can I tell clients that I don’t talk on the phone?

A reader writes:

I’m a freelance graphic artist. I work with some regular clients, but a lot of my work is one-off projects for small business clients. I’m always open to new clients, though I also have a steady stream of work, enough to be comfortable. I get some of my work through a freelancer platform, where I can advertise my services and see job postings that businesses create. When I see a job that suits me, I send a short pitch message and samples of my work to start the conversation.

Here’s the problem: often, the client will ask if I can “jump on the phone” for a quick talk or schedule a teleconference. I have terrible social anxiety, and just thinking about talking to a stranger on the phone or via Skype makes me want to throw up. I shake just thinking about it, and I get so flustered on the phone that I can become practically unintelligable, so I don’t sell myself well over the phone anyway. I also really like to have every conversation in writing so there’s no confusion about job guidelines, deadlines, etc.

Is there a way I can say “No, let’s continue the conversation via email,” or explain that I don’t communicate by phone/teleconference? I have a therapist I work with, I take medication and I know there are strategies I could do in the future to make phone calls more comfortable … but from a business perspective, is there a way I can refuse this request without seeming like a lunatic? I’m aware that insisting to communicate only by email could lose me some jobs, but I have enough work that I’m okay with that.

What do you think?

Yes! As long as you’re okay with the possibility of losing business from people who feel more comfortable if they can talk by phone — and you are — you absolutely can do this.

For example, you can say: “My schedule makes it hard for me to jump on the phone, but I’d be glad to answer any questions you have by email, and I can usually be quite responsive that way.”

Or if you want to be clearer that you’re always going to be unavailable by phone: “I have a medical issue that means I don’t use the phone, but I’d be glad to answer any questions you have by email, and I can usually be quite responsive that way.”

The rest of this post doesn’t apply to you, but I’m going to hijack it in order to talk about phone phobias more generally.

Generally speaking, I think people who dislike the phone would be doing themselves and their careers a service if they sucked it up and got on the phone even when they don’t want to. (And again, what I’m about to say doesn’t apply to you, because your reaction is much more significant than garden-variety “I don’t like the phone” stances and you’re in a position where you’re calling the shots.)

As email and text-based communication becomes more and more ubiquitous, the number of people who hate talking on the phone keeps going up. There are a ton of people who hate talking on the phone and who actively avoid it.

But in most fields, talking on the phone is still very much a thing that lots of people still expect, and if you avoid picking up the phone until you’re directly ordered to, you’re making your life harder and you’re not mastering a pretty basic professional skill that managers are going to expect you to have.

In fact, I’ve heard a zillion managers say a version of this about junior staff members: “She kept telling me she hadn’t heard back from the person who we’re waiting on info from, but said she had followed up several times. Eventually I found out that all her follow-up had been by email; she’d never once picked up the phone and called, even when it was getting urgent. I had to order her to use the phone, and then we got the info we needed.” This is always said in a tone of exasperation, and understandably so.

At some point in the future, the phone might go the way of the mimeograph machine. But for now, the majority of people in the majority of jobs, it hasn’t yet. And for most people, “I hate the phone” isn’t sufficient reason to avoid using it when it makes sense for your job. Plus, if you let yourself avoid it, you’re prolonging the problem because the more you avoid talking on the phone, the more anxious you’ll be about it.

And for the record, I say all this as someone who hates talking on the phone in 75% of the situations where people want me to, so I get it. But plenty of people hate email too, and they’re still expected to use it when their job requires it.

There are exceptions to this. The letter writer is one of them. She’s in a position where she can be choosy about how she works, which is an awesome thing.

But for most people, phone anxiety is something to work on getting over.

{ 515 comments… read them below }

  1. Zip Silver*

    I’m one of those email people, I really hate talking on the phone, but working a crummy call center job in college really helps you get over those sorts of phone awkwardness feelings, and it’s definitely helped me professionally.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I had the same experience. In fact, my family members commented that after working my call center job, I became a lot easier to talk to on the phone even for casual chatting.

      1. RKB*

        After I worked customer service at a grocery store for two years, my family commented on how much more excited I was when I spoke. The customer service voice just became my normal voice.

    2. Dinosaur*

      Same here. I only lasted 3 months on the phones at my crummy call center but I got a fantastic professional phone voice out of it.

      1. Buffy Summers*

        Ha! I’m still working on my professional phone voice because, apparently, my “professional” voice sounds like I’m trying to use my “sexy” voice. :/
        I’ve been told that more than once, so I try really hard not to sound like I’m running a phone sex line, but when I do that, I end up sounding (at least to me) like a robot.
        I just can’t win.
        (Please feel free to read this entire post in a phone-sex type voice. Somehow I think that will make it better.)

        1. Chaordic One*

          In a similar vein, my GBF was told to “butch it up”. The result was that he became very self-conscious and, curiously enough, also ended up sounding like a robot.

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Yes! I did phone survey work for a public health research center at my alma mater. It helped me so much, although people now say that my phone voice is too formal.

    4. Cyclical*

      I spent five years in retail where I had to talk on the phone all the time. Didn’t do a thing to make me more comfortable.

      1. drashizu*

        Same. Maybe it’s working in an immersive environment where the job is all phones, all the time? Because I did manage a professional sounding retail voice on the phone, but it didn’t transfer to comfortably saying smart things on conference calls in my office job at all.

    5. Natalie*

      Being a receptionist at a company that had not gotten on the email bandwagon yet was very useful for me when it came to making professional calls. I still don’t especially care to talk on the phone, but I feel comfortable and confident doing so.

      1. De Minimis*

        Similar experience for me….I still have to do backup phone answering duties, and it’s been helpful as far as getting used to calling people. Still don’t like it, but can do it if I need to.

      2. InTheClearing*

        Same for me. I used to have a lot of anxiety about talking on the phone and would write down exactly what I was going to say (and then get thrown off if I had to something that wasn’t on my “script”). Then I got a job as a receptionist where I had to talk on the phone *a lot* and within a couple months felt very comfortable and confident on the phone. Now I prefer to talk to people on the phone if I can because it seems to cut down on needless back and forth emails.

    6. AliceBD*

      Working on the phone definitely improves your ability. I did customer service for an internet retailer for all breaks during college, and my first post-college job was for a nonprofits where I cld-called people for 6 hours a day for 4 months to encourage them to participate in our program (I worked there for longer, but the program started with getting participants). I went from being scared every time I had to make a call and writing out scripts every time to not thinking twice about it.

      Worth noting I never had a phobia, just a dislike. Also I always prefer email for personal things because then I don’t have to remember to call someone during business hours aka give up my lunch break to talk to the insurance or pharmacy or whoever.

        1. drashizu*

          There’s a twenty-something woman in my office who has literally no phone shyness. None. She came in her first day on the job and (reportedly) was talking to one of the execs welcoming her onboard when he mentioned a potential client she might call first, and when he gave her the number she didn’t write it down, she just picked up the phone without a moment’s hesitation and cold-called them right there with him standing her office. He was very impressed (as was I, when I heard this story, because how???).

        2. Anon for this*

          I have to do the worst type of cold calling for my work. I’m in a type of debt collection, and if the person passed away, we have to involve family members in the action. Usually we send out letters first to explain the situation, but sometimes I have to call people first.

      1. Nic*

        Jumping on the warning train of being careful about taking a job with phone work to try to stretch your phone limits. That absolutely works for some folks, I’m sure!

        In my experience, it was working a job that required phone work that caused my phone issues. I was a typical teenager/young adult who spent lots of time on the phone until I worked a job that was on call. It didn’t take long to end up with panic attacks at the sound of a phone.

    7. sub rosa for this*

      Precise opposite for me.

      I started my career as a receptionist, did some call center time, did a slew of admin jobs that were 50% or more “answer the phone/make calls,” and it was totally fine. I was great at it, too.

      Then I got stalked.

      Now? Absolutely won’t talk on the phone unless someone’s standing over me forcing me to. And I will text you or email you or IM with you or SMS with you or PM with you all the day long, but if you want to talk to me verbally, you’d better invite me to lunch. :)

      1. Joan Callamezzo*

        Huh. I was stalked too–specifically *by phone*, and the caller would never identify himself–and it literally never occurred to me before reading this comment that my dislike of talking on the phone might be related.

        1. drashizu*

          Upthread I mentioned that working in retail didn’t cure me of my shyness talking over the phone, but now that you mention it, I worked at a store that got a lot of nasty calls. Most from the same guy who fortunately wasn’t targeting any employee in particular, but would selectively say terrible things when he heard what he thought was a woman’s voice over the phone.

          (Off-topic story: The first time I got him, he asked me to find a book by ISBN, see if we had it in the store, and “describe what it was about” to see if he’d like it; it turned out to be the Kama Sutra and I, confused and embarrassed, got as far as the point where he asked “Can you flip through it and read a passage?” before I hung up. An older employee who saw me do it asked why I hung up on a customer and then immediately went, “Oh, that guy. Hang up right away the next time he calls.” It was not the last time he called.)

    8. Blue Anne*

      Yep. I used to have enormous phone anxiety when I was a kid/teen, but in the last few years of high school I stage-managed every single production the high school and middle school put on. It meant making a lot of phone calls I couldn’t avoid, even to the “popular kids” who were skipping rehearsal and really didn’t want to hear from me. I distinctly remember sitting in the theater office staring at the phone call of a popular boy, freaking out, and deciding “Anne you just have to do it, you’re the one in charge here.”

      It got so much better after that. I still didn’t like it but I could do it, and made myself. Now I prefer phone to email a lot of the time.

    9. Anonymous 40*

      I went the other way. I never enjoyed talking on the phone because I felt trapped. Then I worked in call centers for 10 years. Now I’d rather chew my own arm off than talk on the phone, even to family members.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I saw a funny post on Tumblr about this not too long ago, saying “I have 4 levels of friendship. 1 – we hang out. 2 – we can travel together. 3 – I’d take a bullet for you. 4 – I will talk to you on the phone.”

        I did 3 months in a call center and it honestly didn’t help. I’ll put off making necessary medical appointments for months if it means I have to call – online appointment systems have been amazing for me!

        1. Nic*

          I think I’d seriously be in worse physical and metal health if I couldn’t book appointments online. In situations where I can’t, I’ll sometimes have a friend call.

          1. Hrovitnir*

            OMG YES. I cannot believe our university health centre doesn’t have online bookings – if beauty therapists can have online bookings (and their appointment booking systems are virtually if not actually identical to medical ones), medical centres can. Especially when you’re a registered patient. The fact the health centre is bundled physical and mental health particularly frustrates me – there is a reason I usually ended up having to deal with SSRI withdrawals ever 3 months, and that’s because I basically have to be 1 day away from symptoms to be able to handle calling.

            I have a good phone manner and doing retail did help, however as my anxiety got worse it was starting to impact my ability to do my job too, though I’m much more OK with taking business calls, since that’s very structured.

      2. PM Jesper Berg*

        The phone is never going to go the way of the mimeograph machine, because there are far too many misunderstandings that arise via e-mail that can be resolved in seconds verbally.

        Email is good for some purposes, like disseminating documents. But it is singularly ineffective for others. If the sender of an e-mail has poor communications skills — and unfortunately this happens frequently, particularly when companies don’t hire on the basis of communication skills — the initial message ends up muddled.

        For complex subjects, e-mail works only if the sender is willing to type, and the recipient willing to read, detailed messages; there are contexts where perfunctory 140-character e-mails don’t convey enough nuance.

        I have seen many misunderstandings arise by e-mail and always reach for the phone when it looks like one is developing. Far more often than not, verbal communication kills the misunderstanding.

        1. Hrovitnir*

          I agree wrt it not going away, but I think the miscommunication goes both ways. There are certain queries that are far more suited to phone calls, but while some people are shockingly bad at communicating via a text medium, I love that it’s actually rather difficult to be unclear if you make an effort. And you conveniently have it written down – no mishearing anything!

        2. Jojo*

          I will often do a phone call , and then an email to paraphrase key point. Helps greatly, especially if you don’t think they really paying attention on phone.

    10. The Final Pam*

      That helped with my phone communication skills as well – I still get flustered if I don’t know something or I need to look something up (which is why I generally prefer emails for my job, I often need to look up a couple things to answer questions) but my phone skills got so much better after my college call center job. I actually credit that job a lot, because it helped my verbal communication skills a lot AND was a really solid resume booster when trying to find work outside of school.

    11. Karen D*

      I do a lot of my work on the phone now and it’s definitely an area where anybody can develop a level of skill. But I also hate it, esp. with my serious concentration problems. I drop the thread of what’s being discussed and forget things if I’m not writing them down.

      One thing that really really helps is a headset. Just removing the physical task of keeping the phone to my ear gives me a tremendous improvement.

    12. Night Cheese*

      I managed the box office for a summer theater company that had an intern program, which meant I had several phone-fearing interns assigned to shifts where answering the phone was the bulk of the job. I wrote up a script and posted it at their station, and told them to approach it as a performance (of course, most of them were on the tech crew, but still…). Some of them managed to do okay, but there was always one or two a season I had to request not be assigned to box office shifts anymore.

    13. Hush42*

      I hate talking on the phone and used to get very anxious whenever I thought I might have to answer the phone at my data entry job but then I spent 4 months working in a 911 dispatch center which pretty much got rid of most of my anxiety surrounding using talking on the phone. This was imperative to my career because I moved from there to a position where I had to call people to gather information related to the contracts they had with us. I moved from that job into my current position at the same company which is in my desired field and perfect to move me along my desired career path.
      I still hate talking on the phone. Mostly I hate it when people call me because it interrupts my focus which I find annoying. I know that in some situations it’s easier to have a conversation on the phone but often e-mail or IM is much better. For example, this morning one of my co-workers (who is in her 60s and HATES technology) decided that she needed to call me to let me know that she was going to so something. The conversation was literally- her “I’m going to take care of this thing” me’ “Okay”. The conversation itself only took a minute but it was completely unnecessary and interrupted the flow of the project I was right in the middle of.

      1. drashizu*

        All thoughts fly out of my brain when my desk phone rings. It really messes up my flow when it’s just another employee calling with an FYI they could have sent as an IM.

    14. Me*

      My phone anxiety got significantly worse when I worked in a call center. Not sure I’d recommend a call center to anyone.

    15. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I, like others here, had a bit of the opposite experience. I worked for a campaign for a couple months where part of my job was to spend about 4 hours a day calling people to either ask directly for money, or fill up events, and it just made me hate the phone more. I’m lucky to work in tech/media where a lot of our work is done in Slack, which I love and is somehow organized exactly the way my brain is organized.

    16. zora*

      Yeah, working as a field organizer on a political campaign did it for me, too! Being forced to make 270 dials per day was like exposure therapy. I still don’t LOVE cold calling, which I have to do once in a blue moon, but it is a million times easier for me to make phone calls to strangers than it was when I was younger!

      And I said the same to people who wanted to volunteer for campaigns or causes I worked on, but then said “but I don’t like calling people.” A few people listened to me and went ahead and tried anyway, and said the same thing! After a few nights of making tons and tons of phone calls, it definitely got easier.

  2. Callalily*

    I would jump to the excuse of having a medical issue that makes using a phone difficult and end it there. It doesn’t out your mental illness or make you seem batty; most will probably assume you have hearing/speaking issues.

    I have severe social anxiety and I get it… I SO GET IT! I can turn into a rambling mess if the call takes an unexpected turn away from my scripted conversation.

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

      Or what about the fact that what she does is detail-oriented? If you’re a rambling mess, are you really going to get your client/prospective client’s details right? If you’re going to need a follow up email anyway, why not carry on the whole conversation on email?

    2. Amy*

      I agree with this! The details of your medical issue are none of their business–the fact that it exists and therefore you don’t use phones is all they need to know.

    3. Indoor Cat*

      Seconding. The place I live is adjacent to a primarily Deaf neighborhood, and probably about 1/3 of the strangers I run into about town are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. I’ve picked up some politeness phrases in ASL, but generally in a mixed area like this, Deaf people use apps or notes to communicate, and I’ve never seen anyone be judgmental about it, let alone think less of people. In a city where there’s a decent chance your local nurse or librarian is Deaf, not being able to communicate verbally stops being associated with incompetence fairly quickly.

      I know it’s a bit of a unique position, but I also think because Deaf Acceptance seems to have become much more widely accepted and understood nowadays in general, most people won’t think twice about a request to use text instead of voice. I wish mental illnesses were as well understood and accepted, but hopefully progress is being made there as well.

    4. Deejay*

      My dad is hard of hearing and so he often begs organisations he’s dealing with to discuss things by email rather than phone. Even though he’s a paying customer, they usually refuse. So he asks that whoever contacts him is a man rather than a woman (not sexist, he just has more difficulty with higher-pitched sounds) and doesn’t have a strong regional accent (an extra level of audio processing he has trouble dealing with). They take no notice.

      1. EmpressSpellyzunkles*

        And that is why I make my husband do the phone calls. He has to make ALL outgoing calls. I am very hard of hearing and it gets painful to say “What?” ALL.THE.TIME.
        I know more and more places have online food ordering and stuff but I’m still a little leery of that so I’ll stick to my secretary/DH.

      2. Matt*

        Those businesses insisting on phone communication are a pet peeve of mine. They have an online form on their website, they have an email address, and whatever you write to them, they just call you in response. I get that it might be more time-saving for them to handle customer communication by phone, but hey, I’m the one who’s paying!

  3. Bend & Snap*

    LW, if you aren’t already using IM, that would be another way to talk to your clients in real time. There are a bunch of different options out there.

    I hate the phone and avoid it whenever possible…which isn’t very often…so I usually just suck it up and recognize that a bunch of phone conversations are going to sap my energy and make me cranky. But if I can punt on a phone call I do, because sometimes they come at the expense of my immediate mental health.

    1. esra*

      I love when businesses offer IM options. Seriously, I am always so happy when a vendor I want to deal with has a little IM pop-up on their site.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Agreed! Although I wouldn’t solicit a new vendor, agree to terms, and sign a contract through a chat. At some point, I’d want to meet or, at a minimum, get on the phone.

        1. esra*

          We work with a lot of partners in the states and overseas, so meeting isn’t an option, we usually move to email for bigger steps like contracts etc. I like to have the initial chat through IM, then move to email so I can keep everything cleanly in my records.

        2. Karen D*

          I actually feel exactly the opposite. I can think of two times (once with a utility dispute and with a freelance job) where, lacking that chat log, I would have been up a creek – because they were flat-out denying they’d said what they’d said. (Obviously, if you have a signed contract that’s good, but it was the “agreeing to terms” part that we were having trouble with and in both cases, it was a situation that probably wouldn’t have been memorialized in a contract.)

          1. Evan Þ*

            Even aside from disputes like that, it’s great to have the chat logs to refer back to in the future. My company uses IM for most things as a standard, and every two or three days, I search through the IM logs for some point or other.

          2. Parenthetically*

            I was just going to say the same thing! Chat logs are freaking PRICELESS for disputes.

      2. Just passing by*

        Me too. It has all the benefits of live conversation without any of the energy-sapping requirement to engage a new sense (hearing). I hate the phone because I am a visual person, not auditory, and it takes me longer to process information I am only hearing and not seeing. It means I am a copious notetaker during phone calls and it also means I’m a little slower to react.

        Note that this limitation doesn’t apply to in-person conversation: being able to see someone’s expression and body language makes a HUGE difference.

        Similarly, I think this is why I find someone talking on the phone on the bus so irritating, even when that person is speaking at normal volume relative to other conversations on the bus. My brain can’t hear the other side of the conversation so it keeps triggering that I need to be paying attention because clearly that person must be speaking to me, but the things they are saying don’t make any sense…

        People are exhausting. ;)

      3. Parenthetically*

        Me too!! When I was working on my taxes I was dealing with a seriously incompetent accountant (no, I do not require an on-file religious exemption for insurance when I am covered by a medical sharing plan; no, I should not have to email you links to the IRS website as evidence of that) and had to argue with the company for a complete refund of my filing fees. I was incredibly grateful to have had the option of doing it all via chat. Not sure my anxiety could have handled it over the phone.

    2. Lowercase holly*

      This was my first thought. So many retail customer service dept offer online chat. I love it.

    3. MashaKasha*

      This*1000. At CurrentJob, most of interaction is done by IM, or a web meeting where you can show your screen and talk on the phone. When people do want to talk on the phone, they’ll IM you and ask if you’re available to talk and when. I love it! Honestly imo an out-of-the-blue phone call is the same thing as barging into a person’s office unannounced, sitting down, and starting to talk at them without any regard to what they are in the middle of doing. I’m so thankful that nobody does that in my workplace.

    4. PizzaDog*

      This is a great idea. It would work great for the OP and for any of their potential clients who’d rather have a back and forth communication all in one go, rather than waiting for e-mails back and forth.

    5. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I came into the comments to say this, too. If the nature of your work means that there might be a couple things to decide that could take a bunch of back-and-forth, IM could save a lot of time delays. In my job, there’s a few things that I’ve learned it’s inefficient to decide over email (like rescheduling a class when there are multiple people’s schedules to work around). Since I’m physically in the same location as my colleagues I usually go to them in person for those, but IM would do just as well.

  4. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    Are there practicable treatments for this kind of social anxiety, like CBT or EMDR or something like that? I share Alison’s feeling that, while LW’s reasons for avoiding phone conversations is legitimate and very real, it’s also a professional liability that could lose business. If there’s a way to get that level of anxiety under control, it might be worth it do what you can to meet clients halfway on it, as it were.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      She’s in treatment and aware of additional avenues for further treatment, and she’s in a position where she doesn’t mind losing business over this. She very explicitly did not ask for this type of feedback.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        She did not very explicitly reject this type of feedback, and I think it’s a valid point to raise, particularly because the market for freelance work can quickly change to a degree that passing on potential clients isn’t sustainable.

        1. ThatGirl*

          She didn’t explicitly reject it, but she did make it clear that she’s in treatment and aware of her options, which I think means we don’t need to harp on “get treatment!!” — she didn’t ask for that kind of advice.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            And I undertand that OP might not want to pursue those options and follow that advice now, but “give me advice, no not that advice, something else” is a very good way to not get any advice at all.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Huh. I really disagree. She asked for advice on a very specific question (is there a way I can refuse this request without seeming like a lunatic?), but not about how to handle her phone anxiety. It seems super reasonable to say that some potential solutions are out of bounds, especially since she explained why she’s ok with the consequences.

                1. The OP*

                  I truly appreciate everyone’s feedback. It feels all warm and fuzzy to have so many awesome AAM commenters weighing in on little old me, after years of loving this site. And thanks to Victoria and Alison, who I feel are on the right track here. This is a work column, so I came to Alison with a work question. I don’t need anything else — that is, after all, what I have a (rad) therapist for.

        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Also, as someone who has been in treatment for post-traumatic anxiety issues, I bring it up because avoidance often exacerbates the issue to the point that it starts affecting one’s life even more. Avoiding phone calls digs the groove deeper.

          1. Seven If You Count Bad John*

            The OP is not avoiding her phone anxiety. She’s in treatment for it. Maybe we should let her and her therapists and doctors determine at what point in the course of treatment it’s appropriate for her to stick her toe in that water.

          2. The OP*

            I totally agree and acknowledge that avoiding the phone does make it seem even worse. But I’m in a position right now where I can do fine with this strategy — and if I ever truly needed to make calls to earn work, I know I could force myself into it. It’s pretty extreme, but not so extreme that I would let it render me unemployed.

    2. TC*

      I used to work in call centres, where my phone-aversion developed. It’s coupled with some depression and anxiety. I have let things lapse in my professional and personal life trying to avoid the phone.

      I do work on stuff like this in therapy — my therapist mainly practices CBT — and on days where I feel “strong” enough, I will make a bunch of phone calls, include some “low-stakes” calls (like calling my husband during his lunchbreak or phoning my folks) and make a note about how the call didn’t go wrong. It’s very likely I am never going to hear the things people said to me over the phone again now that I’m out of call centres, but my brain won’t always let me realise that, so I’m training it if you will.

      (I’m also stubborn AF, so the very idea that something holds me back winds me up).

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Are you the letter writer? Just clarifying.

        1. TC*

          nope, just a random commenter. The LW definitely sounds like they have it a bit tougher than me.

      2. Emi.*

        When you say that you “make a note about how the call didn’t go wrong,” do you mean you write down specifics about how things went well/how you did them well, or just “I called Best Buy and asked about cell phone repair, and IT WAS FINE”? Like, is it more a feedback/improvement thing or an affirmation thing, or what? I get pretty anxious about other kinds of communication (though not the phone, oddly), so I’d like to adopt this habit :)

        1. TC*

          It’s whatever would work for you. I sometimes make a note that says “they didn’t yell at me!” which is a variation of “IT WAS FINE” (I really like that!) but recently I’ve also been making notes of the outcomes as well, like “I got a dinner reservation!” or “My friend invited me to a party!” It’s not really about improving my phone skills, I feel that I sound ok on the phone, but just about cutting myself some slack because hey — the world didn’t burn down because I made a call.

          The formal name for this kind of thing is “immersion therapy”, but I prefer to think of it as practicing not being anxious about communicating with folks.

          (For the record, I’ve read Alison’s note in this thread and I recognise that LW needs a different solution — this is more for those with phone aversion, rather than a genuine phone phobia).

          1. Not So NewReader*

            FWIW, a friend who was a vice principal, said he had a no yelling policy for the phone. If a parent started yelling, he would say, “I have to hang up now. When you are able to talk with me calmly you may call me back and we will continue to work on solutions here.” Then he would hang up with the final statement of “I am hanging up right now. Good bye.” Repeat as necessary.

            I think part of the problem with yelling is not having a feel for what the boss wants us to do when someone starts yelling. OTH, I have had jobs where I could not hang up even if I heard the C word or any other of those words. It took me a bit that to realize that employers who make rules like this one, also have other problems and it’s probably a good idea to move on. In these cases, what seems like a phone issue is the tip of the iceberg.

            Currently, I have a boss who has zero tolerance for any type of misbehavior on the phone from outsiders. Since we sit next to each other, it’s really easy to hear/follow a conversation. When she hears me repeating myself she tells me, “Must be time to hang up.” If I am repeating myself that would indicate that the person is giving me a hard time.

            My suggestion is to figure out how much attitude you will tolerate and what your next step will be when you hit that wall. Having a plan helps to level the playing field.

          2. plain_jane*

            Thank you for this – I’m bad about some kinds of phone calls, and approaching them this way feels like it might help me.

      3. AnonyMouse*

        I really admire how you’re working on making “low-stakes” calls. I hope things get better with time!

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wait, that’s a misstatement of my position in regard to the OP. She’s in a position where it’s not a professional liability for her. That’s fine. She doesn’t need to change anything if she’s happy with the results she’s getting with her business, and she is.

      1. AMG*

        My husband and I are working with someone in a professional capacity (The person’s profession; not ours. We are the clients.) My husband is in sales and very much a phone person but I’m not. He commented about how Fergus ‘won’t ever answer the phone, but he’s really super responsive about emailing back when I leave a message.’ I had to point out that it’s a good thing—Fergus is getting the job done with no loss of information. My husband really hadn’t thought of it that way. He just noticed he wasn’t getting calls back.

        I try to be this way and deliberately respond promptly over email or IM, but I probably won’t call you back very quickly. Most people get the idea and I have generally received good feedback for my communications.

        1. PM Jesper Berg*

          Except that if Fergus is a poor writer, there *is* loss of information. It may also take your husband a lot longer to digest complex information in written form than verbally. So it is not necessarily a good thing if your husband is more efficient at processing information by phone.

