOGICAL reason for a text. It’s the ones that are always calling or texting and asking “did you get it?” Especially with zero evidence that they have stuff being missed or not responded to.

  4. PizzaSquared*

    If I were the OP, I’d prioritize finding another client to fill the gap, and then letting this one go. I’ve worked with people like that before, and in my experience it’s very hard to break them of the phone call habit.

    1. MaggietheCat*

      Yep! Ex-Boss (Bully VP) did not want to pay an IT person full time and went through every contractor within like 50 miles of our office. He would call (or demand that I call) every five minutes until our contractor of the week picked up. In our case at least he treated the employees the same way 10 (non emergency) missed calls at all hours of the night or on Christmas! was not uncommon :( Poor OP!

      1. OP*

        Omg – Your ex-boss sounds like *the* worst kind of person to work with/for. I’m glad he’s your “ex”-boss.

  5. Jen S. 2.0*

    I feel the OP’s pain, I prefer email as well, although I’m not quite as anti-phone. But I did want to introduce a bit of sympathy for the client in that a lot of people struggle with email because of writing troubles or physical problems. A LOT of people are poor writers, dyslexic, or simply vastly better verbal processors. I’m none of these, but I sometimes have to work with people who are. Then, I work with a lady with a number of physical disabilities (including severe arthritis and scleroderma) that make it exponentially easier for her to talk than type.

    I may prefer email, and I’m well within my rights to do so and manage my business accordingly, but I can’t make everyone prefer email. (Not saying that OP is trying to FORCE everyone to prefer email… just noting why some people just may not gravitate that way.)

    1. Gene*

      If it’s easier for someone to talk than type, install a speech to text setup on their computer. It’s cheap, and even out of the box, is pretty darned accurate. With training, I find that I have to only make a couple of corrections per page.

      1. the gold digger*

        Which is why my mom, blessherheart, now sends me texts asking what I had for lunch. Love that woman, but when my brother in law got her a phone and put her on his plan, I don’t think he really thought it through.

        I explained to my mom that because I have to type every letter with my forefinger, I don’t really text unless I am giving someone immediate information: “I am waiting for you outside of the Delta baggage claim” or “Hey neighbor – we are staying at the festival longer than we thought. Would you please feed the cats?”

        She said she had learned to use the voice-recognition software and texting was cool.

    2. Josh S*

      See, this situation is less about preferences and more about boundaries.

      If the Client were simply preferring communication via phone, OP could summarize via email and send it to confirm. That’d be the simple solution.

      Instead, it seems to read that Client is pestering OP with frequent, incessant phone calls for trivial things that are disruptive and/or have already been handled via email.

      Thus, the solution is to create boundaries, communicate them clearly, and enforce them ruthlessly. Calling back after 7 missed calls/voicemails, “biting the bullet” in the OPs language, only reinforces the message to Client that ‘if I’m persistent enough, OP will call back’. Which is the exact opposite of the message OP wants to be sending.

      1. OP*

        You’re absolutely right that I’ve been reinforcing the habits I want to end by calling back/answering. I need to stick to my guns about this.

        1. Gail L*

          Please do. You can accommodate different styles. But someone so disorganized that they can’t condense their needs/questions into 1-2 phone calls per day (at the most!) is disorganized and rude. Basically they are demanding that YOU be organized FOR them, costing you time (therefore money).

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Do you have a copy of the written contract? That might help you to have something to point to while you explain this.

          I am picturing having every client call me 7 times a day. I would have to run away. Maybe you can say “If I can’t do X for all, then it is not fair to do it just for one.”

        3. TheSnarkyB*

          OP, don’t forget you can also send an email that says “Hey Bob, I saw your calls. How can I help you?/What do you need?”

          I also second having the boundary-setting conversation over the phone.

    3. majigail*

      I have an employee who is just a slow writer. She agonizes over every word she puts in an email or on the page. It took her 3 hours to write a one page letter the other day (she’s valued for other skills, obviously.) That said, she has no problem talking and if she were in charge, i think she’d be just like the client.

    4. Jessa*

      But if you prefer phones because of an issue, then you tell the contractor this and you make arrangements to schedule phone meetings. You still don’t call ten times a day unless there’s a serious disaster brewing.

  6. Ethyl*

    Yeah, and I think the key to making this work is to lay out the expectations as AAM suggested (twice weekly call-ins, clarifications about not being available all the time, etc) but then reinforcing that after you get that agreement by NOT ANSWERING AT ALL EVER until the scheduled phone call time. Having said that, you can’t really do that right now because it sounds like you haven’t communicated clearly what you are and are not able to provide in terms of availability, so that is the place you need to start. Only then can boundary enforcing and “training” begin.

    1. LBK*

      Yes! This is super important – once you set the boundaries, you BOTH have to keep them, and if one person breaks them, you don’t indulge it. You refer to the agreement you made about those boundaries and then you move on.

  7. Sharon*

    This guy isn’t just preferring phone over email (which he is, obviously) but he’s being unreasonably needy and … I’ll say it, obnoxious. The only thing that came to my mind when I read the OP’s letter was “fire him!” It might be nicer to do AAM’s suggestions first, but if he continues to be obnoxious I would fire him before he fired me. There are ways independent contractors can fire a client that are professional and nice and leave no hard feelings, but if the client fires the contractor he will probably then give bad references about her work to everybody who will listen.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think if it continues after she talks to him, absolutely. But she might not be able to leap straight there, depending on how many other clients she has, how much of her revenue this one accounts for, and how in-demand she is, generally.

      1. OP*

        I would definitely prefer not to sever (or threaten to sever) my ties with this org. I’ve worked with them for years and until a few weeks ago, I’ve had a very good working relationship with them.

  8. Steve G*

    I would like someone older to comment on this… many people more and more have such an aversion to phone calls. It has caused issues in my office where we need information/approvals from customers and people will email the customers and not get a response, but everyone is afraid to talk on the phone. Heaven forbid their is a complicated problem, the customer is getting an essay, instead of having a 5 minute conversation where they are given a chance to understand, ask questions, etc.

    I know “phone aversion” isn’t exactly the point of this question, but I feel it is half of the issue. I think that if OP didn’t have phone aversion, they wouldn’t be so jarred by all of this. I think they need to work on their shyness or whatever other issue is causing the phone aversion, because if I were this person the question would not have even mentioned the phone, but would have said “client expects too much of me even though they don’t pay me much.”

    I believe that being confident in doing business over the phone is a skill that only increases an employee’s/consultant’s $$$ value.

    1. LBK*

      Repeated inquiries are obnoxious regardless of the medium. If someone sent me an email, then another email 5 minutes later when I didn’t reply, then another email 5 minutes after that, then an email an hour later to follow up on something I’d already emailed them about that morning…I would be extremely annoyed. The phone aversion is only a minor part of why this behavior is annoying.

      1. LBK*

        Also FWIW, I think email is better for about 95% of communications, unless it’s a very complex issue that would be better spoken about live so there can be a conversation. The other time face-to-face/phone is more appropriate is when the tone of the conversation is important, like a performance discussion. Aside from that, email lets you respond at your own pace for something that’s non-urgent, it allows you to take your time building an answer, it allows you to review your message before it’s sent, and it keeps a record of everything you do. Those are all HUGE benefits over the phone.

