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

A reader writes:

I run my own small graphic design business. 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.

Here’s the problem: often, a client or prospective 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 makes me want to throw up. I get so flustered on the phone that I can become practically unintelligible, 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 use 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 ridiculous? 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?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 290 comments… read them below }

        1. Chelle*

          You jump on, but you hop off.

          Because you are enthusiastically entering the conversation. But when you leave, you are just kind of…moving away a bit. LOL sounds good.

          1. Deanna Troi*

            If I have another scheduled call at work, I usually say “I have to jump off now for another call.” Perhaps it is regional.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        At least three times a week:

        Husband: “I need to hit the restroom, then we can (whatever).”
        Me: “YOU ARE SO VIOLENT.”

        Someday one of us will give in. Until then ….

        1. Mimi Me*

          My sister says she needs to “take a Sh*t”. It always makes me ask where she plans on taking it. LOL!

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Thanks to my mom’s fishing village hometown, I still sometimes say I have to “hit the head”. .. and the because I moved inland, I have to explain it.

      2. And then there was one*

        Eeevvvery time I tell my husband I’m going to “jump in the shower,” he has to say, “Don’t fall!”

        1. Kate*

          I tell my kid to go jump in the shower frequently, and then remind her to be careful. At 11 she just rolls her eyes at me.

    1. Chocoholic*

      My mom used to always say she was going to run to the store, and my dad would tell her that it would be a lot faster if she drove.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      ha! That’s cute…she def is. It’s easier for her to moderate comments on old stories but I hope she’s enjoying her tea, cats, Netflix, and family!

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Alternative possibility/AAM fanfic:

          Alison has gotten so good at moderating that she knew this would come up and setup a comment that would trigger when someone said something about her updating while on vacation!

          (A joke, if that’s not clear, though I imagine it wouldn’t be too difficult to do, if one had the coding skills)

  1. Roja*

    A nice in-between idea might be live chatting. That gets the immediacy of a conversation with the written-down nature of email. It’s likely to be less stressful for OP while avoiding the frustration of waiting for an email response.

    1. Teapot Repair Technician*

      Yes. I would hesitate to hire a graphic designer who was never available for live conversations. But as long as it’s real-time communication, text would be fine.

      1. EmbracesTrees*

        Yes, this is true for me for many work (and other) needs. There are some things that are just too complex or convoluted to explain in an email, especially when input from the other party is needed.

        If someone can’t communicate easily and effectively (iow, in real time) with people, I personally wouldn’t hire them. There are (almost) always going to be lots of other people with those same skills who are more willing to make what I see as a really basic effort to establish a professional relationship.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Yuck! This may be a generational thing, but to me, live chatting combines the worst of both a telephone call and an email exchange.

      1. Roja*

        It certainly can be that way, but it’s something OP may find helpful. It’s a very useful tool in certain circumstances.

      2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        To your point, it wouldn’t even have to be through a chat program (because not all clients will have the same one), but instead could be a scheduled period of rapid response emails that simulate a live chat.

    3. anonaccountant*

      Yeah, I’d prefer this for graphic design style work. You can go back and forth in real time about design choices but don’t have to talk! You get everything documented, also. In a program like Teams, it’s inherently very collaborative and easy to share files or screenshots. The client also gets to think about how they want to phrase something, or can easily share a shot of a hand-drawn sample. Just a win from all angles!

  2. Bamcheeks*

    I wonder how the pandemic has accelerated the phone going the way of the mimeograph. At my old job, all our telephony was on Skype for Business so when we all got sent home for lockdown nothing changed. But my new job has a separate telephony system, so I’ve been assigned a phone number but given no instructions on how to set it up or use it– I don’t know if it actually exists or not, given I’m a hybrid worker and won’t ever have my own desk or actual physical phone.

    1. Rav*

      It’s going to depend on what happens _after_ the pandemic is over.

      At my work, calls immediately jumped back to regular levels after almost 2 years of working remotely (and mostly through email).

    2. Amethystmoon*

      We take calls over Teams these days. The video can be on or off, but it lets us talk to coworkers without having to give out a personal cell phone number.