      2. CM*

        Yes, since the OP is a freelancer, she can set her own terms — so I’d suggest saying upfront that she does not talk on the phone, to set client expectations.

  5. Cambridge Comma*

    This is a response to the hijack rather than the OP, as I know this wouldn’t work for someone with an anxiety issue.
    I have a horrible tendency to avoid the phone to the extent that (as in the hypothetical example) I come close to letting my work suffer.
    I try to train myself by making ‘low stakes’ calls. Sometimes at work, to people I know or to people I don’t need to impress, but more often in customer service situations. I’ve found it’s an issue where exposure can reduce the aversion.

    1. Sherm*

      That may work for someone with an anxiety issue, too! (I know OP wasn’t looking for that type of advice, so this for anyone who is looking.) I used to have Texas-sized social anxiety, and, yep, I hated the phone, especially if I was the one initiating the call. Therapy was all about being exposed to the anxiety. I think that’s a great idea to start with low stakes calls and try to work your way up.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think this is great advice. I don’t hate the phone, but I dislike it. So my comments are for people with a severe dislike, including physical discomfort, but not a clinical phobia like OP’s.

      I had great mentors who made me make smaller, low stakes calls so that I wouldn’t freak out for “big calls,” like having to speak to the actual Arkansas Attorney General (I was 20 and wanted to throw up the entire time). But by normalizing the small calls, it lowered the stakes, and now I significantly prefer just calling someone to hash out something that’s going sideways on email or is urgent. And it gets resolved WAY faster than email exchanges (although I also like the suggestion re: IM—two jobs ago we had a culture of IM’ing for clarification if someone was listed as available, and it worked surprisingly well).

      1. Kheldarson*

        This is what worked for me! I worked retail and taking so many low stakes calls really helped my phone anxiety. I still hate the phone (I can’t interpret vocal tones very well on the phone, so I always assume things are worse than they are) but it doesn’t worry me as much anymore if I need to cold call someone.

    3. anonykins*

      I agree. Exposure (like, a lot of exposure) is what has done it for me. I ended up in a job where there is a season in which I’m expected to make roughly 300ish calls over the span of a few weeks, but otherwise phone use is present but not the primary means of communication. I was DREADING my first season of heavy calling, and to be sure I left some super awkward messages…but eventually, it just became part of my job. I don’t think twice now when calling my landlord to tell him I lost my keys (aggggg), or a business contact I’ve never met in person. It’s freeing.

    4. Marillenbaum*

      That’s a very useful point. Low-stakes, confidence-building phone calls can be helpful. At my old job, I hated having to plan site visits over the phone, because a lot of high schools don’t let college reps book via their websites (assuming they have one!); instead, I would “warm up” by calling someone else.
      I also realized that part of what I disliked about phone calls was my office space–I shared a room with five coworkers, and I had a half-wall. It made me really self-conscious to be on the phone because I felt like I was always being observed. On days when a more senior coworker was out of the office and I could use their actual office with an actual door (!), it was much better.

    5. Taylor Swift*

      Yes, I think practice is really, really helpful. (For the people who fall into the hijack category. I’m not trying to tell the OP that’s all she needs.) I still don’t love making phone calls to people, especially ones I don’t know, but I’m way more comfortable with it now than I was when I was just starting to work, just by virtue of having a decade or so of experience under my belt now.

    6. Jesmlet*

      Sort of in between hijack and OP, I have never been diagnosed with anxiety but I used to get pretty severe heart before I made any kind of phone call, even the low stakes ones. My example I always use is having to call my college’s parking authority to verify my parking permit info. I sat in the chair for a solid 30 minutes, heart beating out of my chest before I even dialed the phone.

      For me, what worked was just being forced to practice during training on new jobs. It’s helped a lot and now I don’t freak out if I have to pick up a phone or call someone. I still don’t like it but at least my voice doesn’t shake anymore.

  6. EA*

    I am a phone person, I know a lot of people are not, and I understand that.

    I find it is far easier to ignore an email than a phone call, and much easier for me to get the information I need efficiently over the phone than via email. This may be job or field specific. I’d encourage people to try the phone and see if it makes them more productive.

    1. TL -*

      Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of phone calls with businesses – hold music makes me see red – but there are a lot of things that are much more quickly cleared up with a conversation, either on phone or in person, than with text-based communication. For me, especially something like a graphic design project – I’d want a chance to talk to things out at least once, and then would be happy to stick to email or whatever.

      Others may feel differently or may be happy to deal with the increased clarification burden of email/text-based communications, though, so you can set your business however works best for you, OP.

      1. Grits McGee*

        For anything where being able to convey tone is going to be important, I much prefer to either go face-to-face or over the phone. I’ve wasted so many hours of my life trying to craft perfectly-worded emails, only to give up and just try to track that person down over the phone or in meatspace.

        1. TL -*

          Yes, this! The tone of “I’m not sure how I feel about a peach background” can convey, “I like peach but I don’t see how it’s going to work,” or, “I’m not a big fan of peach but if the rest of it rocks, I don’t care,” or, “I frigging hate hate hate peach and I’m trying to be polite and not say your taste sucks for even suggesting this color.”

          And if you’ve got a big conceptual thing to convey, there’s a lot of parts you’d want to convey nuances like that – and that can turn into a really long email.

        2. Just J.*

          This. +1000

          I will spend a half hour trying to craft a perfect email where the tone cannot be convoluted or interpreted oddly. Somewhere in there I usually realize a phone call is so much easier and just pick up the phone.

          Even if I end up leaving a voicemail and the conversation resumes over email, at least I have the chance to “set the tone.”

        3. Stephanie*

          I was in the middle of a job interview process and the hiring manager sent me basically job interview questions by email. She got like a 2000-word email, which I’m sure was a drag to read. I would have rather she scheduled a phone call.

    2. BBBizAnalyst*

      I prefer a phone call if it’s urgent and easy. I hate being emailed constantly and then bothered via IM notifications to see if I looked at an email because the sender wants to write 56 paragraphs of details instead of laying out what it is they want.

      Note it in your message concisely or call me.

      1. LBK*

        And see, I would prefer the 56 paragraphs of detail, because as it stands now 90% of my job is mind reading and trying to figure out what people want from one vague sentence.

        1. Jaydee*

          The worst are emails from the boss that say “Call me when you get a minute.” You seriously couldn’t have added a few more words to give me context? My anxiety brain will assume that I’m about to get fired and I will be unable to focus on anything until I get a free minute, call the boss back, and find out he was reviewing the Teapots Inc. quarterly report and wanted to talk about whether we should add a section about the white chocolate spouts we are designing for them.

          1. LBK*

            Yeah – I don’t necessarily go straight to something that dire like being let go, but I definitely don’t enjoy the “stepping into the unknown” element of a vague request like that.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Absolutely agreed. All my coworkers know—if it’s urgent, call me. If you send me 100 emails, I’m going to just call you, anyway (and often way after you wanted a response).

        1. Hellanon*

          Phone calls are frequently quicker ways of getting urgent things done, yes. Plus, some conversations should not be committed to print and archived…

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Uh, yes. I can’t tell you how much time I spend telling my clients not to put certain things in email. But it’s usually a symptom of dysfunction, not phobias.

    3. LBK*

      Ha – I’m the complete opposite. I can happily mute incoming calls all day (or hit the magical “send all to voicemail” button) but I won’t move an email out of my inbox until it’s been addressed.

      In my current role, the phone is also generally useless because I very rarely have quick, offhand answers to things. Usually when someone calls me, the conversation ends up being “I have no clue, let me research this and get back to,” which we very easily could do via email rather than me interrupting my workflow to pick up the phone.

    4. JM60*

      When a phone call is faster than email, it’s usually because a phone call is an imposition on the person being called. If you call someone, you’re basically interrupting whatever they’re doing and demand ing that they respond to you now, when you want them to respond. On the flip side, email gives the contacted person the convenience of deciding when to respond. For this reason, using phone over email comes across as a bit pushy to me.

      I also dislike communicating via the phone for many other reasons, such as the fact that I sometimes have a hard time understanding what people are saying over the phone, and if I can’t understand them, then what they’re saying is lost because there’s no record (unlike email). Sometimes when talking over the phone, I think, “This wouldn’t be a problem if you just sent a **** email instead.”

      1. PM Jesper Berg*

        “If you call someone, you’re basically interrupting whatever they’re doing and demanding that they respond to you now…”
        1. Which sometimes is necessary.
        2. And e-mails (particularly in office cultures where people demand they be answered instantaneously) are not an intrusion?
        The surest way to workplace inefficiency and unproductivity is agenda-by-inbox. When people let incoming e-mails drive their agenda for the day, they have no time to reflect on larger strategic goals or big-picture questions. Everything becomes reactive. Yes, phone calls an be distracting (that’s what a good PA is for!) but they do not commandeer your schedule the way the e-mail tsunami does.

        1. Matt*

          1. yeah, sometimes, but not be default.
          2. when people demand they be answered immediately, it doesn’t make that much of a difference, however still a bit – while writing you still have some more time to think, since one cannot realistically expect a written response within seconds – on a phone call, even a 10 sec pause is awkward and prompts responses like “you still there?”, when writing an email, you have at least minutes.

        2. JM60*

          “And e-mails (particularly in office cultures where people demand they be answered instantaneously) are not an intrusion?”

          They can be, but at worst, they let the recipient decide what’s the priority to respond to when there are multiple items asking for their attention. It also allows them to gather necessary information first.

          “The surest way to workplace inefficiency and unproductivity is agenda-by-inbox”

          I find agenda by inbox generally more efficient than agenda by interrupting calls, especially if one party has difficulty understanding the other over the phone. Plus, with email the recipient doesn’t need to take any extra time recording any relevant information. Also, since types of information are sent much more efficiently via email. For my job, sending a log file to a developer is a lot more efficient than describing its contents via a phone call.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Phone service just keeps getting worse and worse. Add in slight scarring in my ears and sometimes I really cannot understand what the person is saying. What I don’t understand is why people living in rural area do not know that their cell phones probably won’t work. So they call with Very Important Message and I can understand every third word and some how that is my fault. At that point, I just tell the person to call back later when they have moved to a better location.
        One person told me that I should fix the cable lines. Some how I calmly explained that the cable company would probably not like an unauthorized, non-employee fixing things for them.

    5. Turquoise Cow*

      I’m not a phone person at all, but some of the people I’ve worked with in the past have terrible reading comprehension. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re busy and don’t really read the email I’ve sent, but I’ve literally had people call me to ask a question that I answered in the email they just read. (Not a long email, either, just a quick three sentence thing or something.)

      Also, I’ve had occasions where I asked two or three questions, and the person only answered one of them. That exchange occurred over email so there’d be a written record of the answer, but since we were in the same office, I just walked over and asked the question.

      My husband has had similar experiences with his sales vendors. He’ll send an email and the person will reply, then immediately follow up with a phone call before he’s had a chance to read the email. They’re often “clarifying” what they’ve written, which was perfectly clear in the email.

      So yeah, there’s times email just doesn’t work for some people, although I’d rather not have to phone anyone. At my current job, they haven’t yet set me up with a desk phone, and I’m totally fine with that.

      1. TL -*

        I have a delay on email responses that is … acceptable but not preferable (it’s a fine line I walk) to encourage people not to email me unless it’s necessary. I read all of my emails every day but I am enjoying how few emails I get so I’m not encouraging more.

        1. turquoisecow*

          Oh, yeah, response time is a good caveat. Some people get back to emails quickly, and some don’t.

    6. Pixel*

      As an accountant, I really prefer e-mails as unlike phone conversations, they can be included in the (paperless) paper trail I’m required to leave in each file I’m working on. That said, since I’m not the one meeting the clients for their initial get-to-know-you conversations, e-mails can be awkward. I could have a 10-round e-mail back-and-forth, and then the client calls me with a question, and we start chatting, and they realize there is a voice behind the e-mail from their accountant, and all communication – e-mail or otherwise – is so much easier from that point onwards.

  7. Nervous Accountant*

    I used to be the person that HATED phone calls and tbh I still am. BUT… job involves 95% of being on the phone! so eventually I learned the skill. I don’t have anxiety or a phobia, and I still think I sound like a bumbling insane idiot sometimes but I live with it, and at least I’m improving all.the.time….to me that’s key.

    1. many bells down*

      I was the person who hated texting and email – can’t they just CALL me? At some point, my perspective shifted and now I want to do everything via email and when I have to actually call someone I’m so annoyed.

  8. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

    I remember being a kid and my parents forcing me to order for myself at restaurants because “you’re going to have to talk to strangers eventually.” I see phone phobia as an off-shoot of that, at least in myself.

    That being said, I’m always in a fight over don’t use the phone for fairly legitimate reasons. With clients, I want to discuss your sensitive materials face to face, since I don’t actually know who is on the other side of the line. With DAs, I want everything you say in writing with time stamps, please and thank you. I’ve never actually been burned on the first (though can’t be too careful with attorney-client privilege) but I have been burned many a time on the second.

    The way I handle it is: email for anything complicated, phone for emergencies or general base touching, and always with a follow-up email. Voice mail is the best though- people who call and then don’t leave a voicemail or send an email (text if on cell phones) afterwards make me a bit ragey.

    1. Emi.*

      I get SO anxious about ordering fast food! Sit down restaurants are better, because I can point at the menu in case I mumble and because you can say “Wait, I need more time” without messing up a line and getting in everyone’s way, but fast food makes me a wreck. I tell my husband that going to Popeye’s counts as therapy for me, though. :)

      But I like your email for complicated/phone for quick system.

      1. Matt*

        I have no problem ordering food in a restaurant, but I dislike to do it on the phone (as with any other phone call). For pizza service and the like, I definitely prefer places where you can order online.

        At McD everyone seems to hate the new touch terminal ordering system, I’m loving it ;)

    2. Cookie*

      Nope, totally different from ordering at a restaurant. I’d much rather have a face to face conversation with a stranger than a phone conversation. Without visual cues, I don’t really know what the other person understands and I’ll either ramble and treat myself or incorrectly assume that my point was understood. I only do email and face to face conversations for clarity’s sake.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        She said it was an off-shoot for her, not for everyone. It’s similar for me, too, at least the kind of phone dislike I have. I don’t mind at all calling my family members, but for some reason, I’ve always hated calling businesses to ask their hours or really ask them anything at all. For me, the feeling/aversion is very similar to how I felt as a child if I had to order for myself.

        1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

          I don’t remember precisely what it was I hated about ordering in a restaurant as a child, but it caused a wave of panic that I also get with phone calls.

          See, also, ordering at fast casual places or sandwich shops, where you have a lot of choices and people are waiting. It took several visits for me to get comfortable with my Chipotle order.

    3. Risha*

      Face to face and phone are entirely different for me. I was terribly shy as a child, and I’m still not overly social and often awkward with acquaintances. But nowadays I have no problem talking face to face with most people, up to and including striking up conversations with random strangers in stores.

      Calling someone, even someone who I know for certain would love to hear from me or with whom I have legitimate business to conduct, can feel like drowning. On bad days, my heart will be pounding, adrenaline will be flooding my veins, and I might be shaking. (Actually, on really bad days, I’m literally unable to make myself dial.) Fortunately, bad days aren’t that common, but making a call is almost always bad enough that I still find that I put off making doctor appointments for months at a time.

      Now, _answering_ the phone is almost always fine, so if a client wants to call me, I’m fine with that. It really is the most efficient method of working out issues, much of the time.

    4. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      My dad tried this once, by making me order the pizza one of the rare times we got pizza. When we ended up paying like $30 for 2 pizzas (in Idaho, in the mid 90’s), he never tried that again!

    5. Turquoise Cow*

      Yes, precisely. My brother is disabled, and his school often had trips where they walked into town and ordered from a menu at a restaurant. He learned to do his own laundry, and basic chores around the house. Life skills like that, you need to learn at some point. I knew (non disabled, “normal”) teenagers who have their parents order for them at restaurants and kids who got to college without knowing how to do laundry or fold clothes. Phone skills are similar in that you have to learn them.

    6. Anon and on and on*

      “The way I handle it is: email for anything complicated, phone for emergencies or general base touching, and always with a follow-up email. Voice mail is the best though- people who call and then don’t leave a voicemail or send an email (text if on cell phones) afterwards make me a bit ragey.”

      ::Jumps in for a bit of a hijack:: Agreed. Well, mostly agreed at least.

      I think my number one pet peeve is people who send things that need to be dealt with urgently or within a certain tight timeframe to my email. I’m in a role where getting about 300 emails per day is not uncommon so, if you’re sending stuff to me email, there’s no way I’m promising you I’m going to see it as quickly as you need me to. Plus, if you call me and I answer, you know I’ve got the message. You don’t necessarily know that with email (and bonus pet peeve points to the people who send passive aggressive follow-up emails along the lines of ‘Guess you don’t think my email’s important enough to reply to then’.)

      However, my number two pet peeve is people who phone me with overly complicated messages. They are usually also the same people who are completely insensitive to the fact that, when they phone me, they are probably also interrupting whatever task I was working on at the time and am probably not in the position to drop everything and appreciate the finer details of their questions.

      I used to work with somebody who had this balance down to a tee. If he had something to tell me which was urgent but also required me to apply even the slightest bit of concentration, he’d call me with a message along the lines of ‘Hey, Jane. There are some queries on the teapot designs you sent over in March. I’m sending them on email now.’ so I’d know they were there waiting for me to deal with but I also didn’t have to drop everything and give him my full attention regardless of what I was doing. I wish I could clone him.

      Anyway ::flips table and ends rant::

  9. AndersonDarling*

    It drives me crazy when I receive a mile long email when a five minute phone conversation could have wrapped up the whole situation.

    1. Anonymous 40*

      It drives me crazy when someone insists on a phone call for information that could be communicated in greater detail via email where it can be reviewed as many times as needed.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I get that as well. I just went to a meeting where the organizer invited 5 people. All they needed to say was that they needed an item. That was literally it. We all stepped away from our desks and waited for everyone to show up when a one line email would have sufficed.

      2. JM60*


        Plus, I sometimes have a hard time understanding people over the phone because of a disability. So anytime I can’t understand what someone is saying, that information is lost.

      3. PM Jesper Berg*

        Great. But OP’s original question concerned phone calls from his *clients*. If e-mail communication drives his clients crazy, he’s losing business.

    2. Lurker*

      Ooh, me too. I also hate when there is absolutely no telephone customer support option. For example the company we use to process our online donations has no phone number — we’re having a problem with it and I’ve had to send 5-6 emails back and forth over the course of a week arguing with them (them telling me my problem wasn’t actually happening and/or giving me scripted responses that don’t make sense). I finally convinced them to call me and – surprise surprise! – they were incorrect and the problem I described was actually happening. The option to call immediately would have been so much more efficient in this situation!

      1. Natalie*

        I hate when one option is missing – I should be able to both call and email. I’ve had your situation, and I’ve had the opposite situation where literally all I want to do is, say, report a payment or update our billing email address, but all I have is a phone number so I have to go through their insane phone tree. (Looking at you, Fedex!)

    3. Shortie*

      This is an interesting perspective to me. Perhaps my colleagues and customers are just chattier than average, but I find that “five minute” phone conversations with them often take 45 minutes or an hour. Generally speaking, email seems much quicker, and I don’t want to turn it into a phone conversation unless the chain goes back and forth too many times.

      1. Paxton*

        I’ve had this issue before. I’ve found the key is to tell them up front ‘I’m so glad you caught me, I only have X minutes until my next meeting but I think we can solve this before then’.

        You want to make sure you have time to build relationships appropriately but not every conversation needs to rehash your whole weekend to be friendly.

  10. MuseumChick*

    Fellow hate-talking-on-the-phone person here.

    I prefer email because it leaves a record I can look back on. There no “Well you said this!” “No! I said this other thing!” But, I still have to hope on the phone for work. May people I work with are elderly and/or do not have or want email.

    What helped me OP, was playing it out in my mind. So, what would happen if a person asked me a question I didn’t know that answer to? What if they started yelling out me? What if they were super awesome but then went back on what they said? I wrote out scripts for each of these and practice them. I always started telling myself “No one is going to die if I don’t do this well” it helped me put it in perspective, you know?

    It’s really good you are getting help for this. Keep at it!

    1. NylaW*

      THIS. I have had to go back to email so many times to show what was actually said. You don’t have that with a phone conversation and lots of people don’t send or respond to follow up post-call emails documenting what went on.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      But it’s possible to do both. I certainly do, and it’s no more time consuming than an email-only conversation.

      1. MuseumChick*

        I slightly disagree. With a phone conversation (when I can, again to leave a record) I will send an email after it basically summarizing and confirming what was discussed. This takes a few more minutes of my time than if it had been an email only conversation.

        Email also allows me to formulate what I want to say better than when I’m on the phone.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’ve had the opposite experience. Email usually requires several rounds, which, when added up, often takes more time than phone + email summary.

          I understand that that’s not always true and that the situation can be closer to your experience, but in my experience, people who insist on email for “efficiency” reasons often underestimate how much time they’re actually spending on reading/responding.

          1. Call Me Never*

            In my experience, people who insist on phone calls underestimate how long the calls actually take. Every call is “five minutes” to them – but not to the clock. It’s infuriating – “oh, it”ll just take five minutes!” then they babble on endlessly and repeat themselves and ask pointless questions and repeat the pointless questions and then they have to call you back later because they forgot something and on and on and on it goes.

    3. the gold digger*

      I prefer email because it leaves a record I can look back on.

      Primo’s older half-brother Ted (the one who has been trying to drain his own mentally-challenged son’s trust) hates it that Primo emails. He wants to talk – he will end almost all of his emails with a, “Let’s talk about this!” (And he said of his wife and himself, “We’re talkers!”)

      Thing is, there is nothing to discuss. Primo has all the power (he decides whether to disburse funds from Ted’sSon’s trust) and Ted has none. Ted thinks he can BS or intimidate (he has screamed at Primo on the phone) Primo into releasing more money if he can just talk to Primo. Primo doesn’t want to talk to Ted and he wants solid documentation of everything he does.

      It’s nice when you are actually in a situation where you get to set the rules!

    4. Kelly L.*

      So much this too. I got chewed out the other day for having filled out a form wrong. I had been told to do it exactly the way I’d done it, but when I went back to search for my original instructions, they weren’t there. Because I’d been told over the phone. Poof, it’s gone.

    5. Ashie*

      YES! I have a terrible short-term memory and in my job I manage relationships with lots of different people, so anything I can do to remember what we talked about last is super helpful. (Bonus when someone replies with new information to an older thread, there’s none of that awkwardness when you try to pretend like you remember what they’re talking about)

  11. Amber Rose*

    I used to tremble at the thought of answering the phone, but it became a necessary portion of my job. What really helped me was memorizing a script. At least in my specific case, most of my panic came from what to say initially, after that it just became the usual conversation flow of question-answer and a lot easier. So having a “making a call” and “answering a call” script was invaluable.

    Honestly I still mess up a lot on phone calls. I can be thrown off balance pretty easily and then I stutter and sound awful. But it’s getting better with time and practice and the permission to be rude as hell to scammers, from which we receive so many calls. So many. Nothing makes me more comfortable with the phone than saying what I really think.

    1. DVZ*

      Totally agree! In my first ‘career’ job, my heart would sink when the phone rang as it was an open-plan office, I was new to the company, new to my field – the whole thing just felt so fundamentally embarrassing and ripe for mistakes. I spent nearly two years avoiding the phone, and it definitely was noticed by my manager. If I had to make calls I would even go to a small room, claiming I had to ‘focus’, because I felt so anxious.

      In my next role, my manager immediately picked up on it and told me I needed to get a grip, basically. I tried really hard to face it head-on but it took me another year probably to get comfortable – but it was absolutely worth it and I can’t overstate how much it has helped me increase my overall confidence at work. Not just because I can answer the phone/make a call without hiding in a room like a loon, but just knowing that this big scary work thing really isn’t scary at all just really helped boost me.

      I agree that a lot of panic was about the initial conversation opener and that having scripts is essential! I would get so flustered with how to make a simple request or how to close out a conversation tactfully/clearly. I now have memorised some basic open/closing statements and also transition statements between one request or topic and another. Also memorising different openers depending on whether you get a voicemail or not is really handy, as is how to phrase things that are urgent vs non-urgent, how to tactfully say things like ‘I’ve emailed you a bunch of times, stop ignoring this urgent request’, or how to say “I don’t know, let me get back to you” in the proper way. This probably sounds silly to phone-confident people but sometimes the simplest things to communicate can make you stumble if you’re alreayd nervous! They are now second nature to me, so that I feel confident redirecting the conversation where needed, getting someone off the phone, or even just finishing a conversation without rambling for 30 seconds.

      You might still get flustered or thrown off by something that someone says, but at least you know for sure you have a few stock phrases to return to that will help you regain composure.

      One of my direct reports seems to have the same phone aversion and now I feel a lot of sympathy for my previous managers (and basically just roll my eyes at my former phone-hating self) as it’s so, so frustrating to witness and actually just really irritating behaviour (probably not so irritating if you at least own up to it and admit you’re nervous/hate the phone, but very irritating if you play it off like you just happen to need ‘quiet time’ in a room when I know you need to make some calls! Or play it off like you ‘just missed the call and called back but he/she wasn’t there so I followed up on email…’ – such lies!!!)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        OMG, yes. There was a letter a while back about a junior person who kept closing her door when she had to make phone calls because of phone anxiety and her manager told her to cut it out because she needed to learn to make calls without hiding. I backed up the manager and commenters were really irked, but I stand by that.

        1. De Minimis*

          I have this problem now, we have what amounts to an open office and I dislike making calls when my boss is in his office because I’m afraid he’s evaluating me. I usually will try to wait until he is out or before he has arrived.

          It might be different if it were just coworkers. I don’t know if anyone would like it if their boss could hear their end of every phone call. I rarely have to make calls so it doesn’t come up that often.

        2. JM60*

          For me, blocking out ambient noise can greatly decrease the likelihood that I can’t understand what the **** the person I’m talking to on the phone is saying.

        3. zora*

          I still scribble down a quick script if I have to make a call to a new person or an important person, and I’m feeling a little anxious about it. It makes it so much easier to make the call, and I rarely have to actually read my script, just writing it down makes me feel confident enough to go for it.

      2. Luv the pets*

        I dislike making phone calls “out in the open.” I’ve been in the workforce for almost 25 years now, and have only now become comfortable making work calls. I am at/have been at a director or executive level for about half of my career. The bad thing is, at my new job, we are a huge company and have limited space, so despite my Sr. level, I am back in a cubicle and back making public phone calls. So… I may finally be more comfortable actually making the calls, but I have to figure out how to make calls without disturbing my colleagues. I recognize my voice carries, and trying to speak softly gets me distracted and I forget what I am saying. So… until I finally get a door… If I am to be coherent on the call, everyone gets to know my business.

        1. De Minimis*

          Our office is weird. It’s like we are in giant cubes. We have doors, walls, and even windows, but the interior walls don’t go up to the ceiling. We don’t bother to close the doors because you can hear every word regardless. We work in a historic building so my guess is there may have been restrictions on how the workspaces could be designed.

      3. Jesmlet*

        I had to record my voicemail greeting in an open office with a bunch of people probably listening and that had to be the most traumatic thing I’ve done on this job.

        1. Sarah*

          I hate making phone calls “out in the open” because I have a boss who tends to listen in to even the most straightforward of calls and then micromanage my tone and word choice. We’re not talking about major calls with partners or donors, we’re talking literally calls to the post office to ask about packages. I have nosy coworkers too – I just don’t like the feeling in our open office plan that everyone is listening to everything I say.