        I think younger people see all these benefits and are also naturally more comfortable using email, hence the widespread preference amongst younger workers. Many older people are just accustomed to using the phone so it doesn’t even occur to them to send emails. Maybe the older generation just needs to get less averse to email rather than young people becoming less averse to the phone – I really don’t see phone calls gaining popularity in the future, only losing.

        (Disclaimer: this is obviously a generalization that does not necessarily apply to individual members of these generations.)

        1. Artemesia*

          I am 70 and until I retired definitely preferred doing business by email. It is fast; can be dealt with thoughtfully; leaves a record — it is ideal for most professional interactions. And it is soooo much faster than telephone, to say the obvious twice.

    2. PEBCAK*

      The phone doesn’t allow for the same boundaries as email, though. If someone calls you, you have to answer it RIGHT THEN or let it go into voicemail, and then if you call back, you have to go through all the pleasantries, identifying yourself, whatever, and it might be hard to end a conversation with someone stubborn.

      I worked in one office where you could just respond to a voicemail with another voicemail, and it was a godsend.

    3. Annie O*

      I’m more concerned about the frequency of contact.

      That said, telephone isn’t asynchronous the way that email is. Expecting the LW to answer seven calls a day is going to have a bigger impact on their ability to schedule their time and juggle multiple clients.

    4. nep*

      I get that some people have this phone aversion. I don’t like talking on the phone for the sake of talking on the phone, but yes it’s the right communications mode for certain situations, and can mitigate problems and speed up some things. But OP’s post sounds like the client’s calls are at best superfluous; I don’t know whether it’s OP’s anti-phone bias but it sounds like the calls are rarely necessary or productive.

      I quite like AAM’s thoughtful response here and the suggested solutions.

    5. Del*

      I think you are making a huge leap assuming that shyness is the issue here. There are a lot of different reasons people don’t care for the phone, and since the OP has actually explicitly laid out of some of their reasoning, you’re essentially saying “I think you’re not telling the truth about that and you’re actually shy or scared of the phone.”

      Some reasons that have nothing to do with shyness include:

      > Time demands (which is the OP’s stated reason!) A phone call must be answered right now regardless of what else is going on. Many people get in a groove with their work and being disrupted results in a loss of productive time greater than the duration of the phone call and its followups. Or it is simply an inconvenience — a phone call comes in when you are standing up to go to the restroom, well, it’s either going to voicemail or you’re going to sit there and hold it until the call is done, whether that takes five minutes or fifty.

      > Sound quality. Compared to landlines and corded phones, cell phones have extremely poor, lossy sound quality, which can make it more difficult to understand your caller or make yourself understood to them. It’s more strenuous to have a coherent conversation when the sound itself is garbled or interfered with, and there’s a greater likelihood of background noise or interference.

      > Data checking. If the conversation is going to involve research or checking precise facts and figures, it’s a lot easier to be able to write part of the email, then pause and look for the needed information, insert it, and keep going than it is to be doing research on the fly while balancing a phone and keeping someone talking.

      > Proofreading. Particularly if it’s a sensitive client or there is a need to be extremely precise or diplomatic in wording, there’s an enormous benefit to being able to draft a communication, then read over it and double-check the info before sending, as opposed to having to say everything perfectly and fluidly right off the bat. Some people are better at this than others, of course.

      > Keeping written records. A phone conversation, unless you make a recording of it (and are willing to deal with the legalities of that, which vary widely), is not preserved and you can’t refer back to it. Email chains are, so there are broad benefits to having important conversations via email when it comes to strategizing, working out deadlines, creating to-do lists, etc.

      These are all reasons why the OP, and many others, prefer email to verbal communication. None of them have to do with shyness!

      1. Ethyl*

        +1,000 to sound quality and written records. My BFF LOVES to talk on the phone, yet he mumbles and always calls me from the hands-free set while he’s driving, and I cannot understand him.

        And of course so many situations are improved when you can go back and say “actually on June 1, we agreed that you would provide the Teapot Spout Length Analysis by July 1, so you can’t really say you didn’t know.”

      2. OP*

        Yes – you pretty much nailed the reasons for my (strong) email preference.

        I will say that I’m not 100% totally against phone calls in all instances. I recognize that sometimes phone calls ARE needed and I’m more than willing to talk on the phone a couple of times a week, but yesterday he and I had TEN calls and I mean… it completely monopolized my day.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          How are you billing them — monthly retainer / flat fee, or hourly? If it’s the former, you can point out it doesn’t cover all this.

          1. Ruffingit*

            THIS. People often get angry at attorneys when they tell clients “I’m sorry, you’ve run through your retainer, you’ll need to pay more for my continued services.” What, put you haven’t done anything on the case???? “Well, actually, you ran through it with the 15 phone calls a day you made where you insisted on speaking with me. It is in your agreement and I also verbally told you that you would be paying for each of those calls as they take up time I can give to actually working on your case or on the cases of other clients.

            People do not seem to understand that phone calls mean time, which means money. Perhaps if this guy had to justify paying for each of these phone calls separately, he might be more apt to choose carefully which issue was that important.

    6. ModernHypatia*

      I’m a librarian. I deal with a lot of ‘this is an interruption in my other projects’ questions, mostly in person. Phone gets me *way* worse than either email or IM or an in person question.

      I think because it’s much harder to get pacing cues/figure out how involved this is going to be without body language cues. (In text, I can just skim, and I read much faster than people talk, so even if they’re wordy, it takes me so much less time.)

      The phone, on the other hand, usually involves stopping what I’m doing entirely, some amount of “Is this a good time to talk/how are you/social pleasantry” that I just skim over in email but takes a non-zero amount of time when someone says it, then their actual question, then probably me pulling up whatever I need to answer their actual question. And then it takes me a good 10 minutes to get back into the focused state I was in before the phone rang. With email (or IM) it’s usually pretty close to seamless for me, so that distinction is not trivial, and if I were getting 7 phone calls a day, I’d be losing an hour or so of more productive work time.

      1. OP*

        hahaha – yes! to all of this, but especially the social pleasantries point. Every time he and I talk, there is the perfunctory “How are you?” etc. … Dude, we talked 10 minutes ago; I’m the same as I was then – that is, harried and stressed out and wishing you’d just email me.

        1. Artemesia*

          I think you need to be assertive that you are working on business and cannot take phone calls frequently. Proactively schedule a couple of phone calls a week and then let him know that you cannot take other calls. If there is an emergency, he needs to email you that he needs you to call. The first time he does this for something that could be handled in the weekly calls or by Email, let him know this.

          Focus heavily on ‘working on his projects and on other client projects’ aspect of your need to not be interrupted, not on his annoyingness. But wow. How annoying. I would try to think of some things to do to butter him up as you hose him down. Certainly make the scheduled calls very rewarding to him with your engagement and interest in his projects etc.

          Tough one. I have watched my SIL juggle difficult needy clients sucking up her evening and weekend time– sometimes to keep a client you have to put up with a lot of nonsense.