      1. Just a Cog in the Machine*

        Us too, mostly. And most people use the Teams chat feature to check that it’s a good time and give you warning before calling, which is great. But some don’t. Why?! I have to turn off whatever I am listening to on my computer, make sure my headphones are plugged in, and who knows what else. Just give me some advance notice so I can tie up what I am thinking about and open the thing you’re going to ask me about. I am not constantly working on *your* thing, people. It takes me a second to switch gears and be of any use.

      2. Smithy*

        Yeah – I think that perhaps the true definition of “the phone” might be on the way out, but only in the sense that it’s been replaced by Teams/Skype/Zoom.

        Teams and Skype in particular have the ability to chat someone “do you have 10-15 min free to discuss something briefly” before just calling. However, if the larger desire is for written communication only via email or chat, then I think for the average person in the professional world – it will be limiting.

        While I think there’s understanding that there are disabilities that limit phone-style communication, I think that placing accommodations for those disabilities has not extended to a broader comfort with just dropping phone-style communication altogether. Especially for the many varieties of work where there’s considerable chasing down of different types of people and teams for different purposes. And often times situations where you have far less power and can’t really dictate terms.

        1. PivotPivot*

          Our teams account just shifted to being able to call external people. But on the flip side I just got my first spam external call. That was fun.
          There is an option for blocking numbers though.

    3. Lunita*

      I don’t know why, but I like phones much more than Zoom or other conference apps. Maybe because I sometimes feel a pressure (even if just from myself) to be on camera.

  3. Brittany*

    Something good to remember is that sometimes keeping communications written can be helpful for documentation purposes. I’m always searching back through chats with colleagues to find answers to things I forgot but don’t want to bother anybody with.

    1. chewingle*

      That, too. I’ve had multiple conversations with people this week in which I asked them for information and they said, “We had a meeting about this months ago. Ohhh, but what did we say??” Apparently no one took notes. So. Meeting was a waste of time.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Yep. If anything, I’ve learned that 99% of phone calls and 97% of all meetings could be more efficiently handled via email.

        People really do waste a lot of time just chit-chatting.

        1. A_Jess*

          Plus at least at my job a lot of phone conversations need to be documented anyway so I’d rather cut out the middle step & just use email.

        2. Moxie*

          I am not a digital native. In fact, my first job was in the 70s when the choices for communication were limited to in-person, snail mail, and the phone. Before e-mail came along any info that you wanted to convey more quickly than in a letter or memo (and you could not meet the other person face to face) was transmitted in a phone call, confirmed in writing if necessary. Part of my development in my field of work was becoming effective when on the phone.

          The work that I did often required the kind of give and take that is best done by having a conversation. I also had to work with others within my own organizations, both near and far, and it was my job to keep in touch with them on a regular basis. Phone calls let me establish working relationships that were mutually beneficial. I was able to establish myself as friendly, knowledgeable, approachable and able to respond to questions and concerns in a quick time frame. In turn, I could learn a lot about the person on the other end which allowed me to frame our interactions best suited for them; some folks were “just give me the fact” and others liked and utilized more background info.

          It kind of makes me sad when I hear about people who avoid talking to others in business situation. They miss so much. They are closing themselves off from the kind of interaction which enable both more effective communication and meaningful interaction with other humans in the organization.

          1. DH*

            social anxiety related phone phobia is not avoidance of phone usage because you don’t like talking on the phone. There is an actual physical reaction caused by speaking on the phone. For those of you who don’t understand this please google and read about social anxiety.

            1. Kal*

              Yeah, that’s my brain. My brain is great at language and I express myself really well in written form. But the signal gets turned into garbled mush as soon as I try to send it to my mouth and then add in stress of someone I don’t know well already and the phone where you don’t even have body language of the other person to use to figure out how things are going and now I sound like one of those text to speech robots at best.

              And I would argue that you can build relationships and establish effective communication through writing alone. Its not a business example, but for the first 2 years of my relationship with my spouse we communicated almost solely by text. I also had a best friend for 10 years who lived in another city for most of that and communicated mostly through text. On a more business side, the board I’m on communicates mostly through email, and we still have a good sense of each other and are able to come to our decisions effectively and I have even become friends with another board member starting that way (and now mostly being through text message cause pandemic).