          1. PM Jesper Berg*

            I agree that the phone can be problematic in open offices. That’s another reason to avoid them. The so called “collaboration” benefits of open offices evaporate if employees are reticent to talk by phone.

  12. Frozen Ginger*

    “She kept telling me she hadn’t heard back from the person who we’re waiting on info from, but said she had followed up several times. Eventually I found out that all her follow-up had been by email; she’d never once picked up the phone and called, even when it was getting urgent. I had to order her to use the phone, and then we got the info we needed.”

    From my perspective, as a ~millennial~, I totally get the junior employee’s perspective. Phone calls demand immediate attention, whereas emails are an at-your-leisure pace. Now, if it’s getting down to the wire and they literally have never replied, then yeah, phone call. But being a junior employee and having to call and disrupt a more senior employee? Scary stuff.

    1. Just J.*

      Yes, but from a senior staffer offering some advice to a junior staffer, doing the scary stuff, and learning how to handle it with skill and finesse, is what turns you into a successful senior staffer.

    2. Temperance*

      FWIW, I had a boss that wanted all communications via phone only. She’s old school, and thought that clients loved the ~personal touch and that it was unprofessional to send emails.

      I hated that woman, and working for her sucked in many ways, but I do have to say that I’m still feeling smug over the time that she reprimanded me for emailing rather than calling our building management about a building access issue for one of our clients. The management claimed that they never promised X service, and I was able to pull up the email chain proving that they did make such promise.

      1. the gold digger*

        In 2001, my boss asked me to call three of the students he had interviewed at Vanderbilt’s business school to set up on-site interviews with them.

        I emailed because – it’s easier and there is documentation.

        He got really mad at me and told me he had wanted them to have a personal touch, but I think they would have been more annoyed at a call than an email.

        1. De Minimis*

          I’ve been doing e-mails to set up interviews with job candidates. It is almost always much faster to set things up than a phone call would be.

          1. Anonymous 40*

            Absolutely. My manager handled all her communications with me through email in the hiring process, except for a phone interview, and it was so much smoother that way. I can respond to an email almost anytime. With phone calls, I have to take the call at a time and place where others can’t overhear the call, which makes work hours tricky for those calls. Then it frequently turns into phone tag. Ugh.

        2. Karen D*

          Yep. A lot of times they are looking to be annoyed, actually. When things are getting testy over email, some customers will switch to phone because they want to verbally extract a few ounces of flesh and not have to own it later.

          One customer in particular had an established pattern of being civil in email and then abusive over the phone. I finally just told that person: “From now on, all our communication is via email, period.”

          1. PM Jesper Berg*

            What happened to “the customer is always right”? Seems to me that if you want a customer-focused company you ultimately have to communicate in the way the customer prefers.

    3. Just Another Techie*

      My workaround for that — and I totally agree that it can be scary to make a call to someone significantly more senior — is to say in the first email that I’ll call. Something like “Hi Mike, We need the numbers on teapot lids from your group to finish our budget analysis. Can you shoot me an email or can I give you a call tomorrow to get the latest updates? Thanks! -Techie”

      That way they know the call is coming and if they don’t want to deal with it they can just take the fifteen seconds to attach their stinking spreadsheet to an email reply.

    4. Blue Anne*

      Sure, but getting over that is part of getting used to the norms of the working world.

    5. hbc*

      Phone calls don’t really demand immediate attention, though. I ignore my phone all the time if I’ve got something else going on. But they do convey more urgency, which is exactly what you want to convey. You have sent a request, they have not answered, and it’s getting more urgent. No one from the CEO on down should be getting prickly when you’ve got a legitimate inquiry and they’ve not responded to the least invasive option.

      Nevermind the problems of accidental deletions, spam filters, and funky email rules. If you have the same last name as the person who sends the company newsletters, you might be in the “Look At Sometime Maybe” folder.

    6. MsMaryMary*

      I think when to call a client is something managers should expect to need to coach junior employers on, just like they would other professional forms of communication. Texting and messaging are so ubiquitous that picking up the phone is not a natural next step for everyone. It is a challenge to remember which clients pefer phone versus email versus text and to balance it with my personal preference (which is generally email), but it’s the same as any other changes you’d make to your own personal communication style for work. This client communicates formally, so you need to start your emails with Dear and have a formal closing. This manager gets a million emails a day, so you need to put ACTION NEEDED in the subject line if you need a response. This vendor is not great at responding to email, so you’ll need to call them if something is urgent. Most of these things aren’t intuitive, especially to junior employees.

      1. Frozen Ginger*

        I 100% agree with you!

        My point wasn’t to “excuse” my generation’s phone-aversion, just to explain it. I think you hit the nail on the head with making it a focus of coaching.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m a millennial. I hear others say this all the time, and I think it’s kind of a cop out. It’s true that emails are more “at your leisure,” but communication requires keying your style to other people’s needs and expectations, too. So it’s not only about how you perceive email v. phone, it’s also about how others perceive those mediums.

      I have a client who only wants to text. Another wants calls, and a third wants emails. I use whatever medium they prefer because otherwise I can’t get the information I need to do my job. Same goes for my bosses. From what I can tell, this is all part of doing my job well and effectively.

    8. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      Emails are only “at your leisure” if your work place allows them to be. I had a manager that would call me within 5 minutes of receiving an urgent email if I hadn’t responded. Sometimes the real job is figuring out how to get the urgent items from the more senior people. Sometimes that’s email and sometimes that’s the phone. And occasionally, it’s planting yourself in their office until you get what you need (an-absolute-last-resort-something-might-explode-if-they-don’t-answer measure). But learning when to disrupt is part of being junior. You don’t want to be known as the person that interrupts when not necessary, but you also don’t want to be the person that lost the company $$$ because they didn’t get the answer when they were supposed to.

  13. NaoNao*

    I’d be interested to learn the reasons so many “hate” the phone. I am *just* outside of the “Millennial” age range and I recall spending so much time on the phone with friends as a young teenager that my parents had to set time limits! I have a desk phone at work and it gets minimal use (I mainly use it when there’s an urgent deadline or question that needs addressing) but my “dial in” phone on the computer gets used all the time. I’m on conference calls and meetings all day!

    I am an unusual person in that I have no fear of public speaking (I’m a bit of a hambone, actually) but I do get that being “on the spot” in anxiety making. But what is it other than that? I personally hate texting or IM apps on the phone–the tiny keyboard, the autocorrect that makes life hard, the back and forth over an issue that could have been solved with a five minute chat. I am not trying to be ageist here and forgive me if I am, but it seems like it’s mostly much younger people who “hate” the phone (with a few exceptions)–why is that?

    I personally miss the warmth of talking to a friend about nothing for an hour, and I don’t hesitate to call businesses and ask questions, etc.

    Are conference calls and meetings different than “the phone” to people? Are outgoing calls the same as incoming?

    Inquiring minds want to know. :)

    1. Bend & Snap*

      I’m an extreme introvert so I hate the phone for work and only use it for one personal, catch up phone call a week max, usually to my mom or one of my sisters.

      My dad used to come home and say he’d used up all his words, and that’s what it feels like. It feels intrusive, draining and aggravates my anxiety, which is often triggered by sound.

      I need quiet, alone time to recharge, and I don’t get that very often as a single mom to a toddler, so I’m in a perpetual state of avoiding the phone like the plague.

    2. HMM*

      I’m in the age bracket, and I never called friends as a kid. But I also don’t share the fear and enjoy public speaking. I think part of what people don’t like is that they feel put on the spot and might be judged for not being perfect – which is totally a feeling I’m empathize with. But presumably they talk on the spot with folks all the time in real life with no problems, and I guess I just see talking on the phone as a natural extension of that. It’s a little strange when people are so adverse to this – you’re just holding a conversation!

    3. Yorick*

      It’s weird, I talked to my friends on the phone all the time as a teenager and talk to a select few friends a lot as an adult, but I really dislike the phone in other situations now.

      1. LBK*

        Same – even in college I had friends that I would sit on the phone and talk to for hours, but in the workforce I loathe it. I really don’t like the pressure of being expected to answer things on the spot – which is weird because I can do it in person with no problem. Something about being on the phone just makes it 1000x more stressful for me.

      2. many bells down*

        Yeah, I’m squarely Gen X, so I spent most of my teen years in multi-hour phone conversations. And when cell phones first started being common, I expected people to call me and would get annoyed at texts. But at some point that shifted and now when I have to call someone it’s a pain in the butt and can’t I just text or email?

        I wonder if it’s a reaction to having a phone on one ALL the time. Now that we’re always reachable we don’t actually want to be.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Gen X here too, and I never hated the phone as a teen and was on it a lot at home. I think you are on to something about the problem (for some of us phone-haters) being the omnipresence of phones. 20 years ago, I would call a phone and know that if the person was busy doing things, they would not be home and would not answer and so I would leave a message and would not be interrupting them. But now, if I am calling, they could be in the middle of something Very Important and my call interrupts them. And I hate that feeling. I don’t want to interrupt a person in the middle of a Very Important Thing, the thought that I might be imposing on their time makes me anxious. (And as people tend to answer their cell even when busy, I can’t relax by thinking they’ll ignore a call if it’s not a good time.)

          1. YesYesYes*

            This is the issue for me (Generation Oregon Trail). People answer when it’s not a good time for them, so you know they’re distracted and in the middle of something else. I’d rather send an email or a text where I know there’s at least half a chance that you’ll focus on my message and focus on your response.

            Adding on to that is all the hearing/ understanding issues now that cell phones are so prevalent. It’s always a grainy connection and there’s always some kind of background noise that makes it impossible to hear each other. Most business calls are even via cell phone via car bluetooth, so you have windshield wipers and turn signals and awkward pauses where they probably just narrowly missed an accident. It’s so frustrating to take 5 tries and 3 minutes just to say “is this a good time for you to chat?”

    4. Kyrielle*

      I’m GenX. When younger, I very much enjoyed talking on the phone with my friends. These days we almost never do that – I’m not sure why we don’t make time for it. I occasionally miss it but mostly don’t, because we have such rich communication via asynchronous means (social media, texting).

      I will hop on the phone when needed, for work or other ‘business’ purposes. But I don’t like that at all; unlike with friends, I feel like I need to be coherent and get things mostly ‘right’, and that’s tricky for me in the moment. If I can script it out in advance, that helps – but then if it goes off-script, oops.

      I think part of it is that it’s easy for me to ask myself later whether I covered everything I meant to, or worry about how I came across – and it’s not like I can reread it to either reassure myself or clue me in that I need to apologize.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I’m similarly aged, and also enjoyed talking on the phone as a teenager. I don’t do it now, and I don’t miss it. I don’t enjoy business phone calls because they’re almost always an issue that was too complex or urgent to be handled by email. Sometimes, it is just a quick question from a client, and that’s not so bad, but I don’t know when I pick up the phone what type of call it will be.

        Even my personal calls seem to be stressful. They’re usually to arrange some holiday get-together with relatives, or now, my mom is laid up with a broken bone, and I feel like I don’t call her enough, so there’s my self-imposed guilt!

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          Which is funny, because I’m around the same age I believe, and I hate talking on the phone. I hated it as a teenager. I had a couple female friends who would literally talk for *hours* and it was hard to get off the phone, and I just felt trapped all the time when they would call. My mom finally told me she’d be the bad guy and we came up with hand signals for her to get “mad” and tell me to get off the phone. I can remember doing homework with the phone just lying beside me on the floor because one of my girl friends were crying about the boy they liked who didn’t talk to them that day in class so he must *haaaaaate* them now. Ugh.

      2. many bells down*

        Most of the friends from my teenage years are scattered across the globe now. My best friend lived in Germany for 6 years, and I’m in Seattle; the window of time we had for actual phone conversations was pretty small. But Facebook? Texting? Yeah, that’s how we have a conversation now because A) it doesn’t wake up her kids if I text her at 10:30pm her time, and B) we can reply to each other when we have a moment and not have to block out a time to only be on the phone.

      3. Kowalski! Options!*

        Funny how this goes in ages and years – I’m GenX but grew up in the country, on a party line (which we shared with seven other households on our road — try explaining THAT to the young’uns!) which meant that you kept it short, sweet, and to the point, lest someone else interrupt your call and tell you to get off the phone. Or, worse, eavesdrop on what you say…
        We have the most amazing, butt-kicking-est phones here at the Ministry of Teapot Purchasing, but it amazes me that they’re rarely used. (Except for the security guards calling up to let you know if you have visitors.) I understand the need to create a paper trail with *some* matters, but at the same time, if you e-mail me with a bunch of yes/no questions, I’m going to call you. If I need something quickly, I’m going to call you. If I haven’t received an answer from you in a couple of days or months, I’m going to call you. If I need an answer that can be given in under 30 seconds, I’m going to call you.

        1. De Minimis*

          We used to have a party line too. I think private lines weren’t available where I lived [rural area] until the mid-Nineties.

    5. Lucy Richardson*

      I’m over 40 and hate talking on the phone. Pretty much always have, other than a couple close friends as a teen. For me, it’s that I’m socially awkward at the best of times, so being on the phone is the worst of both worlds. No time to think out responses and no non verbal cues to tell me if my message is getting through.

    6. Kate*

      Yes, I am generation Oregon Trail and I used to spend So Much time on the phone with my friends too. I honestly don’t understand why people like texting and email so much. I resent having to type everything out, especially with texting, when it is so much faster to simply say it.

      And you don’t get tone at all, unless you use emoticons which aren’t appropriate in business emails. When I was in college one of my psych class professors mentioned that a really high percentage of emails are misunderstood, I think it was something like 40%, even between friends and family.

      Serious questions, what is the appeal of texting and email, and why would people prefer them to phone calls?

      1. Amber Rose*

        Texting: two seconds of “see you at the fountain in five.”

        Phoning: Dial the number, wait for my crap phone to connect, hope the other person hears their damn ring tone and answers, no they didn’t, leave a message, miss their return call, play phone tag for a bit, finally get to say “i’m at the fountain where are you,” oh wait they’re in a busy place I can’t understand a word they’re saying…

        Give up and text.

      2. LBK*

        Asynchronous communication. I prefer being able to answer when I can/when I want to. Phone tag is annoying and endless in a way that exchanging a text conversation isn’t.

        1. A Non E. Mouse*

          Asynchronous communication.

          Yes, this – I can email at 5pm and you can respond at 5:15pm or 5:15am and it doesn’t matter – I get the answer the same.

          Also, *I might already be on the phone*. I have dozens of remote sites with equipment and end users at each – I am already on the phone a lot, so calling repeatedly instead of sending me an email will actually yield terrible results.

          1. irritable vowel*

            Yup. I hate being made to feel like I need to have a conversation when it’s at the whim of the caller. So I think there is a control issue going on with phone-irritation, for me at least and probably for others. I never answer my work phone unless I see it’s from a number of a person I actually want to talk to at that moment. (FWIW, I also hate when people drop by my office and want to have a 20-minute conversation with me about something. So it’s not entirely about phones!)

        2. Elsajeni*

          I also feel more free to send frivolous or no-response-needed stuff by text, because of the asynchronous nature — “I just saw the CUTEST DOG!” or “I found a show on Netflix that I think you’d really like” or similar quick thoughts. I don’t want to interrupt my friends at work or my mom in the middle of dinner just to let them know that I saw a cute dog and I think they’d enjoy Ultimate Beastmaster, and I’m not in the mood for a longer conversation of which the dog/Beastmaster would be just a small part; I just thought of them and wanted to drop them a quick line. Texting works great for that.

      3. Blue Anne*

        For some business conversations especially, email has the advantage of being literally “in writing”. There are so many times when I will discuss terms with someone on the phone, and finish with “Could you shoot this over to me in an email?”

        It’s been really useful to be able to pull up stuff like that years later and say “No, really, this was the interest rate/application date/vacation days amount/responsibilities split we agreed to.”

        1. irritable vowel*

          Part of my job involves giving people non-lawyer advice about legal matters, so yeah, I prefer to keep all that stuff in e-mail to keep a record of it. E-mail also gives me the chance to think through my response rather than feel put on the spot. And as a bonus, when I get asked a similar question in the future I often have a detailed response already written out that I can copy and modify as needed.

          1. JessaB*

            This, the joy of saved boilerplate email responses. Yay for not having to think it up again.

      4. TL -*

        I like all mediums – I have long-distance people that I talk to on the phone primarily or that I email primarily (you have to be a lovely writer before I’ll commit to that but I have friend who is just absolutely gifted in his emails), (these are people that I don’t get to see every day). If I see you frequently, I’d much rather text because I get lots of face to face time, which I value, and text is quicker/less intrusive.

        The exception is my best friend; we are texting people but live far apart. However, we know each other incredibly well and it never feels like the conversation has ever stopped. That being said, we really value our face to face time when we can get it and I’m transitioning her slowly to Skype as I prep for an international move.

      5. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        I’m Gen X and I will not have a conversation over text. A couple of quick messages, sure. But a back and forth conversation? Absolutely not. Takes me forever and autocorrect hates me. I love email though. As long as it’s at an actual computer and not using my phone. I think I just hate that tiny phone keyboard.

      6. Casuan*

        Serious questions, what is the appeal of texting and email, and why would people prefer them to phone calls?

        There are many conversations I prefer via phone & it took me some time to realise the benefits of texting.

        For me, texting is less intrusive & it can be quicker than a call, especially with the ability for keyboard shortcuts & TextExpander.
        eg: If I’m going to ro a friend’s, I can type my shortcut for “en route.” It’s less intrusive for her, especially if she’s getting ready & forgot to bring her phone into whatever room she’s in for when I call.
        Or if I’m shopping, I can text to ask “Need anything?” without interrupting everyone’s enjoyment of a family movie. Receiving a text-photo of what they need is much easier than trying to remember all the details that were told to me.

        Sometimes I can better express myself via text.
        Actually, because of texting some of my friendships have gotten deeper than they otherwise would have because we didn’t always have time for longer conversations. We could text a question or an answer as we thought of it.

        At times, we can be a bit more candid via text than when talking.

        Texting surpasses all Time Zones, although to be safe it’s good to know if someone receives text alerts at 3am Their Time. If they do & I need to convey infos before I forget then I’ll email instead.

        Texts & emails can quickly convey infos without interrupting one’s thoughts or workflow.

        Emails are good when one wants a record of the conversation or if one is unable to text. Or to send letters.
        However, nothing can replace a handwritten note or thank you!!

        An assistant can text her boss that she has an appointment in 15mins without interrupting the current meeting to keep her boss on track.

        There’s no requirement for anyone to stop what they’re doing for a text. If something is time-sensitive & I haven’t responded to a text or email, then use the bloody phone!

        Hope this helps :)

    7. TC*

      I said this upthread, but I used to work in call centres, and one of them was as an inbound debt collector. People have said some really awful things to me, and the very idea of subjecting myself to that does freeze me up considerably. Rational me knows that a) those people said things to the company I worked for, not me and b) now that I’m out, I’m probably never going to hear people be that awful again, but it’s a bit of a hurdle. I am in therapy (this is a very small part of a much larger group of behaviours for me) and I’m significantly better than what I was. I will always email first, but I am collecting a list of people who prefer phone calls, and I try to respect that every time I communicate with them.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        I feel this. I was a Congressional intern last summer, and the amount of horrible stuff people would say to me because they hated my boss….yeesh. The first time a woman screamed at me that I was a “f***ing traitor” sent me to cry in the bathroom on my lunch break, and none of my friends seemed to care because “Oh, that happens”. Reception work is clearly not a thing I can handle.

        Side note: BE NICE when you call your elected representatives! Nine times out of ten, the person answering is young and underpaid.

        1. rubyrose*

          I was also a congressional intern many moons ago, when people were more civil.
          People answering the phone in that office had a standard “sir/madam, your language is unacceptable and if it happens again I will be hanging up the phone.” And we would do it. We had many people who would call two times a week, every week, on various issues. It only took one hangup for them to clean up their act permanently.

          1. PM Jesper Berg*

            …which is a good response for callers that do cross the line. Nonetheless, in politics, you have to grow a thick skin. It’s part and parcel of the job.

    8. Frozen Ginger*

      I’m a younger person who dislikes phone calls. Now I have more of an “excuse” than my fellow millennials as I have a hearing loss that makes understanding phones very difficult, but there are other reasons:

      > Most of us grew up texting and typing more than calling, so we’re used to it. Texting during class, using IM and email for homework assignments, stuff like this primed us for text-based communication.
      > Some people above have said they get rambly emails and would prefer a 5 minute phone conversation, but my experience is usually the opposite; text/emails get down to the point whereas people just talk and talk and talk on the phone.
      > Phones demand immediate attention, and in a situation with someone senior to me (like at work) I don’t want to risk disrupting them. E-mail is better.
      > With text, you can edit what you want to say. You write something out, it doesn’t look right, you modify it to better get your point across. Talking has no editing, and people would probably get miffed if you took long pauses before responding.

      1. Anxa*

        This seems like, in part, more of an age and class thing than a generational thing. As I and most of my peers didn’t get cell phones until college and not everyone had unlimited texting, especially for the first few years.

    9. Amadeo*

      I occasionally have trouble understanding people on the phone. I don’t have hearing problem, I hear just fine, generally speaking, but I’ve had to ask people more than once to spell their name when I spoke to them on the phone because I just could not understand what in the world they were saying and they’d incredulously go “S-M-I-T-H?”

      Text-based communication also gives me an opportunity to compose my thoughts and I sound more put-together and well-thought out in email or texts than I do on the phone or even just speaking. I lack a certain spoken grace when I’m trying to communicate formally, but I’ll chatter away at friends.

      When I was younger I didn’t like talking to people in general unless we were close, so the unwillingness to use the phone unless forced was just an extension of that.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Yeah, not being able to hear is a big issue for me as well. I have a hard time understanding low voices IRL, and even on a landline there’s enough background noise that it’s almost impossible to hear what people are saying. Plus, I hate having to constantly ask people to repeat themselves, especially if I’m not the one with the upper hand in the conversation.

        1. Amadeo*

          I guess the background noise going on around you is what makes a difference sometimes. I ask for repeats a couple of times then finally give up and tell them I cannot understand what they are saying. I try to be polite about it, but no matter how it’s said it almost always comes off a little snarky somehow.

          1. Grits McGee*

            I’ve also found that phones tend to… I don’t know how to describe it–flatten?–people’s voices, which reduces the amount of context info you can use to understand what someone’s saying.

    10. Amber Rose*

      I always have, even as a kid. I find it really hard to understand what people are saying over the phone and end up asking them to repeat themselves a lot. There’s a complete lack of body language, so I have to verbally report every need for a pause or thought so that the other person doesn’t think I hung up or disconnected. I have a harder time judging tone as well without facial expressions. If it’s at work even worse, because my phone is wired I have to leave people on hold to check anything. Also I have a naturally quiet voice, and despite my efforts in learning to broadcast my voice, people are constantly complaining they can’t hear me. Then there’s the social anxiety thing.

      Conference calls are either better or worse depending on how much input I have. Since I can’t see faces I have no way of knowing if I’m interrupting anyone or if I can get a word in. And then if I’m asked a question, probably half the people will ask me to repeat or speak up.

      Incoming calls are a bit easier. I have a standard, memorized greeting and then I just need to answer whatever questions. Outgoing, what I say depends on who answers, and then it’s on me to create and carry the conversation.

      1. Just J.*

        You’re not the only one with the conference call issue, so take heart. It’s the nature of the technology.

        I’m in a branch office and am on CC’s with the main office a lot. The interrupting and speaking over others is an issue we deal with (and joke about!)

        1. Amber Rose*

          Oh I know it’s not a big deal. It’s just that the social anxiety thing can make it a bit fraught, depending on how my health is doing on any given day.

    11. Temperance*

      I used to chat with my friends as a teen, too. As an adult, I see the phone as a burden and an annoyance outside of work. I don’t mind talking to most people, but phone calls, to me, are drudgery. Like a long boring convo with my mother complaining about nonsense and talking about who died, or my husband’s grandparents giving their most recent organ recital. I hate it. There are a million other things I’d rather be doing, or SHOULD be doing, rather than sitting around for an hour listening to them drone on.

      I don’t mind public speaking. I’m actually not shy at all (which wouldn’t surprise most of you, I imagine). I’d rather actually see friends in person than chat on the phone. That way, I can concentrate on the person I want to spend time with and not spend the whole time thinking about what I should be doing.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That last part is me too.

        I talked endlessly on the phone with friends as a teen, to the point that I got a job in order to pay for my own phone line so my parents couldn’t kick me off when they needed to make a call. But now, at 43, I really hate talking on the phone socially, with the exception of my mom and my sister. But I’m extremely comfortable with it for work.

        I don’t know how to explain it, exactly. It’s something about just preferring to see them in person where I’ll focus on them more; when I’m on the phone, I usually feel like I’d rather be doing other stuff, and I find the wrap-up part of the call weird and rarely smooth.

        1. Allypopx*

          I have a really poor auditory attention span – like, I CAN’T do audiobooks, I can’t follow them. I find on the phone I get distracted and lose focus in a way I don’t in person, and that can come off super rude. I prefer to either put something in writing or have a meeting vs try to work it out on the phone.

          1. SL #2*

            I’ve never known quite how to describe it but “auditory attention span” is just what I was looking for. Podcasts and audiobooks? Nope, I don’t retain a word. The only podcast I’ve ever been able to truly focus on was the first season of Serial, and even then, I only remembered about half of it by the end. College lectures without PPTs were incredibly difficult for me to not snooze through because I had nothing to focus on other than the professor’s voice.

            1. Allypopx*

              I’m not sure if that’s the “correct” terminology but I’ve found it gets my point across better than “I can’t pay attention when you talk to me” so it works pretty well for me!

          2. Anxa*

            I’m torn on podcasts and audiobooks. But I do know that I should have skipped lectures during college. I could learn so much more from 1 hour reading the text than spending an hour fighting the sudden urge to sleep.

            And right? Well, I had to move seats because someone just started typing so aggressively I could not stand it.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          So spot-on about the wrap-up part of a call. It is weird and awkward.

          The other thing that I have trouble with is not being able to tell if the other person is busy or doesn’t want to talk to me. (I will ask them what they are doing and will say I just called to chat, so they can feel free to call be back later, but I still think there’s a possibility they really wanted to watch NCIS or something and I’m interrupting them.)

        3. K*

          My mid-western grandma had the best phone call wrap up: “Well, I’ll letcha go now. Love you.”

          1. Jillociraptor*

            Ah, but do you then get the long midwestern goodbye? My mom’s sign off is “Welp, that’s about all I know for now.” which is usually followed by about six more things she remembered she wanted to tell me!

      2. Antilles*

        I have the same sort of thing with the phone – drudgery is absolutely the right word for it. I don’t know if this makes me a terrible friend, but I’ve actually gotten to the point that I always do other stuff while on the phone.
        Obviously stuff that makes noise is out (TV, music, etc), but you can totally do chores, watch a ballgame, or read stuff on the Internet without it really affecting the conversation.

    12. Manders*

      I’m on the older end of the Millenial range and I definitely have pleasant memories of chatting with my friends on the phone. I’m more opposed to instant messaging, actually, because it’s this low-level distraction that happens all day long and I still remember the AIM drama from my teenage years.

      One thing I *do* dislike is reception work. I did it for years and tolerated it because I had to (in fact, I was so good that one of my business’s former clients tried to hire me to do even more phone work) but I really like to get in the zone when I work and even a short phone call snaps me out of that. I even used to dream about the phone ringing.

      I still pick up the phone and call people when it’s urgent, but I like the way email lets me get around to projects and my own pace, and I LOVE having a paper trail on big projects.