          1. Editor*

            I am picturing OP answering the phone on the second call and all through the other ten calls that day by saying, “Bob, you have interrupted my work for another client with an impending deadline. I try to meet everyone’s deadlines, and you are making that more difficult. My rate for this contract was based on being able to work in uninterrupted chunks of time. I want to help with your concerns, but I don’t work for you exclusively and I need to handle your questions in just two calls a week or by email. Which would you prefer?” So — giving an additional call a week but not offering more than that, and offering the solution I think of as the “toddler choice.” (Do you want to wear the pajamas with the bunnies or the pajamas with the puppies? Not saying, do you want to get ready for bed now, and oh, the pajamas with the kittehs are in the laundry.)

            1. OP*

              Hahahaha – I think the next time we speak in whatever form (email or phone), and if he takes issue with my email from yesterday or if his frequent calls start up again (in my email yesterday morning I directly told him and the two other staff people that we cannot have this many calls and that email enables me to be more responsive and work more efficiently so they need to stick to email in MOST cases), I will do as AAM suggest and offer two standing weekly calls (we already have one) as “cat pajamas or bunny pajamas” option.

              (I should have waited to see if AAM answered my question before I sent my “How to Contact Me” email, BUT on Tuesday he and I spoke 10 times so I woke up yesterday (Wednesday) just NEEDING to do something more direct than dropping hints about my email preference.)

    7. Erica*

      When the telephone was first invented, the popular wisdom of pundits was that it was a terrible device that would increase people’s anxiety because it could ring at any time, and people would feel stressed out over the constant possibility of interruption. Letters were so much better!

      Then you had a few generations that grew up with the phone and adapted to it.

      Now, the phone is being supplanted by email for most routine communications, and people who have grown up with email or text as the primary short communications format are right back with their 1870s ancestors in disliking the interruptive nature of the phone.

      I wouldn’t say I have “phone aversion” for PLANNED calls or for things like scheduling and logistics where many rounds of back and forth are needed. But I find it obnoxious as a primary communications tool, because of that always-on expectation. And now that we have text there is really no point to voicemail. If all you want to say is “call me back about X” then send a text. If you want to give a long speech, write it in an email.

      1. Felicia*

        I think those generations adapted to the phone because although it was interruption, it was the fastest thing they had, much faster than letters. But now we have something even faster than the phone that isn’t interruptive by nature, so we don’t need to put up with it as much.

    8. fposte*

      I think I count as older, but I prefer email as well; it’s not that phone conversations are a problem, it’s that phones ringing are disruptive. A scheduled phone call is fine.

    9. OP*

      No, I wouldn’t say that I’m phone averse. Before I started consulting, I worked as an office manager at an art gallery, and a huge part of my job involved answering and fielding calls. Chatting on the phone isn’t my favorite activity, but I do recognize that sometimes (though rarely ;-)) it is better than email.

    10. Malissa*

      My phone aversion stems from the fact that people can carry their phone anywhere. And some answer it when they are in the bathroom, naked on the doctor’s table, having dinner with their spouse, on vacation and don’t want to be bothered…
      After hearing all of the above on phone conversations I just don’t trust anybody to have the sense to know when to not answer the phone.

      1. Arjay*

        I completely agree. I treat my phone as a convenient device for me. If it not’s convenient for me to answer it, I don’t. I don’t allow it to interrupt driving, meals, bedtime, etc., unless it’s something that’s important to me. And it drives me buggy to call people who will answer no matter where they are or what they’re doing. “Hey, I’m being chased by a bull right now, so I can’t really talk. But anyway what’s up?” Honest, I would have been fine leaving you a voicemail.

        1. bridget*

          That might be my biggest pet peeve – people answering the phone when they can’t talk. My mother is the biggest offender. She often answers in hushed tones, saying that she is in the middle of a lesson (she teaches elementary school). I was only calling to leave a message, since I realized she was probably working, unless I happened to catch her during a break or something.

          Of course, all of those peeves would be solved if she would communicate through text or email :) More convenient for everyone on either side; everyone gets to control things to their liking on their end.

    11. Jamie*

      I don’t understand the ‘older’ distinction – do you think older people are more or less likely to prefer the phone?

      Because I think the phone people/email people schism exists in all demographics. I think it’s comfort of communication style at the heart of this. Some people are just more comfortable talking than typing, and the reverse, to various degrees.

      I disgree that the OP is showing phone aversion though – I prefer email but I don’t have phone aversion…although absolutely I would be averse to being blindsided with an unexpected group or conference call with no chance to prepare.

      And badgering people for information you’ve already sent them – if they do it in email you can roll your eyes and still respond politely. It’s a lot harder to keep your tone in check when someone is calling you and expecting you to be at your desk at a moments notice when that isn’t the agreement.

      Yes, doing business over the phone increases one’s value if the client values that. But most people do that, she’s not refusing to do business over the phone. She’s bridling at being asked to be on call all the time for one client, as if she were a full time employee, when that isn’t their arrangement. If they want someone with that kind of availability they need to pay for it – and they aren’t. So providing this isn’t increasing her value if they aren’t going to compensate her properly for it.

      1. Lanya*

        Yeah, I am not sure what “older” has to do with anything here. There are plenty of “younger” people who prefer phone communication as well.

        I have a printer who calls me 4 to 5 times a day when we’re in production. Drives me crazy, but he just simply prefers phone to email, and he is probably about 25 years old.

    12. Mimmy*

      I’m not old, but not young and I am definitely grateful for the invention that is email. I’d say my phone aversion partly stems from when I had a friend who was emotionally needy and would have no problem calling me at times when most people want to go to bed. I used to dread hearing the phone ring because you’d never know if the conversation would be happy, upsetting, or even angry. That dread carried over into my working life–I just hate not knowing what to expect. At least with email, I can prepare myself and my thoughts or just choose to deal with it later.

      I don’t mind the phone if the call is planned or if it’s for something relatively quick, such as making an appointment or letting someone know I’m running late for a meeting.

      I totally feel for the OP – 10 calls in one day from the same person??? There is definitely an issue with boundaries here.

      1. Ethyl*

        Hmm I never thought about this before but I wonder if some of my strong phone aversion is due to a similar scenario where a friend would call my cell phone every 30 minutes until she finally spoke to me. And it was NEVER important. Hmmm.

    13. C Average*

      I’m 40, which I think makes me exactly middle-aged, and I have a strong preference for email over phones. Here’s why:

      –I work in an open-plan office where I can either take the call on my desk phone (and relinquish any expectations of privacy and disrupt the colleagues who share my space) or take it on my cell (necessitating me sharing my personal number with a work contact, dealing with crappy sound quality/reception issues, making sure the thing is charged, etc.).
      –Most of my work product is subject to potential scrutiny by Legal, Marketing, and various other stakeholders. Every decision I make needs to have some kind of basis in writing that I can fish out if I’m asked to justify something I’ve chosen to do. So if we talk on the phone, I’m going to end that conversation with “can I get that in writing?” Or I’m going to send an email recapping the conversation and asking the recipient to confirm the correctness of the recap.
      –The phone pulls me out of my workflow. It’s an unwelcome interruption.
      –I answer emails really, really fast. Like within minutes fast. There’s seldom any reason to call me. Trust me: I’ve got whatever you wanted me to get!
      –Meetings. If I’m in a meeting, I can’t take a call.

    14. Anon*

      I think the issue here is the amount of time and attention that the client needs, not the medium he uses for it.

      I strongly prefer email to phone (more than generational reasons for this), but ten unnecessary emails a day would also be frustrating.