              So it kinda makes me sad when people think that relationships like that can’t be established through text, because they are clearly missing so much. But I don’t blame them for it, since its likely that their brain just doesn’t work that way, and we all just need to remember that everyone works differently.

            2. Calliope*

              But it’s also true that not everyone who feels slightly anxious about the phone has clinical anxiety. Sometimes you’re just anxious about something you haven’t practiced much and get less anxious as you practice more. That’s true of everyone for some things.

            3. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

              I have never heard of this existing before the last decade or so. Did people really have actual anxiety about using the phone in, say, the 1980s?

              1. Beth*

                People have anxiety about all kinds of things. TALKING about it–acknowledging it publicly, and discussing its impact on people as a serious and real thing instead of dismissing it as ‘laziness’ or ‘weakness’–is much more common now than it was in, say, the 1980s.

                I do think more people are uncomfortable or nervous, in a non-clinical way, about phones now than in the 80s, since they’ve fallen out of common use. But if we’re talking clinical anxiety, you’ll find people now who are anxious about emails and text messages and video calls, same as you’ll find people whose anxiety shows itself around phones; anxiety is anxiety, you don’t get to pick its target. I’m sure there were people 40 or 50 years ago who had anxiety issues about phones.

              2. Freya*

                Yeah, I did. Things I had a script for – like ringing to make a doctor’s appointment – were and are fine. Unscripted things? I *still* nope on out of it wherever possible.

                But: I have auditory processing issues related to a bunch of things like ASD and ADHD which were undiagnosed up until a couple of years ago, and now I have some hearing loss as well. Anxiety due to knowing that you’ll fail, repeatedly, to understand what people are talking about and that they’ll get cranky about repeated requests for clarification, is kind of understandable.

              3. Mia*

                I’m 45 and have had phone-related anxiety (related to social anxiety plus an auditory processing disorder that makes the phone challenging) all my life.

                I just didn’t feel safe to talk about it until relatively recently, given the attitudes expressed by so many towards mental health issues. So I tried to hide it, went to ridiculous lengths to avoid the phone, stressed myself out beyond coping when I couldn’t avoid it, and probably looked decidedly odd to many people.

                Your comment quite neatly illustrates my fears.

          2. Erica*

            Gaaaah! This is EXACTLY the sort of thing that makes me dislike talking on the phone – feeling like it’s not enough just to convey business information clearly, but now I have to worry about Making A Good Impression and remembering someone’s kids’ birthdays and using the right tone and… arrgh.

            FWIW, I’m a woman* who started off in politics and switched to computer programming in my late 30s. It was *such* a joy and relief to realize that 90% of my communication with my coworkers would be over Slack and that I could just get straight to the point without a bunch of stressful unrelated “oh god how does small talk work” folderol at the beginning.

            And I still have good relationships with my coworkers, and am friends with some! But the friendships come naturally, they’re not fake pretending-to-be-friends-but-really-you-just-need-the-TPS-reports situations.

            *Woman is relevant because we’re more expected to be naturally good at this stuff. Nope.

          3. AJoftheInternet*

            I think it’s great that the internet allows people who would otherwise not be able to be competitive in business have access to that world.

            On the other hand, I’m totally going to start making a big deal of the fact that I don’t mind calling if a client wants, because it’s starting to sound like, “Willing to chat on the phone” is a selling point.

      2. quill*

        Generally in my working experience: training and troubleshooting works better synchronously (so potentially on phone) orders / task lists work better in writing!

    2. Rock Prof*

      It can go the other way, too, though, where you know there’s no record being kept from phone calls. There are certain things, like if I have to contact the dean of students about a student’s mental health, that I don’t want there to be an initial record (at least initially) partially for FERPA but also because universities always have weird FOIA requests at universities, and I’d hate for a student to get identified in some email chain that amounted to nothing.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        Absolutely true. Sometimes you don’t want a record. I don’t want a FOIA request to reveal that I told one of the inspectors to, “Beat the sampler with a stick to make him work.” Then have to explain that our mechanical autosamplers have names; I wasn’t telling them to beat a human with a stick.