    13. MWKate*

      I’m on the upper end of the millennial generation – and I hate talking on the phone for work. I don’t mind it for personal reasons.

      I don’t like it for work because it’s an unscheduled interruption. When I have an email or in IM I can take time to think about my answer, and respond as I have time. When a call comes in I have to set aside what I am working on which is generally not something that CAN’T wait, but I like to take pauses at convenient break times for my workflow.

      Also – for a lot of stuff I like to have a record of it if I need to reference back later, this is true for some that call me more than others. Of course the person that always responds to my emails with a phone call is one of those people.

    14. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Here are a few for me:

      1) I have to rely on usually lossy and poor-quality sound, which means the likelihood of mishearing/misunderstanding goes up, as compared with an email or text where I can read it, and reread it as many times as I need to understand.

      2) Text communication keeps a record I can refer back to. Thanks to ADHD, there are a lot of things that really do just slide right out of my head the moment I stop actively thinking about them, and having an email for, say, a shopping list works much better for me than someone calling me to tell me what to pick up.

      3) Phone calls have to be handled right now. I can’t organize my workflow the same as I can with emails.

      4) If the reason for the call involves checking information, it’s going to be a “call you back” situation or I’m going to be stumbling through looking things up. In an email, I can get all the information I need and compose it properly.

      5) For a sensitive issue, text communication lets me tailor and review my wording before sending it off. There’s no ability to do this on the phone.

      1. Manders*

        I feel you on #1! I have to cover for the receptionist sometimes and I swear I cannot hear what people are saying if there’s anything less than a perfect connection in a quiet room. I didn’t have those problems when I worked in an office where all the clients would be calling in from landlines in their offices. In this office, many people are calling in from cell phones and they’re often in a room with the TV or radio on.

      2. JM60*

        I was going to give the same list, but you did the work for me. Number 1 and 2 are especially bad for me because I have a disability that makes it more difficult for me to understand what people are saying, especially when I can’t see them.

    15. Kathlynn*

      I have GAD (and I’m am not the LW this time), and phoning people triggers my anxiety to a large amount (w/out meds it’s a 7-9/10. With meds it’s a 5-9/10), and it is very complex. It’s also the result of an abusive and neglectful upbringing. To spare the details, it’s about fearing interrupting people, or waking them up (if I text they can just roll over and go back to sleep, or respond when they are free). It’s about not knowing what to say, whether or not to leave a message. And if I have anxiety related to *who* I’m phoning, it’s even more complicated.

      The only phone calls I can make easily is to my grandma (who I live with) and to order food (because I either have my order memorized or written down). Some times work, if it’s a short phone call like “I left the keys by the fridge”, where there isn’t much to say.
      I don’t have much anxiety over answering the phone, unless it’s from and important number, and then it’s fearing bad news (like work phone calls).

    16. Just Another Techie*

      For me it’s very idiosyncratic. My parents made a Big Deal out of phone use when I was growing up. For the most part I wasn’t allowed to use the phone for casual friendly calls to my classmates. But my parents did make me make calls that were inappropriate for my age/developmental stage/role in the household to “teach” me how to use the phone (eg, calling the local newspaper to complain that that day’s paper had been thrown in a gutter instead of the front porch, or calling the bank to order new checks) and then harangued me endlessly over every perceived flaw.

      So for me, my phone aversion has nothing to do with being a ~*~millenial~*~ and is directly attributable to my parents being kind of messed up. And I have managed to learn some phone skills, and even, a few years ago, asked my boss for coaching in phone skills. He ended up assigning me as our site’s liaison on a big cross-site project to force my hand and make me use the damn phone. It was terrifying at the time, but I’m so glad in hindsight that I had that opportunity.

      1. Manders*

        Wow, that’s some misguided parenting. But your boss is awesome for understanding and giving you a chance to improve!

    17. Natalie*

      I’m an older Millennial (early 30s) and I’m not a big fan of phone calls, for two primary reasons.

      -Immediacy. I prefer not to have my concentration broken the phone ringing when I’m working on something. Even silencing the ringer or DND isn’t usually that helpful, because whomever is calling frequently transfers to the receptionist and then they come interrupt me anyway. The nature of my work means it’s not practical for me to block out DND time with the receptionist or anything like that. Also, with nearly every single phone call I have received, I have to spend some time looking things up before I actually have an answer for the person. It seems like a waste of time to do that while they’re sitting on the other end of the line twiddling their thumbs. As far as making calls to someone else, I’d rather take 30 seconds to send an email with my question than call someone, wait on hold, and probably have to wait for a call back from them.

      -Record. I really like having a searchable record of what I talked about with people. Not so I can “gotcha!” them when they’re wrong or whatever, I just find it useful to me, if I’m worried about whether I missed something or have to reconstruct the timeline of some specific event. I don’t find phone logs or notes to be super effective given how much time it takes to keep them.

      That said, I don’t especially hate phone calls in general – I almost always call in delivery orders because I think it’s faster, I talk to one long distance friend for *hours*, and my husband hates texting so I talk on the phone with him when needed. But in a business context I’ll avoid it unless absolutely necessary.

    18. Pearl*

      I’m inside the millennial age bracket. In middle school I talked to my friends on the phone all the time. Then in high school we stopped – we had dial-up internet and no one had multi-way calling (smart phone use wasn’t a thing/widespread). So we got in the habit of using chats so we could all talk at once, and you literally couldn’t use the phone at the same time. Then with college and early work, everyone’s schedules were ridiculous and it was easier to connect via text than calling.

      Now, if my own phone rings, it’s usually either spam (I get so many spam calls) or an emergency. The only person who calls me for non-emergency reasons is my mom, or if I’m at a location trying to meet someone and we can’t find each other. I’m prepped to anticipate that phone ringing = drop everything, something bad may be happening.

      The thing that has helped most with my phone anxiety is that I have to answer 50% of the incoming calls at work. Most things are innocuous so it’s helped me build up a resistance to the “oh no!” reaction. But for my friends who don’t work front desks, they almost never get calls at work that aren’t about something bad. It’s hard to feel easy about using the phone when 75% of the time, it means an unexpected problem has come up.

    19. Blue Jeans*

      I hate the phone. All phone calls. It makes no difference who it is. I hate it. It’s impossible to follow what is being said, I cannot always understand the phrasing and people talk quickly and get annoyed if you ask them to slow down or repeat themselves, I cannot process auditory information that quickly or effectively and I need to take detailed notes if there is any info being conveyed that I will need to act on. My palms sweat and my heartrate rockets and my breathing gets shallow and I cannot focus on what anyone is saying, and I cannot read tone or recognise voices. It’s hellish.

      I have no problem with public speaking, I talk to groups of people at work all day. It’s not that. It’s the phone. I keep my cell phone number very private, do not have a landline, and avoid calls as much as I can. It works for me.

      And I’m 41.

    20. Gen*

      I’ve worked at a few inbound call centres, I have an excellent phone manner, I got the highest scores and commendations, and I have debilitating phone anxiety. I’m absolutely aware that what I’m about to say isn’t rational but I want to explain my anxiety thought process. For me the divide is that the calls at work are for a specific reason that though awful doesn’t directly affect me (emergency calls from callers with animals that were sometimes dying during the call). You know the call is going to come in, you’re expecting it and you know how to deal with it. No one is being interrupted or hassled. But making an outbound call or receiving one outside of work- someone is being interrupted, no one is expecting the call, the call could be that a loved one has died or is terribly injured, the call could be disrupting something much more important, the person I’m calling could be offended/upset but the call. Most of this comes from the fact that the ONLY calls we’ve ever received on our landline in the last five years other than wrong numbers have been late night death notices. We’ve lived in our current home for a year and the phone has only rung once.

    21. Dinosaur*

      I hate incoming calls. I don’t mind calling businesses or for work-related things, but I hate when my phone rings. It doesn’t matter who is calling, either. I’m weird, but it seems rude to call and just expect that I’ll be free to answer without setting up a good time via text or email. I’m an introvert and incoming calls take up a lot of emotional energy. I also have had some dysfunctional family and friends who treated me not answering their random phone call as an affront and would call repeatedly until I answered (I learned how to block numbers really quickly).

    22. MuseumChick*

      It’s a bunch of things for me. Like, what do I do if I don’t know an answer to something they ask? What if I say the wrong thing and get in trouble? What if the person starts yelling at me. What if, what if, what if. Now, obviously all these What ifs have answers. But when you have anxiety that just doesn’t enter your brain.

      Secondly, I like having a record. I’ve been in too many situations where it’s “What, that’s not what we talked about!” and there is no way to prove it one way or the other. With email, you can look back and see for sure that was said/promised/whatever.

    23. Doodle*

      I’m probably a year or two younger than you (some measures call me a Millennial, some not), and I also spent a ton of time on the phone as a teenager — but now I hate using it.

      My reasons:

      1. Phone calls are enormously disruptive. They demand attention NOW. Occasionally it’s an emergency (or a work emergency) and you need that, but most of the time, I don’t want to impose.

      2. Phone calls don’t give the other person a chance to think about the question, or to research their response. I want the people I’m talking to to feel like they have all the information they need — when I call someone (or when someone calls me), I feel like a huge portion of the time there’s either an off-the-cuff answer that later needs to be corrected, or we end up just deferring back to email because someone needs to get information from a 3rd party.

      3. It’s really hard to read tone in phone calls. Wait, wait! You say! It’s even harder in email! I agree — but in emails, I generally am able to avoid overly parsing for tone because I know it’s hard to interpret. Phone calls (for me) are the Uncanny Valley of Tone Problems — just close enough that I *think* I know what they mean, but none of the facial expressions of talking to a live human, so I often misinterpret.

    24. Cyclical*

      I’m of the Oregon Trail generation. The only person I ever liked talking on the phone with was my best friend, and yes, we could spend hours on the phone together. But if I had to call someone else to find out about a homework assignment? It was the absolute worst.

      For me, it’s the fact that I get flustered really easily and my solution to not being flustered is to be quiet, but you can’t be quiet over the phone, you have to talk. Because I’m a naturally anxious person, I get flustered by the simplest thing – I’m expecting the person to ask me for the credit card number, but they say they want the account number and I stutter and stammer for 30 seconds before I realize those are the same things. “Yes, the number is – oh wait- the account number? That’s… um, let me check the bill. It’s, uh, um, the credit card number? The number on the card? Oh, right, that’s XXX…” And then I just feel judged. Like the person on the other end is thinking, “My god, what a dummy”, and that throws me off for the rest of the call. There are also times when I need to be a little bit of a hardass about something, but I was raised to be unfailingly polite, so trying to mesh those things together doesn’t work and I end up sounding ridiculous.

      Mostly it’s the fear that the person on the other end of the line thinks I’m a dolt.

    25. Jules the First*

      I hate using the phone and will avoid it wherever possible (I was the first person to sign up for my doctor’s office online appointments system). I’m not afraid of it, I just dislike having to drop what I’m doing to deal with a phone call (and by extension, I assume that the person on the other end feels the same). An IM or text is easier because I can send it knowing that the recipient can answer immediately if it’s convenient, and if it isn’t, my request can sit quietly until they do have time (or I run out of time and call).

      Perhaps ironically, I prefer a conference call to a face to face meeting, though on reflection, that could be because I struggle to pick up on body language and facial expressions so in a face to face meeting I’m at a disadvantage, while on a conference call, everyone is in the samr boat.

    26. Nervous Accountant*

      I’m 31, so not sure where I fall on the millenial spectrum, but I used to spend HOURS on the phone as a preteen/teenager. I once spent 5 hours on the phone with my bestfriend/cousin at the time. Now? We both use text to communicate. I really got in to texting around college (mid to late 2000s) and that’s pretty much it. I felt like I was a much better at communicating via writing than over the phone. For me it’s easier to text, since I can multitask more easily as opposed to talking on the phone–being on the phone I have to give my total focus. I’ll use phone when necessary.

    27. Xarcady*

      Hi, I’m in my late 50s and I hate the phone.

      Possibly because I’m an introvert.

      Possibly because I get more information by reading than by listening–over the phone, in school, wherever. Given a choice between watching a video and reading a transcription of that video, I will read the transcription every time.

      Possibly because getting an email allows me time to think about what was said/asked, and time to formulate a reply. Phone calls demand instant responses.

      Possibly because I can’t see the other person. Without the clues of facial expression and body language, phone calls are difficult. The only people I enjoy taking with on the phone are family and a few close friends, whom I know well enough that I can get the info I need from their voices. All other calls are fraught with tension, as I can never really be sure the other person will “get” what I’m trying to say–Did they understand that was a joke? Did I make it clear enough that if the information isn’t in my hands by noon, the entire project falls apart?

      I’m fine with public speaking. I’ve been a teacher. But in both of those, I have a defined role and sort of a “script.” I can deal. But an unscripted phone call, where I can’t be sure what the other person will say/ask, and I can’t be sure they are truly comprehending what I’m saying? Torture.

      The invention of the answering machine was a godsend.

      Conference calls? All the issues of a phone call multiplied by the number of people on the call. Outgoing or incoming calls–all equally awkward.

      Now, I’ve had jobs where I had to be on the phone a lot. Some were better than others. One job, I called freelancers and offered them work. Most of them were happy to hear from my company, and, hey, I was offering them work! And once I got to know most of them, talking with them on the phone got easier.

      But right now, I have a part-time retail job where I have to call customers after their orders are delivered. Corporate sees this call as building customer loyalty. I think a lot of customers see it as an unnecessary intrusion on their day. There’s really not much to say, “How did your delivery go?” and “You still have time to get the extended warranty!” are about it. Neither the customers or I have a good script for this call, and all the calls are full of people talking over each other, half sentences and a lot of stumbling around. It’s just awful. I love it when I get their voice mail.

      Now Corporate wants us to call the customers on their birthdays. I am really pushing back on this–who the heck wants a birthday call from a department store? Corporate sees it as strengthening the customer’s bond with the store. I can only say that I would find it very creepy if a sales person I dealt with once, months ago, called me to wish me a Happy Birthday! And I can imagine the silence on the other end of the line when someone chirps, “Happy Birthday, Michael! This is Xarcady from Big Department Store! How ya’ doin’? It’s the big one, five-o! Want to come shopping? We’ll give you $50 off a purchase of $1,000!”

      My thought is that most of us older people had no choice but to learn to deal with the phone. Trust me, I know a lot of people my age who really don’t like talking on the phone. But back when your options were meeting face-to-face, writing a letter, or talking on the phone, we had greater incentive to overcome the anxiety of talking on the phone.

      These days, with texts and IMs and FaceTime/Skype, and goodness only knows what else they will come up with next, the need to deal with the phone is significantly less. And dealing with static-filled cell phones makes phone calls even harder to deal with.

      I admit I was puzzled at first as to why people wanted texts over phone calls, but now that I finally have a decent cell phone, the ease of sending and retrieving the text, vs. phone calls/voice mail makes sense.

      1. Shortie*

        Oh, wow, I would stop shopping at that department store if I got unnecessary calls post-order or on my birthday. What a waste of time. I feel for ya.

    28. TM*

      I suspect that I’m about the same age as you or just a bit older, and I absolutely hate talking on the phone. I suspect that my reasoning is different from most people though. Like you, I grew up on the phone constantly with my friends, and I also don’t mind the public speaking aspect. For me, part of my first “real” post-college job was to answer a helpline for disabled people with transportation issues, and help them resolve said issues. Most of the time, there was nothing I could do for them even though they had serious and valid issues (e.g.-not getting picked up to go to their dialysis appointments, etc.). It was so frustrating that every time the phone rang, I would tense up. That was 15 years ago and in a different field of work, but still every time my phone rings now, even my home or cell phone, I cringe. I have to fight myself to pick up the phone to even call my mother or husband.

    29. alter_ego*

      I’m pretty firmly in the millenial age range (1989) and I used to talk on the phone with friends for ages in middle and high school. But in a business context, I much much prefer text because I’m a bit of a rambler, and I know it annoys people. Text lets me formulate my thoughts before sending them, and I can go through and edit out all the unnecessary stuff.

    30. Marillenbaum*

      It definitely depends on the circumstances. I call (both phone and Skype) my mom and sister every single week, and that’s no big deal. I don’t like having to schedule things over the phone for work, because it feels so much easier to simply e-mail and say “We need to get X on the books; A, B, and C dates are available–which one works for you?”, and I tend to feel flustered. That said, at Old Job I used to conduct interviews over the phone fairly regularly and it wasn’t a problem! I think there are simply certain conversations I prefer not to have over the phone, plus the fact that I rarely need to makes it harder when I do.

    31. TheFormerAstronomer*

      I’m probably about the same age as you and I’ve always hated telephones – I never went through the phase of talking to my friends on the phone as a teen and won’t willingly initiate phone conversations even with family if I don’t have something specific to ask or talk to them about. I’m on the autism spectrum so telephones take away all the information I already process badly when it comes to reading intention and emotion in other people. Plus, there’s no option for the normal lulls and quiet moments that you would get in a normal conversation so I have to be ‘on’ and processing auditory information all the time, which I find exhausting.
      I do have to use the phone as a necessary part of my job, but it’s OK as long as I’m calling someone with a definite goal to the conversation – often I’ll either write myself a script or send the things I want to discuss in an email first with a note that I’ll call them in an hour or so to go through it (a lot of my job interfaces with civil and process engineering so it’s almost always useful to have an ‘agenda’ of sorts to go through).

    32. Sylvia*

      I’m in that age group. I called my friends as a kid, but switched to instant messaging them around 11-12 and have used IM, FB, or texts ever since. But that’s not why I used to hate the phone.

      I used to work in customer service for a company that received a lot of belligerent calls from unwell people. I braced myself every time I heard the phone ring.

      A long time before that, when I was a teenager, my former friend decided to get my attention by blowing up my parents’ landline for several hours straight so that my parents couldn’t use the phone until she was satisfied. (I had a cell phone, but she knew I could turn it off and ignore her. And calling my cell phone repeatedly didn’t inconvenience anyone but me, so where’s the fun in that?)

    33. Former Retail Manager*

      I’m in your age bracket and was the same as a kid. My parents got so fed up that I eventually had my own phone line with a dedicated number for like a decade. I was then a retail manager at a busy location where the phone rang off the hook for over a decade as well. For me, it’s burnout. I’m just over it. I also have always preferred the written word as it is much easier for me to go back to to make sure I’ve addressed everything I need to. In a phone call context, I have to take notes feverishly while trying not to sound disengaged.

      I do agree with Alison, and you, that there are many instances where a phone call is the most efficient means of communication and I’ll do that when it’s warranted, but if given a choice, give me the written word.

      To your last question, yes, I personally view conference calls and meetings differently than phone conversations because they typically aren’t one-on-one. It’s the one-on-one part that I find so draining. With a conference call, you say your piece and so does everyone else. I still don’t love them, but they’re better to me than a phone call with a single person.

    34. Project Manager*

      I am also generation Oregon Trail (older than millennials, younger than gen x). No fear of public speaking at all, but I hate the telephone and telecons and any sort of communication where I can’t see people’s lips. It is VERY VERY VERY hard to follow conversation when I have no lips to read. Not impossible, but very hard. When I have a non-urgent non-work phone call to make, I put it off until I have about four or five such calls, then I pick a quiet morning and batch them.

      I’m pretty curious about why the rest of you hate it as well. If phone conversations for me didn’t always go like this:
      10 Person says something
      20 I ask them to say again
      30 GOTO 10
      then I wouldn’t mind them.

      Also, I really, really, really, REALLY hate voicemail, because most people leave messages like this: “Hello, this is (quickly muttered jumble of syllables) and I’m calling from (more muttering) about (more muttering). Please call us back at (ten digits uttered at extreme rapid fire pace, generally also muttered).” If you leave voicemail as part of your job, please do not do that! Speak slowly and clearly and say the callback number at least twice! (This goes double if you work for AN AUDIOLOGIST. !!)

      1. Xarcady*

        Sometimes you can understand everything they are saying, on voicemail, until they get to the phone number. Then they blurt it out so fast, you are still struggling to register the first three numbers, and they have finished, said goodbye and hung up. Havng to listen to a voicemail 4 times just to get understand the phone number and jot it down is very frustrating.

        My guess is that they have to say that number so often that they just want to get it over with. But this is less than helpful for the recipient of the message, who can’t make out what they are saying.

    35. Emm*

      1) I communicate much better in writing, so if the goal is to get clear, accurate, timely information to the other person, this is always best.

      2) I can’t do anything of substance while listening (my brain can’t multi-task reliably when one task is auditory), so I struggle if you want me to investigate something while we’re talking. If you give me an email heads-up and your questions are predictable I can probably manage, but if you call me cold about something detailed I will flop.

      3) I don’t think well out loud. The physical act of writing helps to gather and shape my thoughts. My spoken thoughts are disjointed because they need a few minutes to percolate and phones just… don’t give that.

      #1 is something I can work on, but #2 is completely outside of my control (and mentally painful) and #3 mostly so too.

    36. Risha*

      Generalized Anxiety Disorder, age 41. Most of my problem is with placing calls, which will often literally take me months to accomplish, not answering them or talking to people in general. I think it is tied in my hindbrain somewhere to an anxiety about bothering people, which is in turn tied somewhere back there with the (mostly hypo)mania portion of my bipolar disorder.

    37. Danae*

      I’m solidly GenX, and I hate the phone (and always have–I was never the kind of kid who spent hours on the phone, and even when I was in an LDR I vastly preferred long email chains and Unix talk to phone calls). I have a disability that makes understanding speech without visual cues very, very difficult, and cell phones make it so much worse. On cell phones, if I misunderstand a conversational break and take a conversation turn out of order, the other person cuts out and I can’t hear them trying to signal that it’s still their turn, which turns supposedly easy conversations into a mess of interruptions. And it’s exhausting!

      I suspect the reason that younger people tend to hate the phone is because they grew up with cell phones instead of land lines. Talking on cell phones is pretty awful, even if your brain handles speech well.

      Weirdly enough, I find Skype and video conferencing much, much easier, because I can see the other person when they’re talking (and lipread), and I can tell when they’re trying to signal that it’s their turn to talk.

    38. SarahTheEntwife*

      Older end of Millenial here — I don’t mind calling close friends and family because I’m used to their phone voice, but with anything else it’s so hard for me to tell tone and there are too many awkward silences. It’s like the worst parts of in-persona and written communication with none of the benefits. I have fewer nonverbal cues but also can’t take my time with figuring out what to say. I hate having to interrupt people and it’s always stressful not knowing if I’m going to actually talk to the person or if I’ll get voicemail since those require a different “script” to prepare. If it’s a work thing it’s particularly bad since I need to write stuff down in order to remember it, and then I’m trying to juggle the phone and a notepad/computer and probably tell the person to repeat themselves several times before I get it right.

      1. Annie Moose*

        “It’s like the worst parts of in-persona and written communication with none of the benefits.”

        YES! This, exactly! You don’t get the benefit of reading body language, but you also don’t get a chance to read over what you’re going to say before you say it. I have a hard enough reading tone in the first place, let alone when I have to do it from someone’s voice alone!

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        Oh, and conference calls are a very special circle of hell for me and I’m so glad my current employer almost never uses them. So many different voices to keep track of, it’s even harder to tell when I’m supposed to say something, and probably at least one person has some weird tech problem to sort out before we can even get started.

    39. T3k*

      I’ve always been a quiet person (though not with close friends) but even as a teen I hated talking on phones, which probably made my parents glad as I hardly used up any minutes (even now, with unlimited mins. I probably use maybe 10 mins. each month and that’s just to check in with my mom, if she’s running late, etc).

      That said, I did have to learn to talk on the phone with my first job out of college, and I did well enough because it tended to be straight to the point with customers (no small talk) and I had a system in place (like if taking payments, I knew what to ask for, double check, etc). However, my anxiety went up when my second job decided to force me to spend 50% of my time answering the phone (originally it was supposed to be occasionally) and it stressed me out because I never knew how to help the customer as my boss was constantly changing standards. So really, as long as I have a script and know the guidelines, I’m ok with professional business calls.

      It’s also kind of funny this came up about younger people. A few weeks ago I was volunteering at this one place where the coordinator calls volunteers in (generally students) and he commented to us during break that he got so many on the phone who sounded like they’ve never talked on one before.

    40. MsMarvel8591*

      I personally do not like talking on the phone for business reasons becasue the majority of what I do (process damage,defect,and warehouse claims) requires the information to be in writing. There are a lot of times when I will reach out to a customer via email three times and still not get the information that I need so I then have to call them just to tell them to send the information in writing. They tend to get frustrated with having to send over everything in writing and I usually get some kind of speech about how we should be able to file a claim with a phone call blah blah blah. I usually only get this kind of treatment from older customers who are not good with technology or want a resolution right away. So I do not like talking on the phone becasue I typically do not get the information I need and also tend to get yelled at about company policy that I cannot change.

    41. Annie Moose*

      Mid-20s. I never talked on the phone much as a kid, we mostly used AIM instead. That’s continued into adulthood, I almost entirely communicate with friends and family through texting and various other text-based forms of communication (e.g. Discord, Slack, e-mail). I either prefer to see the person directly (thus allowing me to read body language and such–I’m very bad at this, but I find it significantly easier in person than over the phone) or to at least be able to read over and think through what I say before I say it (with text).

      Interestingly enough, because some online friends of mine use the voice chat function in Discord a lot, I’ve become somewhat more comfortable with talking without seeing who I’m talking to–but this is very casual and not like a regular phone conversation, so it’s not really the same thing.

    42. Kelly L.*

      I also used to get in trouble for talking too much on the phone with my friends back in the early 90s. And now I hate the phone. I’m in my late thirties. So here goes:

      -Cell phones have crappier reception than landlines, and anymore, almost everybody’s on a cell phone most of the time. Even if I’m on a land line, the other person’s probably on their cell, and vice versa. It’s a lot of frustrating “What? Can you hear me now? What? Huh? You’re cutting out. *cracklepop*”

      -On the same front, I believe I read that the lag on cell calls is different from that on landlines, so people are always interrupting and being interrupted.

      -I telemarketed for a little while. Hated it. Massive knot in my stomach before every call. People didn’t want our calls, and if they asked a question and I didn’t know the answer, they’d get hostile, because they already didn’t want the call and were looking for a reason to say no. This doesn’t really translate to regular life, since most people are actually quite accommodating of “I don’t know but I’ll get back to you” when they’re not being pestered by a telemarketer, but it got into my head.

      -Phone trees at businesses. 500 menus of options, finally get a representative, and it turns out the representative is untrained and only knows the answers to the most rote questions.I could have found that in the company’s FAQ. I’m calling because my situation is weird–I need someone who can go beyond the script!

      -Worry that I’ll say something stupid or actively horrible because I don’t have time to think through my responses before I make them. I can still make social calls with less annoyance–though the reception issue is still there–but work calls make me worry I’m going to accidentally say (for example) something that contradicts our actual policy and then we’ll be held to it.

    43. SarahBot*

      I’m someone who’s fine with making phone calls for work, and task-based phone calls in my personal life – I know a lot of people with phone anxiety who hate calling their doctor to schedule an appointment, for example, or calling to order food, or calling to ask a store when it closes, but none of that bothers me.

      At work, I’m very good at putting on my Work Persona, which includes being good on the phone (even though I find it exhausting, and I often have to steel myself before making phone calls – mostly because I prefer to have information in writing, and getting it via email means I have a higher chance of getting correct information, because there’s one less layer of interpretation / translation); the task-based phone calls are focused, so I know exactly what information will be required (and I’ve been in therapy long enough to know that, as long as I’m not a jerk over the phone, the person on the other end isn’t judging me).