    15. Tax Nerd*

      Ohmigosh, yes, Steve G. The value of email is vastly overrated by people with phone aversion.

      I could write an email to explain complex matters, but sometimes a phone call is so much better. It saves the “If this then that, if that than this…” kind of thing, allows for instant feedback, and adjusting of tone. I had two phone calls today with clients in other countries. We could have gone back and forth via email until Christmas. Instead, a phone call was a chance to explain the issue, discuss alternatives, and give pros-and-cons. It was also a way to discuss certain things in an off-the-record way and allow for more candor. Oh, and build rapport in a way that is more difficult than email. I just think think that the phone is so much much better for many things. And cheaper, since clients pay by the hour.

      Occasionally I’ll send email as a CYA, but not often. I recognize defensive emailing, and just don’t want to deal with people who have the mindset that some day they’ll have an email to use against me.

      Staff that aren’t comfortable on the phone with clients don’t end up lasting very long. I’ve told new hires to get (back?) in the practice of calling their friends and families and stop typing everything. Those that refused to get comfortable on the phone end up really struggling, career-wise.

      1. OP*

        I’m not saying the phone is never useful or the better option or that I am unwilling/unable to ever have phone calls. But on Tuesday this person called me 10 times – and most of the calls were things that could have been handled faster via email (i.e. “Okay – you can proceed with XYZ” or “Okay – we received your revisions. We’re going to talk them over and get back to you.”). Instead, he would call to tell me those things. This, even after I told him I needed to step out for a bit and couldn’t answer the phone for a while (but could still reply to emails) – he waited til the time I said I would be back to let me know by phone about a decision they had made two hours earlier, which could have been told to me by email and which I could have handled via email while I was out doing what I was doing.

        Every time he called me, I had to put aside my work, get my phone, answer it, exchange perfunctory pleasantries, etc. It’s a time waster and it’s annoying.

        But I DO agree that in some cases, the phone is the better option – i.e. explaining something complicated, when you need to hash over an idea, when tone is important, etc.

      2. C Average*

        I agree with you about everyone needing decent phone skills in a standard business skill set. I’m also with you on the off-the-record discussions and rapport-building. Those aspects of phone communication have real value. And calling your mom on the weekend? That definitely has real value!

        I’m less with you on the explaining-complex-issues piece. Maybe it’s a function of my job, where I’m generally the middleman for complex information (I’m receiving it from, say, someone on the engineering team and relaying it to an end user by writing the raw information into an FAQ), but I’ve got to really, truly understand the complex stuff, both now and in six months when it changes. I don’t want to have to try to recall a phone call. I want that complex information in my archive where I can review it, make sure I really get it, and check my final work product against the source information. The phone just doesn’t cut it for this most of the time.

        I’ve also got to note that the CYA attitude doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Most of the people who exhibit this behavior have seen the underside of a bus or two. I envy people for whom this isn’t true, but in my line of work you develop, after a while, a sixth sense for the decisions that are going to turn out to be bad ones. If you’re part of the implementation of a bad idea by the very nature of your job, you want to be on the record as questioning it respectfully and then doing as you were asked, and it’s so important to have an email trail in those situations: “Apollo, thanks for the informative chat. Can you please confirm that you’d definitely like us to adjust the thermostat in the chocolate teapot research lab to 80 degrees Fahrenheit? Just double-checking before we proceed. We have some concerns about melting.”

        You want the crazy directives in writing so that when they get reversed two days later, you’re not the one getting called names.

        1. OP*

          “You want the crazy directives in writing so that when they get reversed two days later, you’re not the one getting called names.”

          THIS ^^

          Also, there have already been instances with this guy where he hasn’t remembered what we discussed by phone and I had to jog his memory (to the best of my ability). Had we had that in email, we could have just referenced the emails.

  9. Josh S*

    See, I take a slightly different approach than Alison in this case. One of the benefits of being a contractor (your own boss) is that the client is a client, not your manager. They do not get to dictate the terms of the interaction with you.

    While you say you’ve been trying to ‘train’ your client to not call multiple times a day, you’ve actually been reinforcing the behavior by “biting the bullet” after several calls. The client now knows that ‘I need to call at least X times to get a response’, even if that knowledge is subconscious/intuitive.

    What you need to do is communicate (via email), that you will only respond to calls under circumstance A or B, for reasons that qualify as an emergency X, Y, or Z, and that you need his voicemail to state those reasons, specifically. Also, you need to say that you specifically will not return calls/voicemails unless there is a voicemail left with a clear request, and that even in the case of that, you will likely respond via email. Alison does have some good language in her post about couching that in friendly terms (it shouldn’t be an ultimatum, just a “this is how I work best, and how I can provide most value for my time–will it work for you?” sort of conversation.)

    Calling to confirm that you’ll be calling at a given time is silly. Calling to check on the status of something that you’ve sent a status email is silly. While the client may think, “I absolutely need to know this right now!” as a contractor, you know that it can (in almost all cases) wait.

    Here’s some good reading on the topic:

    1. Colette*

      I think this depends on how valuable this one client is to the OP – how much of her business is it, and how easily could the client be replaced.

      The OP could draw a hard line – but the client could also end the contract and hire someone else.

      Setting reasonable boundaries is a good start to coming to an agreement they can both live with.

    2. Mike C.*

      “Hi, I’m just checking in to see if you’re read the email I just sent. Yes, the one with a million attachments. Thanks!”

      *sound of cell phone being flushed down the toilet in anger*

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        My co-worker is the worst for sending me an email and then an instant message, sometimes before the email has arrived asking when I’ll look at it.

        It’s enough to drive to me mad

      2. Apollo Warbucks*

        My co-worker is the worst for that sort of thing, he’ll send me an instant message to ask if I’ve seen the email, the IM is usually there before the email and it drives me mad.

        1. DmentedKitty*

          I used to work at this big retail company (corporate side), and part of my phone aversion stems from working with some people there.

          1) They send me an email asking for something that will take some time to look into (I work in IT).
          2) Five minutes later, that person IMs me and asks if I’ve seen that email.
          3) Yet another five minutes later, my phone rings. “Hey, it’s . Have you seen my email?”

          “Yes, and I need some time to look into it.”
          “Sure, please do. I’ll hold.”
          (Cue 1 hour of clacking keyboards and mouth-breathing sounds)

          4) Worse yet, if I’m not able to answer the phone, they personally walk over to my desk and sit with me until I give them what they need.

          Seriously. There was this one guy who carried his laptop and sat on my desk and did his work while waiting for me to do a little investigation on whatever he needs. So of course I had to entertain him first, just to get him off my desk.

          Sheesh, people, don’t assume you’re the only work I have.

          Then there’s those people who mark every single email they send as “Important”. The general rule is, if everything you send is so “important”, they are also equally unimportant.

          1. Adam V*

            > they personally walk over to my desk

            That’s when you turn to them and say “can I *HELP* you?”

            When they say “did you get…” you respond “did you get *my* email saying I’d take a look at it and get back to you? Believe it or not, you’re not the only person at this company, and some of those other people have sent me issues that are *actually* high-priority, as opposed to yours that you just *think* are high-priority. I will work on your request as soon as I can get to it.”