        1. quill*

          Oh god yes, percussive maitenance of lab equipment and named lab equipment are hard to explain to the outside. As are things like “can’t meet then, I have to go incinerate the germs”

      2. AcademiaNut*

        That’s a good point. If you’re putting something in writing, or discussing it in a recorded meeting, you need to do so with the expectation that someone other than your recipient will read it, or that it may be released publicly. If you’re discussing something delicate or personal, it can take a lot of effort to phrase things things appropriately.

  4. Elizabeth*

    I’m not especially old or young, but I can’t believe the blank stares I get when I ask “did you call them?” Across the board! Occasionally someone will say, but we should have it in written confirmation! Ok – so send a follow on email. I swear I have more trouble with this than explaining our weird and glitchy erp system.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      Yes my twice-as-old-employee does not want to pick up the phone. This avoidance is not generation specific. She says she does it for that same reason.

    2. Quickbeam*

      I work in a fast paced critical position re: medical care. We *have* to use the phone for critical approvals. My manager gets extremely frustrated with colleagues who will use every possible method to avoid the phone (IM, email, hard copy letter, pony express etc). She’ll say : “it’s a 3 minute call and then it’s done, why is that so hard?”. I think phone phobia is a real thing and sometimes you have to push past it. I’m in my 60’s, its all we had so you got used to talking on the phone even as a kid.

      1. Jonquil*

        Yeah, sometimes you just have to suck it up. I hate calling unfamiliar people too, and even certain co-workers, but it’s part of being an adult. In these cases it sounds like OP has pre-warning too, so there’s no anxious part waiting for the other person to pick up, or worrying if you’ve called at a bad time.

    3. Blisskrieg*

      I don’t like the telephone, but I don’t actively avoid it. Nevertheless, I am always embarrassed when something is urgent and I neglected to remember it is an option! Finally it will shine down on me like a beacon, that yes–I can call them! It always dawns on me like it’s a really novel approach LOL.

      I agree with other posters about the written record–however, I will say sometimes the nuanced are missed with the written. You can ask a question and really not get a complete or relevant answer. When you are on the phone, you can more easily clarify and course-correct.

    4. anonymous73*

      This. There are times where it’s 100% necessary to have an actual conversation with someone. Things get lost in translation too often with written communication only. Not to mention I’m not going to sit down and type out a novel when it’s easier to just pick up the phone and talk it out.

      1. Elizabeth*

        This! Because if I’m lucky, a 3-minute conversation turns my novel into a 3 line email. And if I’m very lucky, takes 3 things off my to-do at the same time!

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        Absolutely. I find it fascinating how many people are like “phone conversations take too long, this could have been an email” – I can’t tell you how many interminable email threads I get copied in on where the discussion has been going on for days, weeks even, over something that could have been cleared up with a five-minute conversation. I guess bad communicators communicate badly in any medium.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I’ve been in both types of situations (i.e., when email would have been more efficient; when a real-time conversation would have been better).

          Somewhere, there was guidance like, “If a conclusion hasn’t been made by the third email, then you need to get on the phone.”

          On the other side, many of us have been in the meeting/phone call equivalent of long email chains, where a conversation is circling or a small fraction of the group is droning on and on, so I get that side as well.

      3. Amaranth*

        On phone conversations, too, a client’s ‘one more thing’ often becomes ten more things ‘while I have you on the phone.’

  5. didi*

    For me, this would be a major red flag. Whenever I have hired freelancers, those who wanted to do business only in email ended up being the biggest problems with late work, work not done to specifications, lack of communication etc.

    I no longer will hire a freelancer who won’t agree to an introductory/scoping call and a call to review a project.

    1. Amber Rose*

      This can end up being discriminating against people with disabilities though.

      Which is your call to make if you’re hiring contractors, but it’s not a great one.

      1. Lacey*

        Yeah, people have to be mindful to not apply the same ideas to hearing people to people with hearing problems or other issues that make the phone difficult.