      But I HATE talking on the phone socially – I actually just had a phone conversation with my mom where she asked me if I ever had a problem with phone calls dropping when I receive a text during a call, and my answer was, “No, Mom, but probably because you’re literally the only person in the world that I talk to on the phone, so it doesn’t come up very often.” Part of it, I know, is tied to my childhood history, but I think it’s mostly that 1) I’m a very visual person in terms of taking in information; 2) it feels like I can’t be doing ANYTHING else while I’m on the phone, lest I get distracted, so it feels like a huge time requirement (this may just be down to the fact that I can’t get Mom off the phone in less than 45 minutes without taking major effort); and 3) it’s like the worst of both worlds between in-person and text-based communication – it’s real-time, so you have to coordinate schedules, but you don’t get to use facial expressions or even physical gestures (like, if a friend has something sad to share, I can’t just hug them), but I *do* have to come up with something to say immediately, without a second chance to review it, and it’s understood that the conversation won’t have large pauses or breaks.

    44. Vivi*

      I have no problem calling people I know, but calling strangers or getting a call from an unknown number are horrifying. I think I know where this comes from. When I was still very young (kindergarten age) my father started writing for a local newspaper. Suddenly people who disagreed with him blew up our phone on all times of the day (or night). Even when I, obviously a kid, answered the phone they would unleash their abuse. This kept going on for months until we could get a new unlisted number.

    45. LadyKelvin*

      For me it has more to do with the act of making a phone call than actually talking on the phone. I’d much prefer if someone calls me (and I’ll often email them and say, hey give me a call when you have a chance) and I have not problem talking to people I know well. But usually when I’m calling someone I need something and I have incredible anxiety about picking up the phone and dialing. I need a script, I need to be prepared to get a real person (I hope for an answering machine), and I usually am trying to get off the phone as quickly as possible, which means I don’t ask all the questions I need to because I’m too nervous to remember them, and I can’t push back if I’m dealing with customer service or my landlord refusing to do something they should. So making phone calls usually end up with me needing to make another one or accepting a worse outcome than I could have gotten by email or in person. And its a self-perpetuating cycle, the more times I call people and the calls aren’t successful the more anxious I am about making a call, and my ability to successful navigate and negotiate in that call decreases.

    46. Ann Mousy*

      I’m at the Gen X -Millennial transition point. Grew up where/when owning a cell phone was unusual, but became somewhat more common right towards the end of high school, and became ubiquitous within a year or two of college (partly the times, partly change from poor area to upper-middle-class area with the high school to college move).

      I hate the phone. I hate text messages, too. I like email.

      My friends and I talked over email and occasional computer IM in high school. We did phone calls occasionally, but somebody else in your house could easily pick up and listen in on the line, or maybe you’d interrupt a fax or a telephone modem, or maybe somebody was using the house line for a conversation already (always mother arguing with another relative). I hate text messages because I’ve never gotten used to the phone typing interface; I like a keyboard, and I like my words fully spelled and my punctuation florid and varied. I hate the emoticons in texting that come up less in my emails – especially the proliferation of fancy pictures and memes and crazy emoticons beyond the basic smiley-face, frowny-face dichotomy.

      I also associate calling with “checking in” – where the parents would want me to call once I rode the bike or took the bus to a friend’s house after school. I’m an adult, I don’t wanna check in with anyone! I don’t want anyone to feel they need to check in with me. A phone was an annoying parental tether, not a window to the internet and a way to associate with friends.

    47. Hrovitnir*

      Oh ho, interesting question.

      Me: 32, did have long phone calls with friends as a teenager. Generalised anxiety disorder (probably) that has conveniently got much worse as my chronic depression has become more manageable. I value the phone skills I learned working at Pizza Hutt as a teenager, and having worked as a vet nurse for 8 years I’m a little prideful about being good at reception-type phone calls given how bad a lot of people seem to be from the other side! (This is echoed in being good at working with clients even though on a personal level I’m terrified of people and it seriously impacts my life.)

      Despite the above, having to use the phone when I was nursing on weekends and studying wasn’t really helping any more as my anxiety got worse. Desensitisation is nice and all, but by the time I left it was restarting the process every single week. No lasting improvement, and my ability to deal with curveballs was massively reduced. I am not overly bothered by giving (scientific, to scientists) presentations though, go figure.

      Conference calls are outside of my experience but I’m not keen. Like phone but potentially worse. Meetings are better than phone, can be anxiety-inducing but not inherently bad at all. Outgoing is far, far worse than incoming. Anything with a very clear purpose and goal is easier (making an appointment, checking open hours) than something like trying to ask open ended questions. *shudder*

    48. Lentils*

      I’m working on getting better on the phone (been setting up a lot of doctors’ appointments for myself by phone lately, and I have a weekly conference call with my overseas bosses which after a year of doing it is no sweat), but personally I dislike and get anxious about phone calls because 1) I’m autistic and have anxiety and both of those things can make me come across as really jittery and scattered on the phone, plus when I get anxious I tend to speak more quickly and slur my words and people have told me it’s extremely difficult to understand me when this happens, 2) I have both mild audio processing issues that makes it hard for me to absorb what people are saying sometimes, and 3) in written communication I have the option to delete and reword things. Can’t do that when I’m talking.

  14. Amadeo*

    I wouldn’t say that I have a phone ‘phobia’ but I definitely have an aversion. I’m older than I used to be (heh) and I’ve gotten better about picking up the receiver when I need to. I will still default to email 99% of the time, if that’s an option available to me, or there isn’t a deadline. But if it’s important and the individual I need to speak to isn’t responding to me through text-based means I do it.

    Sometimes it helps, if I’m not going to annoy someone else, I’ll use hands-free or speaker phone so I can focus on something that isn’t how uncomfortable I am with this handset to my ear. For some reason it makes it a little bit easier.

    I haven’t downright dreaded it in a while, except during my short stint as an assistant to a graduate studies director in math. We had a lot of international students apply and while I didn’t have much trouble understanding their accents face to face I had a *super* hard time parsing what they were trying to communicate when they would call me. I really did not look forward to those phone conversations because I couldn’t understand them and the both of us would get so frustrated.

    1. TL -*

      English is much, much easier to understand with context clues, especially when someone has a language barrier, and especially if they don’t know what they don’t understand – ie, I’ll ask something but they’ll answer a completely different question (or vice versa) and over writing, it’s very hard to figure out where the confusion is stemming from.
      I use slack with a team with a large number of ESL people and while they are all fluent, sometimes the amount of time I have to spend composing a question so that it frames the question correctly is incredibly frustrating – but if I’m in person, I can just shake my head and say, “Oh, no, I meant X.” at the exact part that confused me, or add in synonyms/clarifying speech if I see them being confused by my speech. So much easier in person!

      (This can totally happen with native speakers, but the incidence rate is much higher with ESL people, especially since they all have different native languages.)

      1. Amadeo*

        That makes sense. It just was not fun trying to explain to these folks that their ESL test scores did not meet the school’s minimum, and that minimum was especially important if they wanted the tuition waiver that meant they were going to have to teach a gen ed math class. On the phone. I really hated it because I always felt kind of bad about it even though the ability to communicate effectively was a must.

  15. JeanB*

    Not wanting to talk on the phone is one of my last holdovers from the extreme shyness when I was younger. I love email! But I will say, I agree with Alison that it can get easier the more you do it. (What’s weird is I don’t really have a problem with people calling me but when I have to initiate the call, I will procrastinate as long as possible.)

  16. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I worked with a woman who never used a phone. Whenever people would call and ask for her, I’d say she wasn’t able to use the phone so email is preferred. They clearly didn’t know her that well as she was a deaf person.

    I hate talking on the phone but not because of any anxiety. I’ve been through too many disasters of he said/they said/she said/someone said that I need a paper trail. I only talk on the phone to people I trust.

    1. Paxton*

      I’ve been burned a bit by this as well but often talking on the phone will save 20 or so back and forth emails. What I’ve found that works is I create an email summary and email to all relevant parties after the call. This gives a written record of major points and decisions with a timestamp and implies agreement unless they respond with any clarifications.

    2. T3k*

      Yeah, every job and internship I’ve had has been in the printing field, and there it’s pretty much mandatory to have a paper trail to cover our asses, and it’s come into use quite a few times (and to double make sure, most of those jobs we’d print off the email with the details and attach it to the project’s folder). Even with those who primarily communicate by phone we’d tell them to send it by email or we’d send an email for them to confirm.

  17. HMM*

    I have friends and colleagues who will jump on the phone for work with no problem – they don’t like it and don’t prefer it, but they do it without fuss.

    But the second it’s not work related they’re totally freaked out by calling anyone. I once had to call in a takeout order because a friend refused to – not sure how asking for orange chicken is more stressful than a phone conference with a client. These same people won’t order from certain restaurants because they don’t have an online ordering system. To be clear, these folks I know don’t have what the OP is talking about – a documented, medical reason to not use the phone. It’s a little weird to me, but everyone has their quirks I guess!

    1. Nolan*

      The main power struggle in my home is my partner and I both not wanting to be the one to call in dinner orders. For the last couple months I’ve managed to be occupied when a call needs to be made, and also when the delivery guy arrives. But soon I’ll be forced to be the point person with our realtor as we look for a house, so maybe he’s been banking introvert points this whole time so I won’t have an argument against that…
      Up until recently his job required a lot of phone calls and conversation and it was really draining for him. But we both will put off making appointments for a week or more to gear ourselves up for calling in, and I always feel like an idiot on those calls. Which reminds me… *wanders off to call the salon*

  18. Marcy Marketer*

    There are great reasons to avoid the phone, like as the LW said, for documentation and scope agreements, but when I do have to use the phone I write an email recapping the convo for documentation purposes. There are some phone calls that are so short I don’t think they need to be documented, and then those are the ones I get burned on.

    1. Yorick*

      I agree. Unless you suspect your client or colleague will lie or deny things, you don’t absolutely have to have an email record of everything. Taking notes during a conversation and reminding the other party will usually be enough to get everyone on the same page.

      1. Marcy Marketer*

        Once, a new employee (who I had an extremely friendly relationship with) asked the process for getting something done. I told her that she’d send me the information, I’d create what she needed, and then she’d have to approve or suggest changes.

        I sent her the creation but didn’t hear back. After a week or so her boss was like where’s the thing? And I said, Felicia has to approve it. Felicia had no idea I was waiting on approval and seemed to have forgotten the whole conversation. Because I thought we had such a friendly relationship, I didn’t follow up that call with an email with documentation… I guess I should have!

      2. Natalie*

        For me, at least, I’m not really concerned the other party is going to lie, I just prefer email to supplement my own memory. I’ve been in a job where I had to do a lot of my work on the phone and take notes, and frankly the notes weren’t that useful later. Assuming I could even find the note in question, I would often find I had focused on Aspect A of the situation, but now months later what was really important was Tangential Information B.

    2. ChelseaNH*

      I work in tech support where most requests come in through email. If someone calls, we create a ticket with the caller’s info to document 1) that we had a call, and 2) what the call covered.

      Phone calls and emails are both just tools used for communication. Pick the tool that’s best suited to the task at hand.

    3. Paxton*


      I have certain clients who love to flip flop and they ALWAYS get email followup no matter how small or trivial the conversation.

      I have a couple who now have their manager CC’d on everything for trying to get me fired for their mistakes. Ill be clear – I always own up to my own mistakes and offer to fix but I’m not going to lose my job because they made a mistake.

  19. Yorick*

    I think we can be quite empathetic about others’ mental health issues but at the same time, people need to seek treatment when major parts of their lives are impacted (like not being able to talk on the phone for business purposes).

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        How so? I think that’s pretty realistic, and I say that as someone who had terrible anxiety for years after watching an awful car accident that took my SO.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          It’s not on an internet stranger to tell someone to seek help. We don’t know anything about the LW’s background, her coping mechanisms, whether she’s tried any type of therapy or meds, etc.

          It’s up to the individual to decide whether or not they need help, or whether their current boundaries are enough for their needs.

          1. KellyK*

            It’s up to the individual to decide whether or not they need help, or whether their current boundaries are enough for their needs.

            Exactly! It’s easy for a random stranger to say “Just get therapy!” when they’re not absorbing any of the costs or doing the legwork to make it happen. It’s an especially unhelpful comment when the OP has flat-out told us that they’re *getting* therapy and are *on* meds and are looking for advice *from a business perspective.* We do know that the OP is getting treatment. And yet people repeatedly feel the need to beat the “Get treatment!” drum on this thread.

    1. Alton*

      I think as long as someone isn’t a danger to themselves or others, it’s up to them (and their doctor, if applicable) to determine where that line is drawn. The OP is receiving treatment and seems satisfied with the current state of that. And they’re self-employed, which gives them a fair amount of flexibility right now.

    2. Temperance*

      Eh, I think we need to respect an individual’s right to choose whether they seek treatment or not. This impacts LW’s life, and no one else’s. If there were others involved, or the issue was different (like her issue put others in danger or she might have been neglectful), I’d feel differently.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She’s comfortable with the impact it’s having on her business and it sounds like she’s doing plenty of business the way she prefers, so there isn’t a work issue here for her. There might be a broader one, but whether or not there is, that’s outside the scope of this blog so we should move on.

    4. Yorick*

      I suffer from anxiety, and even experience a great deal of anxiety about talking on the phone. I don’t have clients or coworkers who can’t get what they need because of that.

      I see posts all over social media about accepting people’s mental health issues as part of who they are. I think that comes from a kind place and I agree we should be understanding. But still, these are medical disorders when they get to this point, and they shouldn’t be treated as inherent parts of someone that they shouldn’t try to overcome.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        “and they shouldn’t be treated as inherent parts of someone that they shouldn’t try to overcome.”

        Sure, but it’s not on Internet Stranger to tell someone what treatment they should be getting, and how, and what they need. It’s not actually helpful because show me the person who has no idea that treatment for mental health issues exists and I will show you a unicorn. If a person needs help, they aren’t going to get it because they are scolded by a stranger for not doing mental illness right (and it seems to always read as scolding or condescending, I think just because of the medium, and neither read is going to be motivating to the person you are trying to convince).

  20. Cambridge Comma*

    I wonder whether another way to tell your clients that you don’t want to talk on the phone is to mention the nature of your work. I’m in a creative industry, and I assume that in your field the value of an uninterrupted hour is much higher than time interrupted by calls. Perhaps explaining that you don’t take calls because you need to concentrate on your clients’ work would be understandable.
    I’ve also considered, if I go back to freelancing, paying someone to do this client acquisition stuff for me so that I don’t have to be interrupted. I don’t know if that would be something you could consider.

    1. Kate*

      Yes, maybe she can explain that because she has to keep records of the time spent on each client, it is easier to set aside time to answer email, and time it to charge the appropriate client?

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        That’s a good point too, but I meant more that I need a substantial amount of time to get into what I’m doing and I have to reinvest that time every time I restart after an interruption.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that’s more likely to rub people the wrong way, because generally they’ll expect her to set aside some time to talk to clients since that’s a pretty normal thing. It’ll make her sound difficult in a way that “I have a health issue” won’t.

    3. Observer*

      That’s a good way to brand yourself as a high maintenance artsy type, rather than a creative / art professional.

      Every professional artist, no matter the field, needs to to the mundane stuff. So, if you can’t *schedule a time* to have a conversation, you’re going to sound like the kind of flake that can’t deal with the mundane parts of every creative job.

      There is HUGE difference between “I can’t talk NOW, because I’m in the zone” and “I can’t talk at all because I’m so busy being creative at any and all times.” I’ve lived with creatives all my life, and I wouldn’t ever do business with the latter.

      To be clear, the OP is NOT such a snowflake. I agree that mentioning a medical issue, without details, would help alleviate any such impression.

  21. Collie*

    I hate talking on the phone. I hated it more several years ago, but forced myself to apply to a job in college that involved calling alumnae/i for donations. It made talking on the phone significantly easier. I still don’t enjoy it, but, for the most part, I no longer fear it like I did before (but, I didn’t have a phobia — just run-of-the-mill fear). I know it’s uncomfortable, but I highly recommend anyone in a similar position either working part time or volunteering in a job that is essentially just phone calls. I suspect you’ll see a pretty big difference after just a couple months, if not weeks.

  22. AnonMurphy*

    I have good phone skills (thanks, call center and pre-social media junior high!) but typically prefer email or messaging. I’m also prone to email overkill – when walking over to talk to someone would solve the problem will eliminate 12 back-and-forth emails.

    One thing I truly can’t stand about my phone is that because of our culture, we make do with Slack and face-to-face and screen sharing and whatnot, so 99% of my calls are cold calls from salespeople. I did get the GM calling my the other day, so I have to pay attention, but I wish I could just do away with the phone in this job.

  23. DecorativeCacti*

    I hate talking on the phone and interacting with strangers, but luckily I have a really nice ability to somehow completely disconnect what I do for my job from my personal life. So when I’m in Work Mode, I can greet people and small talk like nobody’s business. Ten minutes later when I’m off work? Leave me alone, weirdo.

  24. AdAgencyChick*

    If OP were just starting out, I’d say she can do it, but she’ll miss out on a LOT of business that way. Clients often have a hard time conveying what it is they want even verbally, when you can ask them questions and try and draw out what they’re really thinking but can’t find the words for. That process takes much longer via email. I personally would not want to work with a designer who wouldn’t give me the option of a phone conversation.

    That being said, if OP has built herself a steady book of business without needing to talk on the phone, have at it and more power to her!

    1. VC*

      I’m a designer (albeit in-house, not freelance) who finds that phone conversations are often my least efficient method of working with clients. On top of previous comments about auditory processing difficulties and having no record of the conversation, trying to get someone to explain what they need visually via non-visual mediums often just results in “clean and simple and [vague color terms]” word salad.

      When I have clients who can make words happen with their faces but not their keyboards, generally I try to steer them towards IM/screenshare sessions, face-to-face meetings, or video chats, where I can at least read their body language and do thumbnail sketches or look up example links to confirm that I’m correctly understanding what they mean.

  25. Master Bean Counter*

    OP if more people were like you, I’d be happier doing business with them. During my car purchase last week I actually told the sales to text me, don’t call. Between accents, background noise, and sales speak I just couldn’t understand anything he was saying. We were both much happier texting.
    My husband is having hearing issues and just loves texting and IM-ing.
    My belief is that if everybody embraced non-verbal communication more, we’d be a more peaceful world.
    Anyway I digress. OP I’d just tell your customers it’s much easier for you to text or IM rather than talk. Most will roll with it.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      I especially prefer text-based communications for buying a car. There’s plenty of evidence that women and people of color get charged more for cars; as a woman of color, I was not about to risk taking a double hit. Instead, I dealt with everything by e-mail, and once I was 90% certain (liked the car, liked the price), I set up a quick test drive and handled the paperwork.

  26. AnonEMoose*

    I’ll admit, I’m somewhat in the “I hate the phone” camp. I’ll use it when I need to, it’s just really not my preferred option. I’m somewhat fortunate, in that my specific “niche” at work mostly allows me to communicate via email with outside parties (in fact, it’s generally preferable).

    Within the company, I also prefer it if people email me rather than calling. Mostly because the questions they tend to need to ask me generally require a certain amount of research, and it’s much more difficult to do that with someone waiting for an answer on the phone. So, half the time, I end up telling them that I’ll get back to them via email, anyway. Plus, interruptions can be tough; if I’m working on something and get interrupted, it can take me a bit to figure out where I was.

    But I’m also very responsive to email, so it’s not a situation of people emailing me several times without getting a response.

    For the OP, I’m glad you seem to have found a way of working that mostly works for you! I hope you’re able to eventually find a way to work things out so that the phone is less of a struggle for you – just in a “I hope things get easier for you” kind of way. Anxiety sucks!

  27. Laura (Needs a New Name)*

    Responding to the hijack – this is good advice both in terms of professional development but for long-term mental health. Avoidance behaviors have a strong potential to reinforce and exacerbate anxiety. If you do not currently have a phobia of using the phone, avoiding using the phone could lead this to become more severe to the point that you eventually experience more significant distress/impairment related to phone use. There are great self-help books available for people who are interested in using evidence-based approaches to coping with anxiety, like The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook and Mastering Your Fears and Phobias. These strategies can be very useful even if your experiences are not something that could lead to a formal diagnosis.

    1. BeenThere*

      +100 to this (I say as someone whose therapist has to push them to do it sometimes).

  28. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This is excellent advice. Sometimes a five minute phone conversation can save hours of back and forth via written communication.

  29. Future Homesteader*

    For my first six or so years in the work world, I hated answering the phone or making calls, particularly for the first few months at any new job. If I had to make a phone call, I would try to wait until no one was around (as an admin-type, I never had an office). I would take as long as the phone system would let me to dial a transfer, because I was so concerned about getting it wrong. But [un]fortunately, every job I’ve had has been pretty phone-centric, and I had to just learn to deal with it. And these days, I’m often complimented on my phone skills. When I changed jobs most recently, it took me two days to get up to speed and begin answering our main line. I train students, and much of what I work with them on is phone skills. Now that we need the phone less, it’s so much easier (in many jobs) to get away with it most of the time, but I’m incredibly grateful that I didn’t have that option.

  30. Roscoe*

    I hate talking on the phone. Every girlfriend of mine would attest to that. However, for business transactions, there are things I like to go over on the phone. Sometimes, its just easier to have a 5 minute conversation than to try to word things the exact way you need to. As Alison said in the response, its fine to NOT want to do this, but I’d have a hard time giving my business to people who refused to ever talk on the phone.

  31. NCKat*

    I am deaf and while a cochlear implant allows me to hear a one-on-one conversation, hearing someone on the phone is still pretty hard. I always ask if the other person would mind relaying the phone conversation via the relay service for the deaf and hard of hearing. But not all people are comfortable with that, and in those cases, I ask a coworker to take over the conversation.

    I’ve not had a lot of problems with this, although there are plenty of people who want to use the phone no matter what.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I can’t imagine why people would have problems using a relay service.

      1. Gen*

        I’ve received a lot of calls through the phone relay service and there can be a bit of adjusting because you instinctively want to say things like “tell her that” and “can you ask her” to the relay person when you’re supposed to be pretending that they aren’t there at all. It takes a little getting use to and the relay person admonishing you for slipping up (it takes longer for them to type if you make a mistake since they have to remove the bits that won’t make sense) can make some people uncomfortable. It’s a shame that nckat and other users are suffering because people don’t want to use it :( I do think it’s something that folks who take a lot of calls could do with training on but some people won’t encounter it very often. It’s a great service and one that I wish more people knew about

      2. Jules the First*

        Having done a few shifts as a relay operator during my time at the phone company, it can be difficult for some people, especially if, for example, you are talking to a (deaf) man but get a female relay operator.

        I mean, ideally it shouldn’t matter, but people are people…

        1. NCKat*

          For the person using the relay service there is usually an option as to what you want in a call agent. For example, I have it set for a female English-speaking call agent to speak for me. It usually works out pretty well.

      3. NCKat*

        Years ago before my already-bad hearing became worse, I was assigned the lunch hour answer rota (meaning that staff took turns answering the phones during lunch hour). I took a call from a lady who apparently had submitted a catering bid and wanted to see if it’d been received. Her accent was so broad and her pitch so high that I had trouble taking her information. It ended with her shouting ” I don’t know why they let a dumb idiot answer the phone anyway!” I was almost in tears. She didn’t get the job and I was taken off the phone rota.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          That is awful :(

          I worked in the office at an interpreting company years ago and have experience working with D/deaf people and using relay services. There can be a learning curve, but it’s really not that difficult.

        2. Observer*

          I’m assuming that her behavior was at least part of the reason she didn’t get the job. Good for the company.

          The silver lining, I guess, is that you got taken off the rota. But, that’s just an awful experience and I’m sorry you went through that.

    2. AthenaC*

      That reminds me of my ASL teacher in college – she was a deaf woman who took the opportunity of introducing us to deaf culture as a whole while we were her captive audience. :) I looked at it as no different than any of the other cultural activities one might do while studying, say, Spanish or Russian.

      All that is to say – one of our assignments was to call her using the relay service. While I think it’s great that such a service exists, I thought it was a bit awkward, and if given the option of a relay service or an email conversation, I would probably just email.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Same here! If relay is what’s available I can use it, no big deal, but email or IM or something seems so much easier for everyone.

    3. A Canadian*

      I explain to my freelance clients that I have a hearing loss, and ask if we can do video chat instead of the phone. So far, the people I’ve spoken to have been fine with this. (I lipread very well and have a decent amount of hearing, so this is the best way for me to understand people, short of a face-to-face meeting.)

  32. JKP*

    In my experience, it’s much easier to address before the client even brings it up. “Vaccinate against the problem.” So when you send them the initial pitch, close with all the ways the client can reach you (email, chat, etc…), how quickly they can expect you to reply, and close with “I am not available by phone.” You don’t have to explain why.

    Now if the client still asks for a phone conversation, they are giving you very important information about what they will be like to work for. They are either the type of client who doesn’t read what you send thoroughly and will ask lots of followup questions that you have already answered in previous emails they didn’t thoroughly read. Or they are the type of client who expects you to make all sorts of exceptions just for them and will continue to expect you to make more exceptions for them. Either way, you can happily turn away their business, knowing they would be too much of a hassle to work with anyway.

    1. Casuan*

      “vaccinate against the problem”

      I love this phrase!
      Sometimes “take preemptive measures” is too… clinical… or too… avoiding the enemy starships.

  33. Mirax*

    When it comes to my writing and freelancing work I try to restrict my communication to email simply because I keep ALL my emails. I generally explain this to clients as “so that we can be sure that our expectations and obligations are clear on both sides.”

  34. Very VERY Annon for this*

    In my line of work there are very very good reasons to use the phone.


    Some things need to be off the books. I get that people want to email me about it but when we are talking about confidentiality breaches and political influence, no records of the conversation can exist

    1. LiveAndLetDie*

      But people record phone calls all the time, thus having a record of it somewhere? In some states only one party involved is required to even be aware that a call is being recorded, so there is always the possibility of a record being made.

  35. Ashley*

    I used to avoid phone calls to the point of needing coaching from my boss. Now years later I will get handed projects that a co-worker can’t solve. When we do a follow-up conversation, I love being able to respond, I just gave them a call and got it solved. He can’t help but chuckle at the change.
    For the record this isn’t a age thing. The phone avoiding co-worker thinks she is doing her job e-mailing and having a paper trail. In most cases resolution is more important, and I can always shoot the customer and send a summary e-mail if needed.

  36. Thisainttoastmasters*

    “But for most people, phone anxiety is something to work on getting over.” If you have anxiety, you can mitigate it through medication, therapy, exposure or whatever but you don’t ‘get over it’ like a stubbed toe. Anxiety and phobias are real medical conditions and shouldn’t be equated with garden variety nervousness, even in a highjacked tangent.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Sure. But I think we can agree that the word “anxiety” has multiple meanings. I both have an anxiety disorder (clinical definition) and am experiencing anxiety about a new project I have taken on (colloquial definition). Alison was using the colloquial definition.

        1. Natalie*

          People use phobia colloquially, too. The tangent portion is pretty clearly talking about a dislike or aversion, not a clinical level disorder.

          And even if it was “work on getting over” seems just as easy to parse as “work on the anxiety” as it is to parse as “get over it, whiner!” The general idea of assuming good faith seems to be in play here.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There are loads of people who describe themselves as having phone phobia who don’t mean it in a clinical way.

          This is derailing and the point has been noted, so let’s leave it here.