            Then again, maybe that’s just what I’d wish I would have said, not what I’d actually say…

  10. Annie O*

    Does this new manager have much experience dealing with contractors? Do they realize the difference between a contractor and an employee?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m wondering this too. OP, it’s possible that he hasn’t processed how this relationship is supposed to work. Would it be worth reviewing that with him?

      1. OP*

        I’m not really very sure about his history with consultants, to be honest. I’m trying to hold off on the “part of being a consultant is…” conversation until I see that absolutely nothing else is working.

        1. Jamie*

          It’s only been a couple of weeks, though, so you are still in the period where you can nip this in the bud. Is there anyone else you deal with at that org you can speak to about this?

          Because that is exactly what it sounds like, that he has no idea how it works with consultants.

          1. John*

            If he does get to that point, perhaps the discussion should be framed around repricing the arrangement, explaining that the demands of the assignment have changed to where the agreement needs to be revisited.

            1. Jamie*

              Yes, if that’s something she’s interested in doing. It’s possible that with her other clients she just truly doesn’t have the time/flexibility to offer that kind of on-demand attention.

              I would definitely try to resolve this without bringing that up, if possible, because once you point out that someone is a big enough pita that you need more money to deal with them you risk harming the relationship.

              It may come to that but it’s still easier to try to have the conversation about ‘how can I best meet all your needs within X parameters’ if possible as that allows the client to save a little face.

              1. OP*

                “I would definitely try to resolve this without bringing that up, if possible, because once you point out that someone is a big enough pita that you need more money to deal with them you risk harming the relationship.”

                Yep, that is more or less my feeling at this point, too. I’ve worked with this org for a few years and until a few weeks ago, we had a very good working relationship. I would hate to sever or risk severing that by threatening to raise my rates because they’re being a PITA. Also, knowing them as I do, that conversation will almost definitely result in me being let go and replaced by unpaid interns who will work for free but deliver terrible, terrible work.

          2. OP*

            I spoke to the exec assistant about this a bit and he also seemed desperate to stop all the phone calls, but he doesn’t really have any power to change anything.

            But I do agree – it’s only been a few weeks and the longer I let this go on, the harder it will be to stop it.

  11. Lizabeth*

    Citizens for Better Teapots! Love it!!!

    I wonder what type of slogan placards they’d carry at a protest?

      1. AMG*

        Chocolate Teapots ARE the better teapots, silly. They taste so much better than those ceramic or metal ones.

    1. Programmer 01*

      Yes yes yes, I saw this and giggled the rest of the way through.


  12. Chuchundra*

    One quick thing here. It’s not effective training if you eventually give in and call back.

    It’s like trying to train a dog not to beg at the table. If you keep saying no until they whine and bark and pester you so much you just can’t take it anymore you give in and let them have something, you’re not training them to not beg at the table. What you’re training them to do is to keep at it until they get what they want.

    If you want to train your client, you can’t ever call him back on his terms, no matter how many voice mails he leaves you. If you miss something that’s actually important, then so be it.

    Alison is of course correct that this might lose you a client. You have to decide if that’s worth it.

    1. Josh S*

      This is dead on!

      And if you miss something that’s actually important, you use it to establish why it’s so important that the client use email.

      “I hate that Project was not delivered as you wanted. In order for me to keep all the projects clear and correct as I work for multiple clients, I really need for you to send me these things via email. When you send it via phone, the likelihood that it will get missed goes up significantly. I don’t want for that to be the case, but it’s simply not possible for me to accomplish the work for a given day while manning the phone all the time. Can you work with me to be sure that critical requests go through email?”

    2. OP*

      You’re absolutely right – and every time I call him back, I KNOW I am doing the wrong thing in terms of reinforcing the habits I want to stop. And yet… and yet I do call back and then kick myself after.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I catch myself doing these self-defeating things. Most of the time it is because I lack a strong plan OR I am uncomfortable with some aspect of what I need to actually do.

        Sometimes I just can’t find my own words and I sound like I am using borrowed words. That is when I take a minute and think to myself “What is that I want from this person that I am not getting? What do I need to give in order to get it?” Sometimes all I need to give is clearer explanations: “When you signed up for our service you signed up for A, B and C. This does not include 7- 10 phone calls per day.”

        Do you think this person could be “hitting on” you in his own awkward way? Just an odd thought that went through my head. I cannot imagine having enough time in my work day to call ONE person this much.

        1. OP*

          That’s just it – I am NOT an assertive person by nature (especially with people I consider authority figures), and it’s something I am constantly working on in my professional life. I often tell myself to do X but then I cave in and fall back on people-pleasing behaviors, which I know intellectually are harmful and allow people to take advantage of me, but which feel much more comfortable and natural to me. It’s a constant struggle and a personality weakness I’m very aware of in myself. I have no trouble asserting myself/asking for things with family and friends, but when it comes to bosses or others I feel have some kind of authority over me, I freeze up.

          Hahahaha – re: hitting on me. My husband jokingly asked yesterday if this guy is in love with me and that’s why he needs to talk to me so often. But seriously, no, I don’t read it as him hitting on me (and if it WERE… there is no way I could ever fall for someone who calls me 10 times a day ;-) )

  13. Serin*

    You could rewrite your contract with him specifying two scheduled phone meetings and up to two ad-hoc calls a week, after which the organization pays $X per phone call.

    1. Chinook*

      “You could rewrite your contract with him specifying two scheduled phone meetings and up to two ad-hoc calls a week, after which the organization pays $X per phone call.”

      If it does turn out that this manager can’t be retrained, this might be the best way to deal with it if you really like them as a client in general. It not only pays you for the inconvinience and extra work, but also may make the manager think twice about those phone calls after they see your next invoice.

  14. Bob*

    (and if I can’t reply right away I put up an auto reply letting people know I will write back later).

    get rid of that. aut0-replies, especially when the timeline is short, should die.

    1. LBK*

      How does that make sense? If someone is in a meeting for the next 3 hours, I’d rather have an auto-reply telling me that rather than me getting annoyed when they don’t respond to something I flag as urgent. That lets me know either a) the minimum timeline for getting a response, or b) that if I really need it now, I need to contact them another way.

      1. OP*

        Yep – that is the only time I put up an autoreply: when I know I won’t be at my email for a certain period of time and I want to give people and timeframe for my return.

        Ordinarily I check and reply to my emails kind of obsessively and I don’t have an autoreply up.

      2. Anonsie*

        Well for one, because I’m never going to send an email for something that urgent and then do absolutely nothing else. If it’s three hours urgent, I’m probably going to try to contact them in more than one way from the get-go.

        I could see if some places have an immediate in-and-out for email such that this would actually be helpful, but those places are certainly a small minority.

        1. LBK*

          I guess it depends on the person – an email to me will probably get a response within 5 minutes, maybe an hour max if I’m absolutely swamped. By contract I only check my voicemail once a day, so if you have an urgent issue, a phone call is a waste of your time.

          1. LBK*

            Oops – that’s by *contrast*. I don’t have a contract that says I can only check my vms daily!

          2. Anonsie*

            It wouldn’t necessarily be a phone call– just any other way you might have to reach someone. Some places have a chat client, we have a pager system. Like I said, in some cases the email might be the best way, but usually it’s gonna be a good idea to try more than one thing.

            In my department we put our availability on our Outlook calendars so we know who’s available when, which is infinitely useful and I *highly* recommend it. I wish I’d been able to do that at other jobs.

    2. bridget*

      It depends on how long you usually take to get back to people. I generally have a two-hour rule for returning either emails or calls from clients. If it’s less than two hours, I won’t set up an auto reply or tell the admin staff to relay the info about where I am, I’ll just return the communications when I get back. If it’s more than two hours, I set up an auto-reply and let the admins know to tell them I am in court or a deposition or whatever and won’t be able to return their call until that afternoon (or next day, or whatever).

      1. bridget*

        Of course, this could be industry-specific. I’m particularly persnickety about quick responses because I don’t want to let anything fall through the cracks: unresponsiveness is one of the things that could lead to a bar complaint against a lawyer.

        1. OP*

          I completely agree re: responsiveness. I generally reply to emails within a few minutes of receiving them – even if it’s just to say I received it and will look into a matter and write back more fully later on (unless a non-urgent email comes in in the evening [after ~ 8pm], at which point I answer in the morning).

  15. MaryMary*

    OP, I agree with some of the other posters that your issue is more the new manager’s expectations and demands on your time, rather than phone versus email. Alison mentioned increasing your rates, it might help to create an estimate first to help your client understand how much additional time he’s expecting from you. “When I first started working with Former Manager, we agreed on a $500 per week fee based on 10 hours a week at $50 an hour. Looking over the past month, I realized that I spent an average of 25 hours per week working with Citizens for Better Teapots. If you would like me to continue providing this level of support, I will need to increase my fee to $1,250 per week.” Money is a great motivator, it may get him to calm down when nothing else you’ve tried has.

    Then again, I had a client who needed to talk through his thoughts (slowly) in order to process information. Even when we were on a call with two other consultants and an attorney, he couldn’t stop himself from turning a one hour call into a four hour call. It had to have cost him thousands of dollars.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I worked with someone once who did that. She would get on conference calls with the attorney and go over and over and over things she’d already told him. It’s like she had to tell the whole story from the beginning each and every time she spoke with him. I could hear his exasperation on the other end of the phone and his futile attempts to get off the phone. I had to explain to her that she needed to stop that because the phone call could easily be 10 minutes, but she was turning it into an hour, which was costing her quite a bit more. She didn’t care. Hearing the sound of her own voice was her hobby.

  16. Young Professional*

    OP, are you thoroughly addressing your client’s needs and concerns with respect to the work? It could be that the manager doesn’t feel secure in the relationship.

    Also, be glad you don’t live in New York. What you’ve described is standard here.

    1. Chuchundra*

      I live in New York and I do freelance web consulting. If any of my clients ever called me seven times in one day and their web server wasn’t on fire I’d send them their final bill and wish them luck in their further endeavors.

      1. OP*

        Hahaha – I’ve thought about doing that quite a bit over the last few weeks, but in reality, up until a few weeks ago when this all began, I’ve had a really good working relationship with this org and they’re one of my bigger clients so I really would rather not sever my ties with them if I can find another solution.

    2. OP*

      Hi there (I’m the OP) – yes, I’ve always gotten positive feedback about the turnaround time and quality of the work I produce for them, so I don’t think that is it. Though it could definitely be insecurity in the relationship given that he just started there.

      I am willing to compromise on the amount of phone contact we have – and if we talk about this I will do as AAM suggests and offer one or two weekly set calls to check in by phone.

      Actually, I am a NYCer – born and raised. I moved to a new state a few weeks ago (in March) because of my husband’s job, but other than that I have always lived and worked in NY (and I can’t wait to go back…)

      1. Young Professional*

        Chuchundra – I just laughed out loud. I suppose the excessive contact depends on industry. I’ve worked in many offices in which this is the norm though.

    3. AVP*

      I think it really depends on the job function, and if it’s project-based or an ongoing thing that requires a lot of back and forth.

      But okay…there is this in-demand social-media person in NYC who has a rule that she does not exist on weekends. Turns her email off, doesn’t check voicemail, although you can text her if there’s an absolute emergency. This blew my mind.

  17. OP*

    Hi everyone,

    I am the person who sent AAM this question, and I want to thank AAM for responding!

    I am open to having some phone contact but after yesterday when he and I had TEN phone calls throughout the course of the day, and I got a message from my wireless carrier informing me I had exceeded my minutes for this billing cycle! – I sent an email this morning (to him and the rest of the staff so as not to single him out) informing them that it’s easier and quicker for me communicate via email in most cases and I can actually be more responsive to them via email than by phone.

    I will take AAM advice about suggesting a second standard phone call per week – as it is, we already have a standing weekly call, but I would be willing to bump that up to two per week if he wants – if/when he replies.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, I think you might need to have a more direct conversation with him than that team-wide email, because it sounds like he hasn’t responded to that kind of message in the past. But I hope you’ll keep us posted on how this plays out!

      1. OP*

        I definitely will keep you updated on how this plays out.

        So far, I haven’t gotten any phone calls today, but I don’t know if that is as a result of the email, or just because they actually don’t have reason to call me today, but I guess we’ll see. The office is only three people (including this person) and actually one of the other staff members wrote to me privately thanking me for sending the email (I think the constant phone use was getting to her too).

      2. KSM*

        Yeah, I’d go with “Sorry to have missed your calls! While I’ve been more available to take unscheduled phone calls up to now, a few things are changing in my consultancy/my business/my company [to emphasize that you are not an employee] that will make it very difficult for me to respond to unscheduled phone calls. I’d recommend e-mailing me, or leave a clear voicemail explaining why you called, or email me, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.”

        Then, if X calls 7-10 times a day, *do not* to call back and instead email (not call!) near close-of-business with “Sorry to have missed your calls. Can’t call back right now, but I was wondering if this is resolvable over email or if we should schedule a call?”

        Then ONLY speak over scheduled calls (with this client, at least) unless it’s urgent, and only EVER schedule a call for at most once a day unless there is something that needs immediate turn-around (e.g. a call, then it is signed off by an exec who was not on the call, then a second call to verify the length of the teaspouts).

    2. Chuchundra*

      Can you start billing them for each phone call?

      Charge them a half hour minimum at your base rate for each call. At ten(!) calls a day, that could be a tidy sum. Maybe when they get the invoice it will give them some pause.

      1. badger_doc*

        This is a great suggestion! Charging X cents per minute would definitely curtain all the unneccesary calls. We used to work with a contract manufacturer that would charge by the hour to answer questions via phone (very much like a consultant rate) and we always made sure to have our ducks in a row before contacting them. It made us concise and to the point about getting our questions answered in one fell swoop, versus asking random questions multiple times throughout the week.

        1. OP*

          Unfortunately, I don’t think threatening to raise my rates will work. I’ve been working with this org for years and I do like them and the work I do for them, but they’re pretty cheap (to be blunt) and I think part of what has enabled me to stay there for as long as I have (despite huge staff turnover) is the delicate balance we’ve struck between me accepting a pretty modest (comparatively) retainer and them not badgering me night and noon. I’m really just interested in bringing that balance back.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            You should say that explicitly: “I’ve been able to keep my rates for XYZ Organization relatively low because we’ve been able to streamline the time requirements. I can’t continue to do that if you need this type of availability from me.”

            1. Not So NewReader*

              This. Yes, OP, please do this. I have had to explain this to organizations and groups before. It has gone over well. Most people will go along with the game plan if they know what the game plan is.