        3. Emi.*

          But the part that Thisainttoastmasters quoted was in the section labeled what I’m about to say doesn’t apply to you[the LW], because your reaction is much more significant than garden-variety “I don’t like the phone” stances, i.e. it only applies to “feeling anxious” problems, not “clinical anxiety” problems.

    2. Kathlynn*

      Thank you. I’ve had many people dismiss my phone anxiety (among other anxiety issues) as just nerves. And it’s like Nope. I am shaking in my mind when I try to make a phone call, I cannot move until I stop trying to phone certain people. And some phone calls can take me more then an hour of sitting and staring at the phone, trying to find a hole in the anxiety and anxiety thoughts to let me make that phone call. (I’m on meds now, and it’s much easier. I did therapy w/out meds, and it didn’t help my anxiety. And I currently cannot afford therapy to try more)

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      That is absolutely true. But it doesn’t change Alison’s point that it can limit your professional opportunities. My panic disorder prevents me from driving. I’ve had to accept that there are a number of jobs where driving is a requirement and I cannot do those jobs.

      Some jobs are going to require you to make phone calls. If you have severe phone anxiety, then you need to acknowledge that you either need to work on it or it may limit your options.

      1. Allypopx*

        I don’t want to go too far off topic, but gah, yes. My panic disorder prevents me from driving too. It severely limits where I can live and how far I can travel, and therefore the jobs I can pursue.

        We all have things that weigh us down. When those things limit professional growth, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging it, no matter the severity.

  37. NPO Queen*

    I’ve gotten job offers because I explicitly said I was willing to get on the phone in my interview. It’s very big step for me, as I used to have to write out a script just to call for pizza (back in the days of calling for delivery). Now I’m the most likely of my friends to just get on the phone, even though I give myself a pep talk each time. Working in fundraising, the phone is inevitable. I dislike it, but I find that you can actually get your message across better when talking live rather than sending back and forth emails. so these days I call and then follow up with an email.

    This doesn’t have anything to do with the OP, because that’s phobia level anxiety. But I agree with Alison that the phone probably isn’t going away in my lifetime, at least not for the work I do. Sales has always been a person-to-person connection and I don’t see that changing. OP, I’m glad you can be choosy though, that really helps!

  38. strawberries and raspberries*

    I agree that phone skills are so, so crucial, even as phone use is increasingly falling away. We have some high school interns who just started working with us, and even though we didn’t expect them to have great professional phone skills right off the bat, everyone is kind of amazed at how much they’re struggling. We had to walk them through seemingly simple things like writing down a caller’s full name and phone number and asking what the call is in reference to, rather than just saying, “She’s not here” or “I dunno” and letting them hang up. Last night we had them do some cold-calling; all of them have great personalities and social skills in person, but watching them make these calls, even with notes in front of them, it was as if they’d never spoken to another human before. I’ve had to really train myself to feel comfortable approaching strangers or calling to request work-related information, so I get it, but even in high school I had some sense of what the professional norm was for speaking to someone so that I wouldn’t alienate the person on the other line.

    1. Dan*

      I suppose things depend on the role, but in the 8 years of my professional career, I’ve never answered a call that wasn’t directed to me, nor have I called someone I didn’t already have an established relationship with.

    2. imakethings*

      To be fair, cold calling with make me incredibly uncomfortable too. I placed calls during the primaries last year and it was aw.ful.

    3. Trillian*

      Because of my parent’s work, I was trained from an early age to answer the phone informatively, get the caller’s information, summon a parent or, if a parent wasn’t in earshot, write down the caller’s information and read it back to confirm it. After half a lifetime of doing that it drove me NUTS when I was in a communal phone situation and would get messages that consisted of, “Duh, someone called you.” Even worse was when I realized contacts of my coworkers were starting to use the number nearest me because I’d actually relay information.

      I think what we’ve lost sight of is that people have to be trained how to use the phone effectively. It also doesn’t help that, after a brief idyllic period of quality audio, we’ve gone backwards to the age of bad overseas connections.

      I’ll dodder away now.

      1. Kowalski! Options!*

        Exactly. It’s like any other communication skill — no one is born doing it, you probably have to make a fair number of mistakes before becoming competent at it (assuming that there are no mechanical reasons why it isn’t possible) and…. [drum roll]…it’s a form of communication, a way of exchanging information between two parties. It’s not a judgement call on you as a human being, it’s not a reflection of how competent you are as a worker, it’s not an invitation for ridicule. It’s exchanging information.

        1. strawberries and raspberries*

          Definitely- and I’m certainly not passing any judgment on the interns. I personally was just really struck by the learning curve, and how much I take for granted that phone communication is, in fact, a learned skill. (Hell, even after all my experience calling people, I’ve still left voicemails that end with things like, “Best regards, bye.”)

          1. Kowalski! Options!*

            For sure, and sorry if it came across as if I was having a go at you. This is only half-serious, but I wonder if there’s a niche market for a communications coach who could develop training for effective phone calls…

            1. AthenaC*

              It’s certainly something I do regularly with junior staff – give them scripts on how to get someone’s attention politely, how to write an email, how to call a client on the phone, how to nicely but firmly push for what we need while simultaneously thanking the client for their help (even if it wasn’t helpful at all) … etc.

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        Yes! The rise of cell phones also means that most kids are going to have fewer opportunities to answer calls not directly addressed to them until they get to a work or other public-facing situation. Which is fine — most people still don’t get to learn things like how to transfer calls until they’re answering the office phone anyway; we’ve just moved more of the skillset to business-communication rather than basic household stuff.

    4. T3k*

      I grew up in the age where, by the time I was a preteen, IM was coming in, so I hardly talked on the phone after that. Add in the fact that we had caller ID essentially meant I never answered the phone unless I recognized the name, so I wasn’t used to getting cold calls, forwarding information, etc. As I worked during high school at a place where we didn’t answer phones, by my first internship in college, I didn’t really know how to do any of that and I can still remember that was my one mistake (I didn’t ask the woman for her number, only got her name). Thankfully she called back later, but ugh, that was embarrassing. Add in the fact that I felt like an idiot if I asked someone to repeat something and yeah, not good. I learned it’s better to be safe than sorry and would always double check with the caller after that.

    5. Marillenbaum*

      I dealt with this at the last office where I interned. There was another intern there, younger than me (I’m 26, and she’s an undergrad), who had TERRIBLE phone skills. She once literally took a message for a staffer that said “Fergus called”. Which Fergus? No idea. From which organization? No idea. Regarding? No idea. And where can he be reached? No idea. There was some mandatory phone training after that.

  39. NW Mossy*

    I’m not naturally a great “phone person,” but I’ve had to get a whole lot better with it since moving into management. What’s helped me a lot is realizing that it’s not all or none – the phone is just one tool of many that I can use to move forward with my work. It’s a good option for “I need to hash through an issue with someone who’s not in my office” or “this email string is getting unwieldy,” but I’ve also got other mechanisms (face-to-face meetings, video conference, instant messenger, email) that suit better for other situations.

    What I counsel my employees (assuming no medical issues like what the OP describes) is to avoid letting any one mode of communication become such a strong default that you forget/neglect to use other methods. If you’re using one mode repeatedly and not getting the results you need (either on a specific issue or with a particular person), switch gears and try another. Being willing to adapt your mode for the situation can often be just the ticket for breaking a stalemate.

  40. Dan*

    I receive very few individual calls to my phone, but have my share of conference calls.

    I don’t think the need for synchronous voice communication will ever go away, although the medium may change. Microsoft Skype already allows for VoIP through the computer, for which I use a headset.

    1. Natalie*

      Bleh, I hate conference calls so much more than standard calls. No matter what it seems like it’s always either a bunch of people talking over each other, or one person giving a presentation which would work better in some other format. Plus terrible sound quality and listening to someone’s hold music or side conversation.

      1. Cyclical*

        I do conference calls at work and my biggest problem is that all the men sound the same and all the women sound the same, so I have no idea who’s talking.

  41. Kc89*

    I’m afraid of offending her so I haven’t yet but I have this one friend that I really want to buy speech therapy classes for a birthday present or something because it’s impossible to understand her on the phone. I really think it’s going to impede her future career prospects with phone screens etc.

  42. Allypopx*

    I’ve found in my region and my field the etiquette is changing around phone calls. My boss and I just had a really good conversation around this, because he’s running into it too. Calling people without an appointment seems to be becoming a similar-but-slightly-tamer faux pas such as showing up at people’s offices without an appointment. Both fine or even necessary in some situations, but largely I find it’s better to schedule appointments and avoid cold-calling people as first contact, or without urgency. I don’t love talking on the phone, but I can deal with it. It’s just really becoming frowned upon in my context.

      1. Allypopx*

        Which I think addresses some of the bigger concerns I’m reading here: it’s invasive, you can’t prepare for it, etc – even the record keeping part, to an extent, because you’ll have a record the phone call took place at least and you can take notes or otherwise cross reference the data acquired to that appointment.

        Even from an anxiety perspective I think having an appointment let’s you psych yourself up for it (or make yourself crazy dreading it, or some combination of those things).

      2. LBK*

        Scheduling calls dials down my phone anxiety a lot. Being able to prepare for the conversation and not having to pull myself out of something else and switch gears eliminates a lot of what I find annoying/stressful/unproductive about the phone.

  43. Pup Seal*

    I’m not a phone person, and I recognize that’s a bit of an issue. I’m actually good at receiving calls, just bad when I have to make them. The times I get really nervous is when I have to make call on my boss’s behave. I’m always worried I’m going to give the incorrect information or ask the wrong questions or misunderstand something.

  44. LiveAndLetDie*

    I am in no way, shape, or form a “phone talker” person, to the point that I expect my friends and family to understand that phone calls are for emergencies only… but I have always understood that sometimes you have to get on a phone to do your job, so I’ve always just sucked it up. I find that the anticipation of being on the phone and talking to someone is far worse than actually doing the talking, at least.

  45. CatCat*

    “Generally speaking, I think people who dislike the phone would be doing themselves and their careers a service if they sucked it up and got on the phone even when they don’t want to.”

    When I was just out of college, I had a job that necessitated a lot of phone calls. I also hated talking on the phone. The job was ultimately pretty toxic, but I’m glad I learned what I could from it before I left. It *really* helped me get over my phone fear/hate since I had to suck it up and get on the phone to do my job.

    I prefer the phone a lot of times now. I’ll be in the middle of trying to compose an email and realize, “This would be way faster with a phone call” and just pick up the phone and make the call.

  46. GraceW*

    Perhaps getting some professional help would be a better idea, especially for a freelancer. Having such strong reactions to a phone conversation is very limiting.

    1. KellyK*

      The OP states that they’re getting professional help and taking meds. “Professional help” is not a magic button that makes the problem go away completely or instantaneously. I’m sure the OP is aware that it would be beneficial to their career if they were able to talk on the phone without issues, and they may well be working toward that. However, they get to decide both how to work on their health issues and what boundaries to set around this issue, particularly as a freelancer with their own business, who’s getting plenty of work.

  47. Gen*

    I’m a freelance illustrator with phone anxiety and find that saying “time zones and childcare mean that telephone discussion isn’t available” is fine and I’ve never lost a job because of it. I do work mostly internationally though.

    I do think that with something as detail orientated and time consuming as art it’s very important to get everything in writing, and I would never proceed with anything on the basis of phone information alone. If I had to do anything via the phone I’d summerise it in an email and send it back for approval first anyway, so another angle could be saying just that- ‘for the sake of accuracy and the best possible service all communication about commissions will be in writing’. There’s nothing worse than thinking a client asked for Aqua when they actually said Ochre or 80 columns instead of 18.

    Another thing that helps me personally is saying “right now isn’t convenient but I can call you 20 minutes” as it gives you a chance to build up to and the organised time can make it less stressful that a totally unexpected sudden call. Making a list of elements you need to discuss and using it as a script can help too.

  48. Stephanie*

    I’m ok with both. I think the phone’s more just another communication tool. Sometimes you do need to talk in real-time. It sounds like OP is one of the rare exceptions.

    I think your use of the phone depends on your role. I used to work in a operational setting and had to go on the floor a lot. People didn’t have regular access to emails (they *might* check it at the end of the shift), so a phone call was always easier. When you had to make decisions quickly, it also helped to chat on the phone.

    When I worked in legal consulting, our clients (usually attorneys) were also really cautious about discussing cases via email for fear of something coming up in discovery.

  49. Alton*

    “She kept telling me she hadn’t heard back from the person who we’re waiting on info from, but said she had followed up several times. Eventually I found out that all her follow-up had been by email; she’d never once picked up the phone and called, even when it was getting urgent. I had to order her to use the phone, and then we got the info we needed.”

    I think there’s also a bigger issue here of learning to adapt your communication as necessary. I have colleagues where if you tried to reach them via phone, you might never get ahold of them, so email is infinitely better. I also have colleagues who can be reached a lot more quickly by phone or who are usually quicker calling back than emailing. And I have colleagues who vary on this–if they’re in meetings or working from home, email might be quicker, but if they’re in the office, their office number might be quicker. You have to learn to gauge this and not just try the same (unsuccessful) approach over and over.

    1. Economist*

      I agree with this. In work and in my personal life, I think, what is the most effective way to get things done? In some situations, and with some people, it will be via phone, with others, email. In many situations we talk things through and come to agreement either over the phone or in person, then follow up with an email detailing what we agreed to. With some people, it will be contacting them first thing in the morning, others, late in the afternoon. It’s all about figuring out how to be effective.

    2. Princess Carolyn*

      I agree, but I also wish more people would get with the program and start checking their email regularly (like, at least twice a day). It’s a pretty standard form of business communication these days, so I’m kind of baffled at how many people just don’t really “do” email and prefer to call for non-urgent questions or leave me handwritten notes on my desk instead of using email.

  50. Kathy*

    I mostly do my job via email; but if I had to work with a freelance person who didn’t ever want to talk on the phone, I would pass. I rather spend a few minutes on the phone than having to take 20 to
    type an email.

  51. Dee*

    I completely agree with the reasoning, but boy do I hate the phrase “suck it up.”

  52. Is it Friday Yet?*

    +100 to the second part of Allison’s post. I find that so many professionals overuse email and don’t escalate communication by using the phone or even knocking on someone’s door when it’s important enough. For something that’s urgent and needs to be addressed immediately, DO NOT SEND ME AN EMAIL. If you want an electronic “trail” of the conversation, send one afterwards.

  53. WaitingforMacaroni*

    Know your audience!

    If you are working with someone who does not have a handle on their email inbox (“I emailed you two days ago.” response: “I have 1000 unread emails.”) then calling should get things done faster.

    Except, in my personal experience, with the same person, he’d say, “oh, yeah, you called me about that last week, I forgot, let me get back to you in an hour.” and then he doesn’t. And truly, nothing would get done and my emails would be my only proof that I followed up and when. Never having to work with him again was the silver lining to my unexpected lay off.

    The best way for short quick things is to call, then follow up with a summary email. I find that works well for people who have a handle on their work!

    For the OP: do what works for you and if you are firm but nice about it, using Alison’s advice, you should be fine with most folks. Good luck!

  54. Dinosaur*

    Tip for phone-averse people who feel uncomfortable with the unpredictable nature of phone conversations: I felt similarly before reading about discourse and register analysis specific to phone interactions. Reading about the scripts and expected responses and the ways that turn-taking happen on phones was incredibly helpful for me becoming comfortable on phone calls. The first two chapters of Evelyn Hatch’s “Discourse and Language Education” book had a lot of information on this topic, as does the entirety “Register, Genre, and Style” by Douglas Biber and Susan Conrad. Hatch’s chapters are very readable no matter what one’s linguistics background is. Biber and Conrad makes more sense with a basic background in linguistics.

  55. Antilles*

    “Eventually I found out that all her follow-up had been by email; she’d never once picked up the phone and called, even when it was getting urgent. I had to order her to use the phone, and then we got the info we needed.”
    I’ve had this issue enough that when directing people, I actually intentionally use the word “call” when the phone is appropriate – using anything more generic (“follow up”, “check with…”, “ask”) will invariably result in an email, even if it’s not really the right form of communication for what we need.

    1. AthenaC*

      I can’t count the number of times I’ve specifically told a subordinate to call, only to be copied on an email 10 minutes later.

      Makes me want to give them an icy glare accompanied by, “Is that what I asked you to do?”

      1. Mary*

        Happens to me all the time too. I ask one of my staff to ensure you check with x about y, we need to know for next week. And then at the start of the week I want to know what x said about y and I get Oh I never heard back from them I will follow up. And a day or two later it is getting urgent and I ask what about x and y and I get “Oh I will follow up with them” and as it is now urgent I tell them to speak to the person on the phone. Since clearly they are not answering emails, no amount of follow up will get their attention. And 5 minutes later I get an email showing where they ask yet again the same question. All so frustrating. If something needs to be escalated then sending another email is just not cutting it, and something that was a query with plenty of time etc suddenly becomes a big deal.

  56. CatCat*

    One thing that I do that is really helpful is I write down a bullet points on a note pad or sticky when I have a call to make because I inevitably will forget something (or even why I called… really… it’s like the phone version of “Why did I walk into this room?”)

    Having a bullet point of all topics to hit that I check off during the conversation really helps me with keeping focused on the phone, keeps me from rambling, and has kept me me from feeling anxious about forgetting something in the past. (Fortunately, I don’t really get anxious about that anymore, but I still find it helpful to keep conversations focused.)

    1. Allypopx*

      That’s my style of prep for meetings in general. I then have sub-bullets to take notes about what was actually discussed. It translates well to the phone.

  57. insert pun here*

    I don’t mind the phone (though I disliked it a LOT earlier in my career), but look: I’m working on a hundred teapots at a time. Each teapot has unique specs, requirements, problems, and solutions, and I (or my team) needs to make a decision on every single one of them. If these things aren’t in writing somewhere (even a quick “I think we should…” email from a colleague), they are one hundred percent, not joking even a little bit, gone forever.

  58. Sami*

    I’m a teacher who also hates talking on the phone but (for education) for many reasons (usually not good ones regarding students) it’s the fastest and best way to talk to parents. Two tips that have made a world of difference:
    — Stand up (I realize that might look strange in a cube or open office) but try at least starting your most difficult phone calls that way. Or use a conference room or empty office.
    — Smile. For at least a few seconds before you call. Same caveats as my first tip.
    I have phone and social anxiety and both of these things really do help.

  59. Mimmy*

    Great post Alison. One of my first jobs after college was as a receptionist at an eye doctor’s office. At the same time, I was working with a job coach through a Voc Rehab program. The job ended up being a poor fit and I was let go after only 2 weeks. Rather than coaching me on phone skills, this job coach recommended I AVOID jobs that specified phone work! Gee, thanks?

    Over the years I have held other jobs that required a lot of phone work, and I’ll admit, it always made me anxious because most times, you have no knowledge of the person who is calling in or you’ll be calling. I probably will never voluntarily pursue a job that entails mostly phone work, but I’m glad I didn’t completely listen to that job coach ;)

  60. Allypopx*

    I will say I think my phone skills deteriorated quickly once the world evolved to the point where you could order a pizza over the internet.

      1. Allypopx*

        Totally. I wasn’t even really joking. I discovered Foodler when I was like 20, which is also when I got unlimited texting, and the amount I used the phone decreased dramatically. Now I get a little anxious whenever I have to use the phone, though I ultimately find once I’m talking it’s not actually that bad.

    1. Risha*

      Very true. I was always bad on the phone, but it’s definitely worse now. My handwriting has followed a similar path!

  61. Amy*

    OP, can I just say congrats on doing well enough in your business that you can make decisions like this without having to worry about whether you lose a couple customers? That’s fantastic–clearly you’re doing well! Since you have that success to back you up, I think you should absolutely take advantage of your position and just lay out your communication options (e.g. “I can communicate over email or IM. Unfortunately I can’t use phones for medical reasons.”). Most people will be fine with that, and it sounds like you can afford to give up the few that aren’t.

    I’ve struggled with similar issues for years, except I don’t really have a reasonable way to not use phones. Alison’s advice for people who can’t avoid this is pretty spot-on–doing it a lot does help to some extent. Though for a serious anxiety reaction I think building up slowly is necessary (possibly with a therapist’s supervision). I started with calls with my mom (who knows my anxiety issues pretty well and isn’t going to judge me when I can’t get myself to pick up the phone, or hang up early, or can’t talk well, or don’t remember what she said, etc.), then worked up to calls with other close family members, then close friends/coworkers I know well, then coworkers I only work with occasionally. I still can’t do strangers (even, like, calling to make a haircut appointment) without both a solid script going in and scheduling a good hour afterwards to calm down and work through the anxiety. But I’m also not in a job where I need to talk to customers or other new people very often, so that’s mostly workable.

    It’s such a struggle to work around, though, both in the time it took to build up to my current level of functioning and in terms of the time needed to calm down after a call. If I could reasonably get rid of it completely, I absolutely would.

  62. Nervous Accountant*


    Not exactly work related but more related to phone issues–

    I frequently order items from abroad. The main way I contact the person is through text (whatsapp) but there’s also a feature on whatsapp (and other apps) that lets you record a voice message and we’ve utilised that in the past. I think it combines the best of both (texting so you can rehearse what to say) and the ease of talking rather than typing.

  63. Purple Jello*

    I’d like to be able to say “what’s a mimeograph machine?” but… I remember the smell of the printed papers after picking up the pile to take back to my classroom. I used to love running mimeographs for my teachers. Fourth grade, 1970. I still remember what the room with the machine looked like.

    1. Beancounter Eric*

      I’m a few years younger, but yeah….the scent of freshly printed mimeograph pages….about as addictive as the scent of 35mm photo film. I miss opening Tri-X canisters…..but don’t take my Canon digital away!!

  64. The Mighty Thor*

    I’m not exactly averse to using the phone, but still prefer email or instant messenger. I like to think about what I’m going to say ahead of time. I avoid answering the phone because I hate going in to conversations blindly.

    My strategy is this:

    I let almost all of my calls go to voicemail, then immediately listen to the message. That way I’m responsive, but not going into a conversation with no idea who it is or what they want.

    An added benefit is that not everyone leaves a message. If they don’t bother to leave a voicemail, it can’t have been that important. Great way to keep frivolous things off my to do list.

    1. The Mighty Thor*

      Edit: I’m not in a client facing role that would expect frequent phone interaction.

    2. Kimberly Martin*

      My voice mail says that I am often in client meetings and not always able to take a call and suggest that they email me instead for a faster response.

    3. Unlucky Bear*

      I do this exact same thing. I don’t often get outside calls, but when I do, it’s usually a chapter director wanting me to look up something for them. I always wait for the voice mail, that way I can look up what they want at my leisure, usually go over it a few times, maybe check with my boss that I’m doing it right, then call them back. I’m getting anxious just thinking about flailing about the computer, frantically looking up something while a director waits impatiently on the other end.

      I’m not a huge phone fan, but I can definitely say it got worse a few years ago, when I worked at a place where one of the VPs refused to use the phone to communicate specifically so that he could deny things he said to us later. He’d ask me to call him because he had a list of things for me to do, I’d ask him to email me the list so I could be sure I got it down correctly, he’d refuse and then call up and tell me to things A-G, then later on get upset and claim he told me to do things H-Z as well, ugh. Luckily my supervisors knew perfectly well he was full of [poop]. What a horrible job that was.

  65. Clewgarnet*

    What I found really helped was getting a headset, rather than using the telephone receiver. It makes the telephone call feel more like a face-to-face conversation. (Obviously, if face-to-face conversations are an issue, this won’t help!)

  66. Sara without an H*

    I’m an introvert, and while I don’t hate the phone, I tend to avoid it if at all possible. My mind goes blank, or I get distracted in the middle of the conversation. A useful mind hack I’ve found is to batch my phone calls and make a list of talking points I need to cover for each one.

    In general, I’ll save phone calls for simple transactions, and go to email for anything that requires detail, a permanent record, or both.

    OP’s issues are on a different scale, of course, and I think Allison’s suggestions are good ones.

  67. Kimberly Martin*


    I was exactly you for a long time! I run my own graphic design oriented business (book design). For about 10 years it was just me and I had to take clients phone calls. I have social anxiety and hate talking on the phone. I got anxious when I knew I had to make or take a phone call and never felt I did well when I was on the phone. I forced myself to take the calls and over time I got better at them. But, I still hate them and get anxious about it. Sometimes when that phone rings, I still let it go to voice mail and email them back.

    Now, I have an office and not only do I have to talk to my clients over the phone, they also come in and talk to me in person. Most of my job now is offering consulting services, with employees doing the graphic design, so I can’t get away with just emails. Plus I teach classes on self-publishing twice a month to a group of 15-20 people! While I have managed my anxiety enough to be able to do those things, I still get very anxious leading up to it, often not sleeping well the night before a client consult or a class. But, I have learned that once I start talking, all is well.

    I am glad to hear you are seeing a therapist. I started last year and it has been a big help!

  68. Biff Welly*

    While in some ways I get the phone thing – if given a choice I would probably e-mail first. But sometimes you are going to be much more efficient by picking up the phone and talking to someone. The OP is a graphic artist? You are going to have to meet with people to talk about their needs and get feedback on the art submitted.

    I mean seriously, whats the worst that can happen on the phone? It is a skill, you can practice at it and its just one of your tools. You have to be able to be adaptable in todays business and that includes all methods of communication.

    1. MWKate*

      Unfortunately when you have an anxiety disorder you can’t simply make yourself do it. It’s just not how it works. I’m sure she knows nothing is going to happen on the phone – but that doesn’t mean it’s not a source of severe anxiety for her.

    2. Allypopx*

      I totally get where you’re coming from, and that might be valid with lowkey phone anxiety, which I think is largely what Alison was saying. But OP has a real anxiety issue and offering the perspective “what’s the worst that could happen?” isn’t going to fix it. It’s not a logical or rational reaction.

      1. Cat*

        It’s not going to fix it by itself but it is a standard part of therapy – imagining what the worst that could happen is and realizing you can deal with it.

        1. Cyclical*

          I’ve never particularly liked this because honestly, the worst that can happen is that I get fired because I can’t make phone calls, and then I become homeless and die on the street.

          1. Observer*

            That’s actually something a good therapist will work through. One thing is that often the worst case scenarios are just not likely. For another, people often need to be able to function in situations where there really are significant possible harms to getting it wrong. And while it makes a lot of sense for someone with a low tolerance for dealing with this to avoid jobs that have a lot of such scenarios (so don’t, eg, take a job as a 911 dispatcher if you have high anxiety levels) it’s worth developing the tools to deal with these things at least without freezing up or becoming a quivering mess, because sometimes you just don’t have a choice if you are going to function in life.

            This is true for almost any type of anxiety.

        2. Risha*

          I don’t think this version of therapy would work on me. I already know my grandmother would love it if I called.

        3. Amy*

          I’ve had therapists try this approach for me while trying to treat my anxiety, and I find it so counterproductive! I’ve had my anxiety disorder for, as far as anyone can tell, my entire life. It didn’t get diagnosed formally until adulthood, and the years of untreated severe anxiety gave my brain lots of room to learn to justify what it was feeling. As a result, I’m really good at catastrophizing–the worst case scenario I can think of is almost definitely *not* something I can deal with. And I’m also really good at thinking of reasonably plausible ways that it could happen, so it’s not easily overridden. And of course, once I’m thinking of a terrifying and somewhat plausible worst-case-scenario outcome that I probably couldn’t handle, I become even more anxious about the thing than I was before.

          My therapists have seemed really frustrated by this too, so maybe this isn’t the ‘normal’ response…but I know I’m not unique, I know a couple people with similar tendencies. Throwing logic at anxiety is kind of doomed to failure, in my experience.

          1. Anxa*

            Oh my goodness, yes!

            The worst that could happen is probably getting fired and not rehired. That could be a life of death issue depending on the strength of my social network at the time.

            1. Amy*

              Right? Seriously, the worst-case scenario is very often outside my ability to handle things. Even the worst-case probable scenario can be pretty darn bad. I think that’s true for most people–we can plan for up to a certain level of potential badness, and after that we’re screwed no matter what we do, so our best bet is to not dwell on the possibility. So why is examining the worst-case scenario supposed to be therapeutic???

              1. Observer*

                Sure. But in a huge percentage of the cases where people freeze up, the worst case probable scenarios is NOT that bad, there are often ways to lower the probability, there are often ways to lower the negative impact, and sometimes you just have to learn to deal because you have no choice.

    3. KellyK*

      No, you don’t actually have to be infinitely adaptable. There is no obligation on anybody to harm themselves in order to make things more convenient for other people. The OP described a clinical phobia, not a vague distaste for using the phone. If we were talking about a vague dislike, then the answer to “what’s the worst that could happen?” might be “I feel uncomfortable, but I get the business” or “The client gets annoyed because I sound stressed out.” With an actual clinical phobia, the worst could be “I have a severe panic attack, which not only prevents me from getting any more work done that day, but also sets the gradual exposure therapy I was doing back by several months. I also have to pay for Lyft or Uber to take me to pick my kid up, because I had to take anxiety meds & couldn’t drive.”

      It’s also worth flipping the question around. What’s the worst that could happen if the OP never uses the phone? They lose out on some business. They’re willing to accept this risk. As a freelancer, they get to make that choice.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Thank you!

        And as seen from much of this thread, phone anxieties of varying degrees are *really really common*, so I’d imagine there are plenty of potential clients who aren’t thrilled about the idea of talking to a designer on the phone either.

  69. Betty Darling*

    I’ve taught myself to compensate for my phone-averse preferences now that I’m in a job where phone conversations are more necessary, but they are one of my least favorite forms of communication. I don’t have a clinical hearing loss, but I have difficulty understanding people over the phone, and I use facial context a lot when speaking face to face. Also, I have recently put into words something that has been with me my whole life: I have a terrible experiential memory, aka my memory of the things I say and do fade very fast. I’m working on it, and I take loads of notes when I have the means, but I rely on the communication log of email much more readily.

    One of the most useful things I learned how to do was to write down basically EVERYTHING I needed to say or ask beforehand, including my own name and phone number, so that I wouldn’t be caught off-guard and make myself more nervous. This helped lessen my phone anxiety a lot. (This is more for us lowercase “a” anxious phone users, not folks with capital “A” Anxiety like the OP.)

  70. Beancounter Eric*

    My gripes with phone calls:
    1. Small talk – get to the point, please.
    2. Lack of a written record – “Well, go back and send a confirming email” – how about put it in writing to begin with?!?
    3. Current phone system at work doesn’t work well – noise, hard to hear calls. Also, sometimes a noisy environment, which complicates matters.
    4. We spent X putting in email systems – why are we spending X maintaining email, mobile email, etc. if people aren’t going to use it? It’s 2017, for Pete’s sake…..

    Thankfully, I don’t deal with clients that often, and most of our interaction with them is via email.

    1. De Minimis*

      Yeah #2 and #3 are big issues for me too. A lot of what I’m asked to do involves making changes in our system, and it’s much easier to ensure that’s going to get done correctly if there’s something written down to refer to [other than whatever scribbles I’m trying to make during a phone call.]

      And our phone system is atrocious as far as sound quality, and very little can be done about it [we’re affiliated with a university, so we save a great deal of money by paying to use their phone system, but the system is pretty shoddy.]

      1. De Minimis*

        Also, without a written record it can be tougher to delegate tasks. So much easier when I can just forward an e-mail!

    2. Observer*

      1. Small talk is not confined to the phone – and you can cut small talk out of phone conversations fairly easily.

      2. The written record is often much clearer if it’s a summary of the conversation rather than a long back and forth. It depends on the specifics, but I’ve seen this happen many times.

      4. That’s like saying “We spent x on a heating system. Why are we now spending X on an AC system?” Sometimes you need heat sometimes you need cooling. Same thing here – sometimes a conversation speeds things up and simplifies them. Sometime not. But that’s why you have different tools for different things.

  71. SL #2*

    I hate talking on the phone too, but for me, I can separate it between scheduled calls and unscheduled calls. Scheduled calls are fine; I’ve had time to prep for it, both in terms of gathering the necessary background info and getting myself into the mental space for a phone call. Unscheduled calls? You’re going to catch me off-guard and unprepared and I’m just not going to be able to give you the answers you need right away. It’s inefficient for everyone involved; I have to look up the information right away, dragging me out of my original work, and you’re sitting on the other end of the line for a few minutes waiting for me to look through the company Dropbox.

    OP, I know you have your own reasons for not taking client calls, but if they really insist, maybe you could institute for a rule that you only take previously scheduled calls, as if they’re meetings, and that you won’t answer the phone if they just have a “quick question?” Basically treat unscheduled calls likes they’re unscheduled visitors walking into your office and yelling at the receptionist that they need to speak with you right away.

  72. Annie Mouse*

    My current job, I’ve got comfortable speaking on the radio handsets and the phone when it’s work related. At home, unless it’s someone I’m comfortable talking to, I will put off ringing as long as I can, I hate it!

  73. Taylor Swift*

    When I was in my early 20s I would have been the person who avoided the phone, even if it meant get chided by my manager and not getting necessary information. It took a while to get over that, but now I’m fairly comfortable picking up the phone and even cold calling people for info if I have to. But my aversion to phone calls never reached an anxiety level, it was just timidness and a lack of professional maturity.

  74. MWKate*

    OP – I don’t have experience in the graphic design world and so I don’t know the industry norms – but is it likely that you will have repeat customers? If so, as your business grows I would think you would cultivate a client base that is aware of your preferences. If you get references from them, then you can build on that understanding of your communication preferences.

    If you are not concerned about losing clients over this I think it would be perfectly fine to follow Allison’s script. I think people are often more accommodating and understanding than we expect. Good luck!

  75. Stacy*

    I’m partially deaf, so talking on the phone is really difficult for me, even with the equipment I have to help me hear better. Still can’t get out of phone calls. :(

  76. AthenaC*

    Re: “I had to directly order them to get on the phone to get the information we needed.”

    Full disclosure: I was that person at one point, too. I still hate the phone. But I just mentally square my shoulders and do it anyway. My ability to have handled it with myself just made me EXTRA irritated with a subordinate a few months ago –

    We received an email from a law firm with a pdf letter attached; the email was sent by the admin assistant, cc’ing the attorney that wrote it, and the admin wrote, “Please call (attorney) at XXX-XXX-XXXX with any followup questions.” Me being the awesome manager I am (and humble, too!) I took a look at the letter, told my subordinate the followup questions we had, and told him to call the attorney (as instructed in the email). Well wouldn’t you know, not only does he NOT CALL, but he emails the admin assistant (not even the attorney!), addresses her by her last name (what?), and asks her our questions. At that point, I got on the phone with my subordinate and reiterated word-for-word what I had already told him. I was maybe a little firmer than I should have been, but come on! Follow direction!

    Anyway, just wanted to vent. I’m aware there’s a BIG difference between actual phobia or anxiety and “I don’t like the phone,” but unfortunately many people who just “don’t like the phone” often try to borrow severity from phobia or anxiety, which just makes it all the more difficult to be taken seriously when you DO have a phobia.

  77. Kenny the Barber*

    Not sure why this phobia gets a “suck it up” while other’s don’t. Maybe the bird guy should have sucked it up, which would have avoided a bunch of problems caused by his phobia?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Because as I clearly stated in the post, that part of what I wrote isn’t addressed to people with actual phobias like the OP. It’s addressed to people who just dislike the phone, which is a totally different thing.

      1. Jaguar*

        It’s also worth mentioning (and I could be wrong on this) that psychiatrists treating phobias will get their patients to confront their phobia (over a period of time and using staged exposure to the phobia – a bird in a cage before a bird outside one, for instance). It’s a longer period than typical “suck it up,” but it amounts to the same suck it up thing, generally speaking.

        Not wanting to do something you should be doing isn’t an excuse to not do it. You make yourself significantly more valuable to employers (not to mention those around you and yourself) if you’re someone that will “suck it up.”

        1. KellyK*

          You’re right, but the key part of this is that the patient gets to decide when and how to progress. They get comfortable with a picture of a bird before moving on gradually to a video of a bird, a caged bird, etc.. They might also be more stringent about avoiding the trigger outside of the controlled therapy environment, because jumping from “caged bird, all the way across the room” to “bird outside is two feet away from me” can set them back, and they have to start over with “picture of a bird.”

          There’s a giant difference between “Gradually learn to suck it up, with assistance from a trained professional in a supportive environment” and “Instantly suck it up right this minute, regardless of whether that’s actually harmful.”

          That’s not to say that you’re arguing the second, but a lot of people use the fact that exposure therapy exists to argue that everyone should just instantly be able to cope with their triggers in whatever form, and that any attempt to set boundaries around them is weak or lazy. So I want to really stress how different they are.

          1. Jaguar*

            Right. I was trying to make that distinction but perhaps didn’t emphasize it enough. I wanted to point out that having a phobia means avoidance is the best medicine and therefore, if you don’t have a phobia, you have especially have no good reason to avoid it.

            1. KellyK*

              I don’t think I agree with that. People are allowed to have things they want to avoid or minimize, even if they don’t rise to the level of phobias. If you’re happier talking on the phone as little as possible, you’re totally allowed to *not* get a job in a call center.

              1. Observer*

                Sure. But there is a difference between avoiding it when practical / don’t get a job at a call center and

              2. Jaguar*

                Of course, preferences are fine. But if you had a close friend or sister or someone you cared about that said they were avoiding certain jobs because they were anxious or nervous about having to talk to people on the phone, would you respect that preference or encourage them to reconsider how they’re approaching things? Because I wouldn’t let a friend get away with that.

                1. Elsajeni*

                  Yes, I definitely would respect that preference! I also wouldn’t try to push my friends who feel faint at the sight of blood to go into nursing, or my friends who are afraid of flying to pursue careers as flight attendants. For that matter, I wouldn’t try to push my friends to pursue certain types of jobs even if the only reason they had for avoiding them was “eh, I’m just not into it”! I really, really feel that it’s not my place to direct the job-searching decisions of anyone who I’m not supporting financially.

  78. Fake Eleanor*

    I don’t enjoy making phone calls, but I’ve also had plenty of experiences where email or IM turned out to be far less efficient. Calling someone is rarely my first instinct — I much prefer face-to-face conversations when conversation is required — but being able to talk on the phone has proved a useful, valuable professional skill even in environments that offer other options.

    I get having preferences, even strong preferences, but in my experience being inflexible about communication channels is a hindrance, not a help. (This goes the other way, too, of course — not everything needs to be a phone call.)

    1. Fake Eleanor*

      To be very clear, I’m not suggesting that the OP, who’s found a workable balance, needs to start using the phone. But if you’re dealing with preferences rather than deeper issues, it’s good to practice the stuff you’re not good at and appreciate what it’s useful for.

  79. SimplyAlissa*

    And I’m one of those people who hates the phone because it doesn’t make anything clearer for me, and just seems to make everyone more frustrated. I have just enough hearing loss, that I tend to miss bits & pieces of the conversation on the phone. The assistive devices I’ve tried thus far haven’t made a difference. When you spend the entire conversation mis-hearing what someone is saying, or having to ask them to repeat themselves six or more times, it certainly doesn’t make the work any faster. In person conversations flow much better, because I rely on lip reading as a sort of backup. (So I’m hearing you and reading your lips, thus I’m much more likely to catch all or most of what you’re saying.)

    I’ve tried saying “I have some hearing loss, so phone conversations don’t work for me, but I’d be happy to chat (via whatever app) or do my best to clarify by email” (assuming meeting in person isn’t an option because we’re not in the same town). But then when I do meet someone in person afterwards, they act like I lied to them because it turns out I’m not 100% deaf. Because, ironically enough, they weren’t “listening” when I said I have SOME hearing loss.

    So basically I hate talking to people in general. :P

  80. MashaKasha*

    One thing about phone calls that makes me break out in cold sweat is when I get a call and the person on the other end says, “This is Bob, I’ve got Bill, Matilda, Fluffy and Sparky with me. We’re all in my office on speaker. Let’s discuss Very Important Issue” followed by Bill, Matilda, Sparky etc saying something from different far ends of Bob’s office, with everything they say coming through so badly jumbled as a result of speaker phone + them sitting far away from it, that I cannot understand a word. Our conversations are usually 50% discussion of Important Issue and 50% me going, “can you say that again please?” UGH!

  81. Shadow*

    Is this any different than what most everyone goes through when learning how to do public speaking/presenting/leading group meetings?

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      Sure. Phobias aren’t just discomfort with not knowing how to do something. I have moderate social anxiety that for whatever weird reason is *not* triggered by public speaking. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but I’m pretty decent at it because I can prepare ahead of time and it doesn’t involve a lot of the specific interpersonal stuff that gives me trouble. Learning how to give presentations was a bit awkward, but just in the usual way that being bad at something is usually not much fun. Many other types of social interaction are exhausting, and if my general anxiety level is bad enough my brain will just zone out and I literally can’t do them. Practicing doesn’t make them any less uncomfortable; my strategy there has been to learn how to judge my energy/anxiety levels and save up difficult conversations for when I’m more able to have them. There are some professions where this would be a major setback, but luckily I have no particular interest in any of them.

  82. JM60*

    I hate talking on the phone partially because I have auditory processing disorder, which sometimes makes it really hard to understand what someone says when I can’t see them and the quality of the audio is less than ideal. And if I can’t understand someone the first time, I often won’t be able to understand what they’re saying after asking them to repeat themselves. Email eliminates this problem. Email also has a huge advantage of providing a record of what was said, whereas over the phone, everything that I didn’t both understand and remember (or write down) is lost. Additionally, a lot of information is more easily passed via email. It’s a lot easier to copy and paste a log file containing error messages than it is to verbally describe it.

    I’m glad that we almost never communicate via phone at my workplace, and I’d avoid working anywhere where using the phone commonly was expected. Communicating via the phone strikes me as inefficient and old fashioned.

  83. Observer*

    OP, quick thought (I haven’t read the comments yet, so someone may have mentioned it.) Could you do sms type chatting? If so, that would be something to offer, because it is more immediate than emails and feels a bit more like a conversation that lets you wrap things up in one (extended) transaction.

  84. Anonymous 40*

    It’s interesting how we treat an aversion to the phone as potentially career limiting while an equally unprofessional avoidance of email is treated as a valid personal preference. How everyone tacitly accepts that Person A’s preference for the phone automatically trumps Person B’s preference for email. I would give email haters the same advice they’re giving to phone haters: Get over it and learn to handle it effectively.

    Email is not a new development or a fad. It’s not going away. Using email is not optional anymore and ignoring or avoiding it should not be acceptable. It’s not a mysterious skill that’s hard to master. If you don’t like it and avoid using it, it’s time to put some effort into learning how to handle it effectively and responsibly. I see a lot of people in this thread who could give those people plenty of advice.

    Use the medium appropriate to the situation. That’s not always email just because one party dislikes the phone. But it’s equally not always the phone just because one party dislikes email, either. In professional situations, it’s not any better to say I didn’t read that email than it would be to say I didn’t listen to what you said on that call.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But we don’t treat email as something it’s okay to avoid, at least not here or in anything I’ve ever written. It’s just as unacceptable to avoid email.

    2. MuseumChick*

      I kind of see what you are saying. There is this who minor fad of people only checking their email one or twice a week (I think there was a letter about that here once). And I do see a stronger reaction to anti-phone people than anti-email people. I seem more, I guess I would call it, hostility aimed at teenagers who don’t have good phone skills than older people who hate email.

      The bottom line is everyone needs to have both skills. You need to know how to make outgoing and incoming calls, and how to send professional emails.

      1. Anonymous 40*

        Yes, exactly. I think there’s a clear attitude that phone calls are more important or deserving of attention than emails. I agree that they’re more urgent/immediate, but I think a lot of people confuse urgency with priority.

        Here’s what I mean. Using Alison’s example above:

        “She kept telling me she hadn’t heard back from the person who we’re waiting on info from, but said she had followed up several times. Eventually I found out that all her follow-up had been by email; she’d never once picked up the phone and called, even when it was getting urgent. I had to order her to use the phone, and then we got the info we needed.” This is always said in a tone of exasperation, and understandably so.

        To me, the manager’s exasperation is misplaced. The problem here is that the other party ignored several communications from the employee, not that the employee didn’t pick up the phone. But this situation is so common that it’s become the go-to “use the phone” example, and the blame universally falls on the employee. Pragmatically, yes, the employee should make the call. That’s the advice I’d give an employee in this situation. But it seems to me that the only reason for the manager to blame the employee is because she inherently sees email as less important and ignoring it as somewhat acceptable.

        I’m probably alone in this, but that’s okay. I think, in general, we hold people to a lower standard for email than we do for phone calls and that’s exactly why problems like this persist.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But if the other party is outside the organization, it doesn’t matter that they’re to blame. The person still needs to get the info and it’s irritating if they’re just continuing to try email over and over when it’s not working. There’s a kind of professional immaturity to that, regardless of the faults of the person they’re contacting.

          1. Anonymous 40*

            I think that requires seeing email as an inherently less important means of communication, though. If we reverse the means of communication – the employee has called over and over, left voicemails, and gotten no response – would we still hold the employee responsible? Would we really look at that situation and call the employee professionally immature for not trying email? My feeling is that we’d say, “Wow, Fergus has tried really hard to get in touch with them and they’re ignoring him. What’s wrong with these people?”

            1. Allypopx*

              I would say that person should try emailing. To me being able to pursue multiple forms of communication and realize some might be more effective with different people and situations is a professional skill.

    3. Princess Carolyn*

      Alison doesn’t treat email as something that’s OK to avoid, but I have found many departments or companies I work with do treat email aversion as a simple preference. Invariably, it’s people who I’d describe as more old school in a lot of ways (not necessarily just older colleagues, because plenty of them are good about email). And yeah, they tend to treat phone aversion as a refusal to adapt. Maybe seniority plays into it sometimes, so we have to tolerate more experienced colleagues’ refusal to get with the times? It’s annoying.

  85. EA in CA*

    My some of junior staff and interns have never used anything but a smartphone, and even then, they only text. So getting them comfortable with using the phone in a more traditional sense is typically the first thing I end up coaching them on.

    What got me over my phone-shyness was taking a job as a receptionist. Being a quiet, reserved type, I had to work on breaking out of my phone-phobia. I wrote scripts for all the basic phone requests or questions that I would get to help me get comfortable. Doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s what worked for me until I was comfortable getting off script in a phone conversation.

    1. Hermit crab*

      Definitely agreed. I’ve always been very shy and anxious (to the point of freezing up completely or panicking when I was younger) about social interactions, so I sought out opportunities to improve my phone and in-person speaking skills (tutoring other students, class presentations, etc.). Scripts and practice were the only things that helped. Though speaking still isn’t enjoyable, having an idea of what you need to say is very helpful when you’re just getting comfortable with talking. Preparedness is a great way to combat being frightened.

    2. Princess Carolyn*

      I’ve been out of college and in the working world for six years and I still struggle with landline phones. Fortunately, I’m getting old enough that people have stopped assuming I can/should fill in for the receptionist; those duties were always my nightmare.

  86. Ramona Flowers*

    With graphic design it’s sometimes helpful to talk back and forth – instant messenger could be a good solution.

  87. H.C.*

    At work, I don’t so much have phone phobia as I do phone-related irritation, especially in holding people accountable, since people may misremember, forget or backtrack what they said during the call.

    As such, nowadays I usually type a quick email (“Hey, great talking to you all, just summarizing the call and next steps . . . “) so we are all on the same page.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Frankly, that’s really good practice. I used to work with a high school whose guidance office did exactly that. “So glad we spoke earlier! To confirm the details regarding your May visit….” They got the ease of the phone conversation, I got the confirmation via text that I preferred. Everybody wins!

  88. LCL*

    This is my public service announcement.
    When you are communicating with a person with minor hearing problems, and they say they can’t hear you, don’t just yell into the phone.
    Instead, talk slower.
    Try to speak each word fully, instead of trailing off. That’s what radio announcers do.

    Allow a little bit of space between each word. Think of Valley girl talk and how each word slurs into the next. Don’t. Do. That. Do the opposite.

    If you have the ability to drop the yeahs, errs, stammers while talking, do so. There was a long thread yesterday about why those should be left in when you are speaking. NOT ON THE PHONE.

    Think of how a dispatcher in any profession speaks. You might not know any, but you’ve heard one on TV on old time cop shows. Remember the dispatcher voiceover that opens Adam-12? Emulate that style, when you are working with someone who can’t hear you well over the phone.

    And finally, a lot of modern digital phones are really lousy quality. Not much you can do.

  89. Poster Child*

    The thing I don’t like about phone calls are when they are unexpected for one side or the other. So a planned conference call where I know both I and others on the phone have time to talk about a particular topic is more comfortable for me (although I still don’t love the phone).
    If someone stopped by in person, I actually prefer that to an unexpected phone call because then I can read body language.

  90. Casuan*

    I haven’t time to read all the comments, so if this is redundant, I’m sorry

    OP: Absolutely you can communicate by whatever methods work for you.

    The comments about how this might turn away perspective clients made me think about this from another angle…

    As your client, what do I need?
    Definitely I need to know that your methods of communication are due to a medical issue. If instead you told me “because of my schedule, I can’t…” then I’d be put off right there. If you can’t schedule time for a call for me, what else can you not schedule for? Would you make deadlines or give me excuses that you’re behind because of your schedule?
    This scheduling excuse could even cause me to tell someone “I saw her work & it was excellent. When we communicated, it was only via email because she can’t seem to schedule an informational call with a prospective client!”
    As for the medical issue, all I need to know is that you’re physically unable to talk on the phone. Of course I might be curious, although I’d never ask or otherwise prompt you for more information.

    Mostly, OP, I need to be able to communicate with you by the methods that best work for me. This is because of how I work & think, or if I’m on the road & can’t type [correcting voice recognition can be distracting]… & this is because of my own health issues.

    Emails, IMs & texts… that’s okay, although these aren’t always a good substitute for verbal communication. If I have to choose between spending 30mins to compose an email for a thought that will take me 3mins to vocalise, vocalising wins.
    My needing to vocalise does not mean that I need to talk with you. I’d be glad to leave you a voicemail or send you an audio file & you can reply via written communication.
    I’m not going to devote a day or two for a text-based discussion that could take 10mins if we could talk it out, even if part of that was me leaving a voicemail.

    I’d gladly schedule a time with you, which means that we have a dedicated window to communicate, whether it’s for 10mins or an hour. This could mean just a written exchange, although if I need to have a give-&-take I’m probably going to need to vocalise my part. I don’t need visual contact, an open phone line will do.
    I’m totally okay if you need to type your responses, especially if I can confirm what you’ve said [eg: “You’re saying that if you correct this then we should change that, too?”].

    nb: If I knew you had a medical issue, then probably I’d assume you had a transcription device which would permit me to talk to you.

    the gist: If your portfolio was strong enough for me to engage your services, then I’ll be willing to sort out how best we can communicate. If the only way for you to do that is by the written word, that’s okay. You’d probably need to be willing to let me communicate vocally as needed.
    Definitely I’d assume there’s a learning curve, not unlike with any new colleague or client.

    the deal-breaker: The deal-breakers are consistently poor grammar & most text contractions… eg: b, r, u, b4… don’t even think of “2” for any use other than to denote the number… I don’t use them tho it’s okay if friends do in personal texts. However unless one’s business is Text Contractions, they’re not for professional use. Most acronyms are okay, though.

    OP, I wish you much success in your business!!

  91. Buffy Summers*

    I really hate talking on the phone too! I avoid it as much as possible, but ultimately there are just times when I have to pick up the phone and make the call or talk to the person calling. Emails are so much better for me because I’m a decent communicator when it comes to written communications, plus email gives you time to think over what you’re trying to convey and reread things. You can’t go back on the phone and say, “Oops, I shouldn’t have said that. Let me just erase that and start again.”
    Know what I mean, Vern?

  92. Undine*

    In my job, I have a lot of coworkers who are 8-10 hours different from me, so we definitely do as much as possible by email and IM. However, there are many many times when we IM back and forth a few times and someone finally says “Can I call?” We then can clear things up pretty quickly. When it’s a complicated concept you are just.not.getting, phone can be very helpful.

    For graphic design, this might mean you can’t take on some particularly complicated projects, but if you have an approach that works for you and your clients, good for you for building a work life that is works for you!

  93. Audiophile*

    I’m not a phone person either. I’ve now held several development jobs where talking on the phone was a part of the job. In my current position, it has become a significant part of the job because of issues they’ve had in the past. It’s helped me in some ways get over my phone issues, though it hasn’t been easy.

  94. LizB*

    Unrelated-to-the-OP anecdote about phone hate: I have an employee who, entirely of their own accord, set a goal of using the phone more than email and has been rocking it. They noticed that phone calls usually got better results in our line of work, and decided they wanted to push themselves to communicate that way more often. I’m really impressed with them — I also hate being on the phone, and have only developed my phone skills through being forced to by absolutely non-emailable work needs. I’d never even considered taking on that challenge just as a personal self-development goal.

    With that being said, if I were the OP, I would 100% communicate only via non-phone methods. If it’s not holding you back professionally, why bother? Maybe try and do occasional low-stakes calls outside of work, just in case you ever end up with a need to be on the phone so you don’t get rusty… but don’t put yourself through that if you don’t have to.

  95. GuitarLady*

    I work for myself as a tax preparer, and I pretty much refuse to talk to clients on the phone, for a variety of reasons. First because ALL my work-flow goes through my email. When dealing with 275 people in the span of 3 months, I simply can’t have 5 different places where client info could be (like voicemail, phone calls, facebook, texts, as well as email). I need it to all be in one place, or people fall through the cracks. I tell all my clients to email me, and on my website the “contact me” page is just an email-based form (my phone number is not on there) but occasionally a new client will get my number by referral and call me and leave a voicemail. When that happens, they get a text telling them to email me. I simply do not have time to play phone-tag with people during tax season, nor can I take the added complication of trying to remember who I have and haven’t called back about things. Some clients don’t (want to) understand why they can’t just call me and tell me some piece of information quickly, but what they don’t understand is that I work on returns at night and in between appts, and if they call me, they will be interrupting me doing something else, requiring me to pause that and get into their stuff, which can be crazy-making. If you email me your question or piece of information, I can choose to work on your stuff whenever I get a chance, which could be in the 15 minutes between appts, or at 1 in the morning.
    And secondly, in my business having all info in writing is invaluable. Especially when it comes to taxes and money, people hear what they want to hear and claim they told me things they never did. Thus my policy is, either you say it to me in person during your appt, or you say it in writing. No phone. (the only exception is giving me sensitive information like account numbers that you don’t want to put in an email, but luckily thats rare enough I can deal)
    And like the LW, I can do that, because I’m the boss, and if you don’t like it, go find someone else, I have more business than I know what to do with. I don’t have anxiety, I just absolutely despise phone tag and trying to keep track of what was said on phone calls and who I’ve talked to. I have had a couple clients who were “phone people” or even “text people” who kept pushing back on my policy, but bottom line, you either follow my policies or your return doesn’t get done by me, and really I would rather you find someone else who is happy to work with you in the medium you want then continue to pester me by phone.