            2. Lora*

              This. I have done this. Client burned through a six-month PO in four months because he wanted updates first twice a week, then twice a day, then literally every 15 minutes. When they got my detailed, itemized bill, with four solid days spent “replying to edit queries on Document XYZ” and “update communications for Document ABC” suddenly they dialed it back. And then decided they could get by with someone cheaper who didn’t mind being harangued, and I moved on to a different client with much rejoicing. New client and I have a half-hour weekly chat to update, and everything else is conducted via email. It’s glorious. And it really was that they did not get it that I was not a full-time employee.

          2. LBK*

            That actually doesn’t sound like a bad way to couch it – “When I was working with FormerManager, we had an understanding that since I lowered my rates to meet your org’s budget, I only needed to be available at X specific times or when X specific info is needed. I like working with your organization and I want this arrangement to continue, but I need both sides to still be in place. If my availability needs to increase, I’ll need to raise my rates accordingly.”

          3. OP*

            Thank you you! If he continues with the constant calls going forward (following today’s email when I explicitly told him that email is not only more convenient, but actually enables me to be more responsive to them), I think I will just have to lay it out like you suggest – that my rates are way lower than most other consultants charge (esp. in the NYC area) and yet I am still VERY responsive to them and my work is reliable and good and consistent. In return, the org doesn’t badger me.

          4. Gene*

            I work as a regulator and we had one company that was reporting late after a management change. We have a mandatory fine for late reports and 3 months in a row of Notices of Violation and escalating fines didn’t change anything. At that time we were including fines as a line item in their monthly invoice. As a way to increase visibility of the fines we decided to invoice them separately and all the sudden, he became very responsive to our enforcement.

            If you come to an agreement to charge for phone calls beyond X per week, you might want to include that those will be billed weekly instead of in the normal monthly bill. That will flag to the person who is counting the beans that his behavior is costing them money that could better be spent somewhere else, more important to the cause.

    3. Laura*

      Another suggestion: if your phone will do it, give him a custom ring tone. Something laid-back that you like to listen to.

      So that when you have to not-pick-up his calls, you can enjoy the pleasant music he is providing.

      1. Sissa*

        I really like this idea! Too bad I would feel guilty for ignoring his calls, no matter how pleasant the music.

        Maybe “Jaws” theme would also work? Or is that too stressful? :D

    4. LQ*

      Are you charging the client for this time? If you have a flat fee then look at bumping it up. If you charge by the hour make sure you are marking out the phone calls on your next bill to them.

  18. CH*

    “and if I can’t reply right away I put up an auto reply letting people know I will write back later” – As a manager who hires and works with consultants, I would find this very annoying. I would rather get an email with your response when it is ready instead of an auto reply.

    1. OP*

      Fair enough. I generally respond to emails VERY quickly, and I only use the autoreply when I know I won’t be able to respond for a few hours and I want to give people a head’s up that I won’t be available until a certain time. 99% of the time I don’t have an autoreply up.

        1. LBK*

          Oh barf. I would absolutely hate getting a reply like that. It basically says “I’m too lazy to learn to prioritize and balance multiple tasks – good luck getting me to pay attention to your project if I’m working on anything else!”

        2. OP*

          Oh God – noooo. I think that kind of thing is totally obnoxious too.

          My autoreplies are pretty rare and when I do put one up it’s more like – “I will be away from my email until 3pm today (date) and will respond to messages when I return. Thank you!”

        3. C Average*

          Ugh. “How to become a minor internet celebrity by hawking gimmicky advice.” Go away, Tim Ferriss.

    2. LBK*

      What do you do in a situation where the email you’re sending is time-sensitive? Wouldn’t you like to know that you won’t be able to get an answer right away?

      1. CH*

        If I didn’t hear back from the person with a certain amount of time I would call them.

    3. Big Tom*

      I don’t understand what’s annoying about this, other than extra emails in your inbox that you have to delete. Surely any information on when to expect a reply is better than none, right? It doesn’t take more than ten seconds to read an autoreply, and then suddenly you know exactly when you can expect a response.

      I typically have the opposite problem of people responding to my emails a week later saying, “sorry I didn’t get back sooner, but I was checking on something.”
      I would much rather they had replied right away telling me that they would have an answer at X time than spending the week wondering whether they even saw my message.

      1. NOLA*

        I got dinged on my responsiveness during a performance review about five years ago. I thought I was being a superstar by throughly researching and documenting my answers. My manager thought I wasn’t prioritizing her requests. She loved the level of detail but hated the uncertainty.

        Lesson learned! Even though I have a different manager now, I habitually respond with a timeframe if it’ll take longer than a day to answer a question.

        Seems so obvious in hindsight, but I was blindsided by the feedback at the time.

  19. LucyVP*

    My last remaining client from my previous freelance business has the very annoying habit of calling over and over until I pick up the phone. Often she will call several times an hour until I pick up.

    She has been my client for almost 10 years and we have a very casual relationship. If I am busy at all I mostly ignore her calls until I can get to them (sometimes I even turn off my phone). I know she is freaking out but I also know the request isn’t urgent.

    When she gets crazy like this I will call her back and very sternly ask “Is this an emergency?” which usually gets my point across.

  20. Robin*

    Ugh, consulting clients with boundary issues are the worst. I agree with a lot of what has been said here. Also, once you establish frequent call-in check ins, and are direct with him about your availability otherwise, if he does call outside of those times, let it go to voicemail, and then immediately send an email to effect of “I saw that you called. I am on another call / in a meeting / etc. Is there something urgent I can help you with?” And then let him respond via email. I think really being on top of sending that email quickly might allay his anxiety about your availability. But I would also be ready for this relationship to not work out.

    1. OP*

      Yesterday, he and I had 10 phone calls, so this morning I decided that I needed to do something more direct about this and I sent out a “How to best reach me” email to him and two other staff members in which I told them that I can actually be MOST responsive and helpful to them via email, rather than by phone. I haven’t heard back from the guy this was really directed at yet, but I hope he and I will be able to find a good balance, as I had with the person he replaced.

      I said this upthread a ways, but this place has A LOT of staff turnover, and I think part of the reason I have been able to continue working for them for years (vs. a few months – 1 year) is that we’ve struck an unspoken bargain in which I accept a pretty modest rate (comparatively) and they in turn don’t hound me with calls and such. I’m just interested in getting that balance back, and if need be – if he continues to call me incessantly or if he reacts badly to my email – I will have to tell him this and hope we can reach an agreement that works for us both.

      I do think I will start doing as you suggested – if he calls, let it go to voicemail (most of the time – not always), but reply back with an email saying that I got their voicemail, what can I help with? etc.

  21. Jamie*

    i.e. “I am free to discuss this at 4pm” but that doesn’t seem to work either, as it will often prompt a phone call to confirm the 4pm phone call.

    Haven’t read the comments yet, but wanted to tell the OP the fact that there hasn’t been blood spilled over this is a testament to your patience.

    I get that there are phone people and email people – but wow – that’s just …wow.

    1. OP*

      Hahaha – thank you! I try my best to be flexible and adaptable and work with people as much as I can, but there does come a point at which all the flexibility in the world still won’t make something not-crazy.

      1. Jamie*

        Do you have response time written into your contract?

        I have a consultant who is amazing – and our contract is within 4 hours for emergencies and within 24 for non-emergencies.

        He is always responsive far more quickly than he’s obligated to be, but sometimes people will get on me about how it’s been a half hour – have I heard from him yet, for non-emergencies.

        I have his back – I explain as much as needed that he’s not on staff and he’s always well within the contracted times – and he’s brilliant so back off! I’ve even said if you want someone here to do this full time then we need to hire someone – the work is critical but doesn’t justify someone here full time. Months go by without needing anything, but I happily pay that retainer because he’s there when I need him.

        I just know my life is easier because his response times are spelled out in the contract – so if yours are too that’s a place to start.

        1. OP*

          No, there is no specific response time in my contract with them but until now my responsiveness has never been an issue. I respond to emails as fast as I can (or provide a timeframe when I could give a more solid answer to whatever question). Honestly, I don’t mind doing that because I understand that it can be annoying to wait for hours for a response.

      2. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

        I deal with the same thing with candidates every now and then. I will e-mail them and ask then when they are available to schedule a call and then they will call me. Then we schedule a time to talk and they call me again to make sure that we are still on for our 4pm call. I guess some people just like the phone a lot…Good luck with everything.

  22. MLB*

    The problem may actually be your quickly replying to email. What you need to communicate to him is about how he’s demanding your immediate availability, not about what format that takes. Yes, you obviously prefer email but it doesn’t sound like your reasons for that are either getting through to him or, frankly, that he feels he needs to give a damn.

    The bigger problem, and the one you can and should be solving with him, is his demand that you be instantly available whenever he needs you to answer any question that might flit across his mind. From his point of view, the format by which he reaches you is irrelevant – if you’d reply to his emails instantly WHY couldn’t you also answer his calls? That a reasonable question from his point of view.

    I’m sympathetic to your wanting things in email – that’s my preference as well; but I strongly feel you’d get way further in solving this problem if you communicated it in terms of your availability and not in the method of communication. And so to do that besides re-enforcing the message by not picking up the phone every time he calls, you need to also not reply to his email right away. Since you’ve gone down the “email is better – I reply right away” path it could be too far gone, but I think it’s the wrong approach to focus on changing the really bad behavior (attention demanding) by channelling it to something else that will still do that anyway just in a way you personally feel is easier to deal with.

  23. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    I totally understand where you are coming from. I am an e-mail person too. I am not a contractor so some of this doesn’t apply to me, but I often times suggest e-mail as the best way to reach me too. This is because I do a lot of recruiting in my current position and I am on a lot of prescheduled calls with candidates throughout the day. So when someone calls unscheduled, it nearly always goes to voice mail and then there is this game of phone tag which is unproductive and annoying. Usually people get the hint after realizing that I respond to e-mails much quicker than I do to voice mails, but there are a handful of people who nearly always call me, but it is not excessive. I really like AAM’s idea about offering the standing calls once or twice a week. I hope that it works out.

  24. Pixel Pusher*

    Would it be possible to change who your primary contact at the org is? You mentioned that this manager was new and it could be that he’s just not the right person to be handling contractor communications now. Let him bug someone else in his office and then that person can contact you when there’s an actual issue.

    1. Ruffingit*

      That’s a really good idea if it’s at all possible. I think the OP mentioned that the office is very small, but if anyone else could be the point person, that might be super helpful.

  25. JM*

    I’m late to the comments, but it sounds like I could have written OP’s email myself! I work for a consulting firm, but one particular client will call at all hours (even after normal work hours and weekends) and it drives me nuts! It’s so intrusive, and I can get more done, more efficiently, with emails!


    1. OP*

      Ohhhhhhh dear. I used to have this problem as well – clients calling/emailing at night, on weekends, etc. and expecting immediate replies, and I had to wean them off of it by simply not replying or answering if they called or emailed after a certain time (unless something truly urgent has come up, of course). 99% of things can wait til the morning.

      I once had a client email me at like 12am on a Friday night about some complete non-urgent matter. I read the email but I didn’t reply and then by the time I woke up on Saturday morning I had a second email asking if I’d read the first. That’s when I began instituting firmer boundaries about when my workday ends.

      However – evidenced by my question to AAM – I have a harder time setting boundaries for communications DURING working hours.

  26. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I had a client like this a long time ago (who I eventually fired). I was just looking back over some of our correspondence to see how I handled it. Here’s one email I sent him:

    “Got your voicemail and am stuck in client calls most of the afternoon. But in answer to your question, the best way for you to get caught up is just to go through whatever emails you’ve had in the past two days — that’ll be faster than me walking you through it anyway.

    Relatedly — because I’m juggling multiple clients, my days are pretty scheduled in advance; I book specific times for calls with clients and specific work blocks for each client, and I often turn my phone off during the work blocks so I can focus on whatever I’m doing. Because of that, I can be hard to reach spontaneously, so if we ever need to be sure we have a phone call, we should just schedule it in advance so it gets on my calendar.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This was part of it, and also he kept being late for meetings or breaking commitments, and I had told him at the outset that in exchange for discounted rates he had to agree to not do that. (I’d known this guy for years and knew that might be a problem, so had built it into our agreement.) The other issue was that he was generally incompetent and so I didn’t feel I could do the work I was hired to do with any integrity — because regardless of my work, the biggest obstacle to the organization’s success (him) wasn’t going to go away, so I didn’t feel right taking their money. I basically told him all that, although in a much nicer way. He actually took it pretty well — it wasn’t the first time he’d heard it.

  27. Vox De Causa*

    OP, it sounds like you work for someone like my old manager. He was a “talker.” He preferred to think out loud and bounce ideas off of us. He would jump up and run to our workstations the moment an idea occurred to him or right after he got off of a conference call (so he could share everything while it was on his mind). His biggest concern for his employees was that they build relationships. He would walk around the entire department (40 people) and speak with everyone personally every morning. He insisted that his supervisors do the same with their direct reports. It sounds like your new manager is following this same pattern. Some people need that interaction.

  28. PhoneHate*

    I. HATE. THE. PHONE. In my personal life, social life and professional life. I don’t get along well with people who insist on using the phone like its the 80’s.

  29. Jeff G.*

    Soooo many issues here – but I would offer two suggestions:

    1. As others have kinda stated, start keeping track of phone time and bill for it. Since it sounds like you’re on a cell phone, you have a call log with minute/second tracking. Use it. :)

    2. Become buds with GoogleVoice. Program your clients into it. Give out the GoogleVoice number. Tell GV, per client, how to handle the call (including sending calls directly to voicemail).

  30. KrisL*

    I also prefer e-mail to phone, but I have learned that some people are just easier to communicate with when you use the phone. This manager may be one of them. It’s frustrating to me, but you do what you have to.

    All the same, I think this manager is treating the consultant like an employee who needs micromanagement. Doesn’t seem right.

  31. C. Teasel*

    I think all this advice is way too complicated. When you do freelance work, you’re essentially charging for either:
    A. Time
    B. Product

    If you’re currently charging for the end product, start charging for your time. Tell the person that you are so booked up, you have to schedule all work, including calls, and will do so before 6:00 am at the start of each day. You can then tell HIM what block of time, and for how long, you have open for the NEXT business day. For an additional fee, offer on-call services.

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