  96. ellis55*

    As someone who has to make calls a lot for work and *hates* it because I don’t like to feel on the spot, I’ve found that I do much better when I remind myself, “just be honest.” Not that I would otherwise lie, but the unpredictability of the phone is oftentimes what’s so scary about it – that is, what if someone asks a question I don’t have the answer to right now, what if I’m not sure how to put something, what if z, what if y.

    I’ve started to just say *that* rather than casting about looking for something better. That is, “Hi, I’m calling with a question about ‘x’ and I’m not sure who to talk to – could you point me in a direction?”

    Or in response, “hmmm, I haven’t gotten that question before, but I see why you’re asking. I don’t want to give you the wrong information – could I touch base with [x] and get back to you by [time]?”

    Or, if something is confusing, instead of sitting there frantically trying to decode it, “I’m not sure I understand – are you asking [x] or [y]?” or, “Okay – great. Can I just clarify, did you need me to [y] or [z]?”

    Basically, it’s okay not to have all the answers, it’s okay to ask for help. Phone calls aren’t a test where you are supposed to be both all-knowing and flawless. You have lifelines. If what you’re thinking is, “I’m not sure,” you can say that. Don’t hold yourself to e-mail standards in a more immediate forum – peoples’ expectations change when they know you don’t have research time before you respond.

    And I always send a follow-up e-mail, which encourages future communications to go there.

  97. Ramona Flowers*

    Also… I’m gen X and got told off for tying up the family phone line with calls to friends. I got my first post-college job after a week of work experience and one thing that particularly stood out was that I picked up the phone and made calls very professionally. Apparently I was the first workie ever to make a phone call.

    I developed major phone aversion while freelancing in a career that led me to burn out. Didn’t mind calls from a very few close friends but otherwise hated them.

    Now I have a job I like and my phone phobia has completely disappeared!

  98. Miso*

    I think this is so so true.
    I really hated having to call people (especially strangers) before I started this job. I would avoid it whenever possible and did soo much of the “typing the number, but then staring at the phone for 5 minutes while trying to hype myself up” thing.
    What was even worse for me was leaving voice messages. Before the job, I had left exactly one, on my father’s mailbox and only because my mother was standing next to me and forcing me.
    Well, now I have to call people all the time and leave them messages if they don’t answer the phone and I really don’t care anymore most of the time.
    Sometimes I still do get a bit nervous – for example when I have to call a certain customer of ours, who’s the wife of the mayor who’s also my big boss, because I’m afraid he might pick up the phone – never happened so far luckily ;)

    Strangely I never had a problem with answering the phone.

    I also find it interesting that apparently in the US (at least from what I get from this blog), phone calls are really kinda falling out of fashion and even considered rude sometimes. Maybe I’m just completely oblivious, but that’s really not my experience at all.

  99. Casuan*

    Phone, email, texts, IM: Not a problem.
    Video platforms: Okay with most family & close friends. If required, I’ll deal with it professionally although only after my machinations to avoid this fail.

    Voicemails, Leaving: Ugh. I’m either too pithy or too verbose. For most personal calls, I’ll usually hang up if I reach their voicemail. For business calls, I’ll soldier through voicemail.
    Usually I can take a moment to mentally prep a voicemail script in my head, so that helps.

    Voicemails, Receiving: Meh. I’m okay with them. Unless the voicemail is from my mother, if I don’t hear relevant information within the first so many seconds then I’ll delete it [of course I’m not quite this strict, although one can dream…]. I don’t need much, just a “This is Fergus. I have infos about that thing. Please call me when you can at this number.”
    For personal calls, if you need me to reply by a certain time then tell me. Otherwise I’ll respond when I remember, which could be a day or more.

    “Someone called me from this number so I’m calling back”: With few exceptions, I don’t do this & neither should you. If I wanted to leave a voicemail I would have done so. I assume the same for you.

    Robocalls & Robo-voicemails: Stop calling. If the call is to remind me of an appointment, give the relevant details up front [Dr Strangelove at 11am]. I know where your office is & I don’t need or want to hear the office’s mission or contact details before my appointment. I won’t waste your time. Stop wasting mine.
    As for political robocalls… STOP IT.
    //end rant//

    1. LQ*

      I do the email variant of the someone called me from this number thing. Usually it’s internal so I’ll just send someone an email saying “I saw you were trying to get ahold of me, do you still need something I can help with?” It lets me offer assistance (important) and not make a call.

    2. MashaKasha*

      I installed the text to voice mail app on my phone. Best three dollars I’ve ever spent!

      I’ve been on the fence about the “calls from a number I don’t recognize”. At one point, I adopted a policy of not picking up if I didn’t know who was calling. Then recently it dawned on me that 99 out of a hundred calls from a random number are marketing calls, most of them robots, and I’m better off answering, verifying that it is indeed a marketing call, and blocking the number. My phone has been ringing a lot less frequently since I’ve started doing that.

      1. Casuan*

        …and I’m better off answering, verifying that it is indeed a marketing call, and blocking the number. My phone has been ringing a lot less frequently since I’ve started doing that.

        Don’t answer!! It only verifies the number is monitored by a human. If you’re getting less of those calls, it’s probably because you’ve blocked the number.

        That said, if your system works for you that’s all that matters. :)

        1. MashaKasha*

          Oh, it’s not “probably”. It is because I blocked the number.
          As an alternative, I can start blocking unknown numbers without answering, but what are the ramifications of answering once and verifying it for them, if I block it right away? Honestly trying to understand.

          1. Casuan*

            Lol “probably.”
            Answering the call perpetuates the cycle: Lists get sold to other companies who then use it for their own profit, by either calling themselves &or selling the lists to yet others.

            Scammers only need to make a few “sales” to make a profit so the statistics are high that they’all succeed. 10 “sales” from 5 million calls? Easy.
            If that list is parsed with other lists based on a recorded click [ie: someone answering & immediately hanging up] then those chances increase. Add those lists with demographics from public records & their chances increase even more. They can use people you might know so you think the call is legit.

            Scammers don’t care about Do Not Call lists. They do care enough to ring you so often that you’ll answer the phone enough to verify the line is monitored by a human. They also care enough to make their Caller ID read as a number that many people will respond to if only from curiosity [“I’m calling myself? Lol! I’ll answer to hear what I want to say to myself.”]
            These are just some of the basics.

            1. nonegiven*

              I’ve noticed that most of the calls are now from an instate area code. I even had one with my area code and prefix so I thought it might be someone I know in my town that I just didn’t have their number in my phone. It was a robocall.

  100. weeloo*

    Tip for anyone who has difficulty with the phone: volunteer for a political campaign! You will be able to deal with absolutely anything after that. The campaign will give you scripts, names, numbers and you have to make so many calls it is impossible to take anything personally after about an hour or so. I also use to do CADI surveys which provided an iron will w/r/t the phone but I don’t recommend that as training.

    Before anyone posts and says they hate that campaigns call them, it is the number 1 most effective tool so when it stops working, people will stop calling.

    1. Allypopx*

      On the iron will front, I have found that in customer service settings I almost prefer the phone. There’s something very calming about knowing the irrational or rude person on the other end can’t see you roll your eyes!

  101. Hazel Asperg*

    Alison: I really appreciate your attitude towards this. It’s encouraging and helpful (as someone who hates the phone!)

  102. Princess Carolyn*

    I find that chatting on instant message services or Slack or something similar can eliminate a lot of phone calls while still allowing for a better back-and-forth than email does.

    Like OP, I prefer to have conversations in writing so I can go back and refer to them multiple times. It’s really tough for me to take sufficient notes during a phone call. I’ve also always had a hard time focusing on what someone’s saying if I can hear them but can’t see them (which is why I was terrible at the drive-thru in my fast food jobs). I also find that most colleagues are clearer in writing than they are in phone conversations, but of course that’s going to vary.

  103. Fabulous*

    I hate talking on the phone too. Like, I literally had a panic attack once in front of a past boss because they mentioned training me to cover front desk part-time. I’m better now, not great but better.

    What finally broke me was I got a job once where it wasn’t communicated to me that most of my time would be spent on the phone. My first day, they’re like “jump on and start making appointments!” and I had to do it in that moment. I didn’t have time for panic. And I booked the first person I called, so I’m sure that helped too.

    Phones still suck though.

  104. Not That Jane*

    I’m another who really really hates the phone. I get very anxious about making calls, to the point where I have dropped the ball on planning social events with people I genuinely like and want to hang out with – because it would involve making a single phone call.

    A couple things I’ve noticed for me:
    1) Making business-related calls (e.g. calling the DMV, doctor’s office) is low-stress for me. So is calling my husband. The anxiety mainly seems to happen when I’m calling acquaintances and friends (in my personal life), or parents of my students (in my professional life). I.e. People I’m not close to, but work with or socialize with on an ongoing basis.
    2) It really, really helps beat the anxiety if I schedule a time for a phone call in advance, usually by email or text. That way I know, when 4:00 rolls around, I will call this person and they’ll be expecting me. Spontaneous calls make me much more anxious, I think because I worry that I’m interrupting the other person’s life!

    That said, I’m definitely consciously aware that I’ll be a better teacher if I learn to manage that anxiety and contact families more often… so, in that connection, I can recommend a little blue book called Calling Parents.

  105. C*

    I too have social anxiety and a phone call is my last resort if I have not heard back from someone.

    I have actually found that most people I contact are much more quickly responsive to email and text message than they are their desk phone. I’ve been in situations where my boss has told me to call someone, and I call them multiple times with no answer, leaving them voicemails for days. Then I email them and get a response in 10-30 minutes and feel stupid for wasting all that time on the phone *only* because my (Baby Boomer) boss insisted I use the phone.

    I have no problem asking my contacts to email or text me as I’m “more responsive” that way. It’s only the truth and I’d rather be honest. And most other professionals under 50 are on this wavelength too, from what I’ve gathered.

    I can’t get around the phone entirely and I’m okay with it enough that I don’t need to. I wouldn’t tell people that I “don’t talk on the phone”, but it’s perfectly alright to tell people that you’re more responsive to email/text, most people will respect that.

  106. Lissa*

    This makes me so curious about when the switch happened — growing up, I don’t remember very many people having issues with phone calls at all, but now it seems like it’s a majority of people my age, including me! Remembering the stereotype of teenagers talking for hours on the phone is almost laughable now — nobody calls me other than older relatives or telemarketers/businesses. A lot of people are saying things like it’s because of introversion or difficulty hearing but surely those things aren’t new? I wonder if we can blame cell phones for it — it’s so much easier to text/email/IM/whatever that a phone conversation is like, “why?”

    I’m OK answering the phone but actually making a call is super nervewracking for me, and it’s not my preferred way of talking to people generally (as people said above, it’s like the worst of both worlds between in person and text.) I don’t remember being especially phone averse as a younger person but now I’d really just rather not!

    1. Amber Rose*

      Personally I think it’s because my childhood was like that. I hated it when friends would call so they could talk about the chicken salad they were eating or the show they were watching, for three hours. It was awkward as hell to try and hang up and I never had anything to say.

      Texting lets me say something, if I have something to say, when I wanna say it. The convenience and lower stress is like a friggin miracle.

    2. Amy*

      I think a lot of it is the way technology has advanced. For example, most of the people I know who grew up pre-internet still do most of their communication over the phone. I hit that ‘old enough to want to talk to my friends all the time’ age in the period when cell phones weren’t yet common, but internet was; we used AIM to chat, mostly, with email for longer messages, and I’m still way more comfortable with IM and email than other communication mediums. My cousin is hitting that age now, when everyone has a cell phone, and she uses social media and texting to talk with her friends; I’m betting when she grows up, she’ll continue using mostly those.

      The challenging part is that since technology has been changing so fast over the last couple decades, there are a lot of people with really different experiences and preferences and comfort levels. And of course, there are differing ideas on what’s appropriate for work–is texting okay, or overstepping? What about email? Email after hours? Is a phone call always more urgent than email? If you don’t get through on the phone, which will get a faster response, voicemail or email? If you have an IM system, where does that fall?

  107. Non-profiteer*

    I agree with Allison, but I have something to add: the understanding needs to go both ways. For the folks who like to operate via phone, they need to understand that sometimes email is better. My former boss was definitely a “pick up the damn phone and call” type person, and sometimes got mildly frustrated with me. Sometimes her frustration was justified, and I learned to use the phone more.

    But sometimes my resistance was justified – because in our line of work, it’s often very helpful to have a written record of a conversation that can be saved and viewed again in the future (even by different people. I know for a fact my successor is still viewing some of my saved emails). Also because it’s not always productive to cold call someone and ask them a complicated or hard question – if you want a good answer, it’s better to prepare them with your question via email.

    I think sometimes my boss just assumed my preference for email was a generational thing, and ignored the legit reasons for it. So, let’s all try to understand each other! Such an original thought. :)

    1. De Minimis*

      I know I rely on many e-mails that were once sent to my predecessor! E-mail is a great way to document and preserve institutional knowledge. I also often forward e-mails to remind people of conversations from years past that determined present actions.

  108. LQ*

    Phone calls are a tools. They are a communications and get things done tool. You should have many tools in your tool box. If there is a tool you can’t or won’t use then you may need to work harder with other tools to compensate for that lack of/refusal to use the tool. Phone is not one of my preferred tools. To make up for that I lean on “drop by conversations” which are very common in my work place. I need a tool that doesn’t leave a record sometimes. You don’t always 100% want a record of every conversation that you have, so you need a tool that doesn’t create that. You may have other tools (some IMs don’t) that fulfill that need. But if you think of it as a tool and what can and does it need to do for you and how can you make other tools fulfill that need I think it is much easier to use it.

    I specifically have one person who I will have phone calls with. She really likes the chat, going to her work space isn’t an option, occasionally we have coffee but that’s a lot of time commitment. But to maintain this relationship in a way that means I can do my job well I need a strong working relationship with her. (Because as much as I despise it you do need to have relationships with people and need to nurture and develop them to really be excellent.) So the best tool for me is a phone call. She is over 95% of my phone calls. (I was cleaning out my logs the other day.) It’s a tool and as much as I hate phone calls I don’t want to make my job harder by limiting my tool box when that is absolutely the right one. Could I do it another way? Yes, and with everyone else I do. But with her this is the tool.

    It got a lot easier to make those calls when I just accepted it as another tool and not PHONE CALLS BUMBUMBUM! (And having to make a few hundred and get rejected by people I was trying to help. Doing it more does make it easier.)

  109. Kate*

    I have a phone aversion too, and at my old job, my boss would insist I call the IT people whenever I needed them to fix something. They HATED that. They had a process. You had to submit a ticket, and then the tickets would be redirected to the best person to handle that. If you called, they had to create the ticket for you, so it was more work for them, and you still had to wait your turn while they resolved the other tickets. There was no advantage to calling. So I wonder if you could explain, depending on the nature of the request, it’s really easier for them to email you because you have a record of what work they want you to complete, and you are able to refer back to that so you get it correct (or something like that).

    Also, I don’t know if you’d be open to IMing for real time interaction. Personally, I am much more comfortable doing that. My current company uses Skype, and admittedly, we do sometimes have to switch to voice if something really needs to be clarified, but I find that I don’t have the same anxiety switching to voice in those situations because we’re already in the middle of a conversation, and we can avoid the awkward pleasantries of opening a conversation. However, I do want to acknowledge that my aversion is not as severe as your anxiety, and since using a service like Skype could potentially just be a door for more clients to ask you to “jump on the phone”, I think it’s also fine just to say, “Email/text is really the best way to contact me.”

  110. Newlywed*

    This is directed towards the second part of Alison’s post for people who have a discomfort with phones, not the OP.
    I used to be painfully shy and I absolutely hated talking on the phone. Over time, I’ve had to develop a comfort level with it so that I could advance my career and my potential: phone interviews, consults on potential contract jobs, having a convo with a colleague or client who is out of the office, keeping in touch with friends and family, working out issues with customer service etc. I was having this conversation with someone from another department recently who likes to get up and walk over and talk about everything. It drives me up the wall because I prefer to receive an email. I realized after talking things out with her that I have a preference about my own communication style, but because of her personality she really prefers to communicate verbally. We worked out a system where she will send an email for some things, and I will walk over to clarify for others. The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with that–my communication preference isn’t the only legitimate preference, and it’s a really essential business and leadership skill to be able to communicate in different ways with different people and be adaptable. It wasn’t easy for me at first but I practiced a LOT…and by practice, I mean I just got out there and did it. Made the phone call. Took jobs that required me to use the phone. I think it’s easy not to extend ourselves beyond our comfort zone, but it’s almost always worth the benefit. Over the past few years I’ve developed a comfort level with forming that connection with people over the phone so that they can see the real me, and vis versa.

  111. Laura*

    I have a script that I use at work. I don’t get anxious on phone usage but having a stock set of phrases and knowing how the process goes helps me with efficiency- the lack of which DOES make me anxious.

    (Anxious to a normal degree. And all caps were used solely for emphasis.)

  112. Emma*

    Count me in for another person whose phone anxiety was only exacerbated by call-heavy jobs. In college, I changed my mind about my journalism major when I realized that working at the student newspaper meant being on the phone all day. I stuck it out for two semesters and got a little better at phone voice just by necessity, but it cemented that I could NOT handle a job like that long-term due to the stress, as much as I loved the actual writing.

    One of my first post-college jobs was at a telemarketing center, which I thought I could handle for a month or so. I only lasted three days and cried in my car on each lunch break. NOPE.

    If I could throw my current office phone in the garbage, I would, but fortunately I only get a handful of calls per month!

  113. Snowflake*

    Totally agree with your last comment! I am never going to be able to do cold sales calls, but I took a job where following up via phone was a daily occurrence, and I have gone from dread to lots of confidence just by doing it. most of the time the consequences from a bad phone call aren’t that bad. Just keep doing it and it will get easier.

    And sometimes if you are going back and forth via email and you seem to be going in circles, you can often resolve the issue with a quick call (I have noticed this sometimes with our clients at work).

  114. The OP*

    Thank you all for your thoughtful feedback. I love the AAM community — and as someone on this side of the equation, the commenting guidelines are really appreciated. It’s nice knowing that you can scroll through hundreds of comments and might see people who disagree with you, but don’t have to worry about seeing something really nasty or cruel (or political). It’s the only reason I actually was willing to wade into the comments.

    To expand on my email, I think the reason these phone calls specifically are so upsetting is the freeform, unpredictable, “sell myself” pressure that is inherent in trying to get new business in this way. I actually had a job 10 years ago that required me to answer phones, and I hated it but it felt more manageable because someone was calling for concrete information that I could then give them pretty easily. Trying to earn clients over the phone is a whole different thing, and one of the biggest reasons I don’t want to do it is that it genuinely seems counterproductive to my business. I don’t think or explain myself well when I’m on the fly; I really need time to form my ideas and put them into words. I imagine that if I were a client, I wouldn’t want to hire me based on my phone performance.

    Thanks again for the ideas. I saw a few that I’m going to implement, and I’m feeling much better knowing that I’m not a freak (at least, not a huge freak). :)

    1. Amber Rose*

      Oh, yeah I couldn’t make that kind of call either. No script? No thanks!
      Good to hear you managed to squeeze out some helpful ideas. I hope they work out for you.

  115. ZucchiniBikini*

    I am very similarly situated to the LW in that I am a freelancer with an existing client base who sometimes gets enquiries for possible work from new places, and I also very much dislike transacting such business on the phone.

    Although my phone anxiety is mild, and certainly doesn’t rise to a phobia, it’s significantly compounded for me by my partial hearing loss that means that I struggle to make sense of people’s words on the phone unless conditions are absolutely ideal (crystal clear line, no background noise at either end, person with a voice that is familiar to me speaking slowly and distinctly and using language I am familiar with – not new-to-me technical terms etc). I don’t use the phone in my personal life except in unavoidable situations – I’ll answer a call from my child’s school, for example, but I deal with as many service providers as possible via text and email, and my family knows not to call me unless it’s really urgent (they can, and do, text me at will!)

    On a work level, I find it easier to have phone conversations with people I have met in person and preferably know reasonably well professionally – I will have at least a couple of phone meetings a week with existing clients and although I don’t love them, they are OK-ish. But this is predicated on my knowledge of the person and their vocal style, as well as my background knowledge of the projects.

    For new client enquiries, I usually suggest that they send me a brief outline of what they want in an email – in fact, this serves two purposes, as it allows me to decide if the work is something I even want to do anyway, without pressure. I have also had luck offering a text chat about parameters in some cases. I resist pretty strongly getting drawn into phone convos with people who aren’t existing clients or known to me in person. My practice, when engaging at first, is to come and meet with the client face to face once we’ve agreed the work is going ahead (assuming they are located in my city, and 90% of my clients are). I do this even for small jobs – my smallest jobs are 3-5 days – because I just feel it starts us off on a better footing, and new clients usually translate into further work downstream so it’s worthwhile for me.

  116. Nic*

    Years ago I worked for a charter school that gave us a cell phone and listed the number for parents and students. They requested no calls between 11p-5a, but that wasn’t always the case. Date night? Homework help. Trying to sleep? Last minute report question. Grading papers and planning a lesson? A student ran away from home and we need you to help find her. (Not saying that wasn’t a TOTALLY LEGITIMATE reason, though I’m not sure what they expected me to be able to do.)

    That job killed me for phones. I had no issue with them before that, but after I’d lose my personal phone on purpose for MONTHS at a time. I still have minor panic attacks at an unexpected ring. I’m only now getting to the point where I can comfortably talk to a friend on the phone, and it still takes a few rings before I can work myself up to answer even when the phone is in my hand and I know the person calling.

    I specifically look for jobs where phone work is minimal or non-existent. When I do have to make a call I write out everything important (even sometimes scripting the hello). I often will overthink and plan out various ways the conversation can go, so that I have scripts for that. After a while the same types of calls over and over made that easy, and now I only have to script for calls that are going to be slightly different.

    Receiving calls is worse, but I find that having a notepad document open and taking notes really helps me to focus on the situation instead of the medium. I make good use of the mute button (“If I’m a little quiet on this side, don’t worry I’m looking this up for you. I can still hear you if you need me.”) and my peers for assistance. I also find that using a headset or (if the situation is appropriate) speakerphone helps. It takes away some of the On The Phone dread, for some reason.

    I’ve also found that having skype calls with friends that include video have helped. It was a bridge between a more in person interaction and the phone call interaction.

    All that being said I’m totally with Alison on the “I have a medical reason” answer. It cuts out the most flack that you might receive (and phone-phobias get a LOT of flack in my experience) and lets the person know that you’re serious about needing to use a different method of communication.

  117. T-Rex*

    I too hate talking on the phone. The calls almost always come in and break my concentration. My fear is that i’ll be unprepared or blindsided by a request I don’t have an immediate answer to. My solution is to train my clients to e-mail me first, I go out of my way to be more accessible by e-mail. Then if a call is necessary I can schedule the call for a time when I know I can be prepared. As much as I hate phone calls, there are situations where a five minute phone call can save hours wasted on unnecessary back and forth.

    I too like everything in writing, so i’ll either begin a conversation within an e-mail, then offer a follow-up phone call, or send a recap e-mail (and read receipt if necessary.)

  118. Chaordic One*

    I certainly don’t mind talking on the phone, but email is certainly better for when I have to send information is kind of complicated or for when I have to send step-by-step instructions.

    I find i-messaging to be just a bit time consuming and not very efficient. You type a question, hit send, then sit there waiting for a reply. The awkward few seconds spent just sitting there are sort of like an awkward silence in a conversation. OTOH, I feel stressed when replying. It’s like I’m typing as fast as I can, but I’m aware that someone is waiting for a response. It just seems easier to have those conversations over the phone.

    Outside of work, I really prefer to talk on the phone (or skype) with my friends who live to far away to see in person.

  119. Just a Thought*

    One thing that jumped out at me from the OP’s letter was that she liked having conversations written down. I totally get that. In a previsous job I had to do a ton of phone calls, but I have a horribel memory, so I created a call log for myself in excel. Every call in, call out, and message was recorded in there including who I was speaking to, the general subject of our call, any action items needed to be taken, and any information agreed upon. I can’t tell you the number of times that log saved me when someone either said I didn’t call them (my call and message were recorded there) or I couldn’t remember what kind of deadline extention I had given someone.

  120. an anon*

    I have a hard time with talking to people on the phone, because I have hearing comprehension problems. I don’t really lip read, but being able to look at someone’s face helps me understand what they’re saying, a lot, especially if they have any trace of a thick accent. Having to talk to someone on the phone is a nightmare, and I dread phone interviews, because having to ask someone to repeat themselves multiple times on a phone interview makes it sound like you don’t know the answer to the question…. not that you have no idea what the question is.

  121. Lee*

    OP…I’m so sorry you’re medicating yourself over this and even receiving therapy (although I guess there could be other reasons why). Tons of people have always hated phones throughout history, and the idea of conversations solely predicated on this random voice coming of plastic receiver or metal rectangle can be jarring to some.
    There are individuals who are deaf/mute and have to use other ways to communicate, and don’t feel like there’s something wrong with them because they aren’t talkative or fitting into a society that clearly favors extroverts.
    Would talking through a webcam bother you? Sometimes if a visual is present, it’s more comforting than a random voice through a receiver. I would also establish a web presence (like a website where you could also display your portfolio) and specify your preferred method of communication be email. Again, deaf and mute people use phones as well but in different ways, so it may be worth researching this.
    The only other thing may be to hire an assistant to answer phones or have a really snazzy voicemail instructing callers to email you if you don’t pick up.
    Good luck!

  122. Matt*

    I didn’t read through every comment but I didn’t see this point raised. I personally hate talking on the phone at work, not so much because of social anxiety but because 75% of the conversation over phones I can’t hear or understand at all. The audio quality is just so poor, trying to get necessary information like spelling of names, etc.. across is so frustrating and time consuming. My boss feels the same way thankfully so we are very much a (send us necessary information by email) type of office. Unless I’m talking on my cell phone over Facetime, or other wifi service, land and cell lines just generally are not practical forms of communication anymore in my opinion.

  123. Kyle*

    I hate talking on the phone and my job makes it specially difficult for me.

    I work as a support agent for a software company. The latest release of our software was a MESS, tons of bugs, features that don’t work as they should, crashes – you name it.

    As a support agent I have to pick up the calls often (we have a 4 people team, 3 of them are infra analysits so they don’t deal with clients other than by email), which usually means clients complaining about something that I’m not able to solve because, well, I’m not a developer and the f-ing development team does not fix the bugs.

    Management sucks and pressures the dev team for a new release and more sales – generating more frustrating clients.

    In short…I have to pick up the calls everytime, just to hear people complaining to me and telling them I don’t know how to help them other than reporting the issues (which generally have already been reported), to our dev team.

  124. Lacy*

    It feels so comforting knowing that other people out there share the same level of social anxiety as I do. I don’t just “hate talking on the phone”, but it the anxiety that it elicits makes me physically sick. I am a freelance writer and I’ve been asked to jump on calls on a couple occasions. I accepted the request the first time, thinking I could suck it up and just do it. I didn’t sleep the night before and then threw up multiple times the next morning before the call. Then, during the call I absolutely blanked resulting in multiple awkward silences and terrible answers to their questions. It’s safe to say that I no longer accept calls from clients. I usually make a professional and polite excuse, letting them know that I prefer to have a written record of our communications. Though I have lost potential clients because of this. I wish that there was a way to communicate this anxiety as a physical illness so that clients could understand it’s not just a case of hating talking on the phone.

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