        1. Julia*

          I don’t think it’s assuming the worst of someone to assume that they may not have fully thought through the implications of their employment policies for disabilities. I know that as an abled person, I’m not always alert to disability discrimination and may inadvertently disadvantage disabled people. I value people pointing out “hey, this may have an unintended effect on people with disabilities”. I don’t think that’s assuming the worst.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, thank you — as with any workplace policy, there’s no reason to think someone wouldn’t provide legally required accommodations just because they didn’t caveat things that way in casual conversation. (I removed a long argument about this that got snippy and derailing.)

      2. RagingADHD*

        Some jobs require phone communication as a core job function for which there are no substitutes. I have one (interviewing people on the phone).

        If a client needs real-time, multichannel communication (like tone of voice) in order to work effectively with a creative contractor, then it’s a core job function. That isn’t discrimination.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      OK, but equally I would consider it a red flag if a client insisted on phone calls over text based communication, because in my experience that means they are deliberately avoiding getting things on the record.

      There are absolutely some conversations which benefit from being held “in real time” (along the lines of “ok let’s look at paragraph 6, I’m not sure about the wording here, can you explain?”) but there are some which need to be written down so you can both refer to them later. If you use a messaging app that permits capture, that could be the best of both worlds.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        (I am still reeling from an hour-long phone call that would have been a ten-minute messaging exchange, or two emails)

        1. Teapot Repair Technician*

          That is annoying, but I find it’s equally likely for what could have been a 10-minute phone call to stretch into a days-long series of text/email exchanges.

      2. Lacey*

        Oh 100%. I’ve had this kind of client before and they are a nightmare. You send a follow up email and they call you back to change everything. You send another follow up and their wife emails you to say their spouse (the actual client) doesn’t know what they’re doing.

      3. bananab*

        Yeah, same for sure. Nothing would relieve me more than a phonecall-wanter just disappearing when I refused one. I’d feel I dodged a bullet. Lot of em are bigtime timewaster types.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      I wouldn’t object to a call at the beginning or end, but in the middle? Nah!

      Clients from Hell is full of stories like this:

      Client on the phone: “Change the banner to red!”
      Designer changes the banner to red.
      A month later, another phone call from client: “Why is the banner red?”
      Designer: “Because you told me to change it to red.”
      Client: “I never said that. And I don’t want to pay for changing it to red, or changing it back.”

      As a former freelancer, any client who wants to call and make changes over the phone is a major red flag. You want changes, email them to me. (And prepare to be invoiced accordingly.)

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I wonder if LW could reply, “Sure – my phone call rates are $350 per hour, plus $100/h minuting afterwards.”

        1. Lyra Silvertongue*

          Which is a great way to tank the freelance relationships you need as a response to a very normal request.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Yes, probably. I’m in law, where this would be unremarkable, but I can see that it wouldn’t fly everywhere!

            1. Calliope*

              I mean that is more or less my billable rate and I certainly apply it to phone calls . . . but also everything else. You don’t have a special billable rate for phone calls ever as a lawyer.

      2. Certaintroublemaker*

        Eh. I work in design and find that hashing things out verbally (phone or in person) is WAY more efficient than a long email exchange. If the client is dodgy about changes, send an email at the end with what was decided.

        1. Filosofickle*

          I was a freelance designer for a decade, and can’t imagine how I could have done that work without some live conversations! Perhaps we do/did different kinds of design? Presenting concepts, getting feedback, asking questions, understanding their situation and needs — very few people are good enough with words to adequately convey that kind of nuance in writing. Especially when you need to get under the issue and pull out what the real problem is.

          And even taking the “get it in writing” camp into consideration, talking through a written contract is one thing I insist on because people don’t read things carefully. Or they interpret it differently. Sure, I can fall back later on “the contract says X Y and Z and you agreed to that” if there’s a misunderstanding, but it averts a lot of disasters to really make sure they understood what we are both agreeing to up front. Conversation and clarifying questions get ahead of possible conflicts.

        2. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

          +1 to this, many briefs aren’t worth the paper they are written and understanding the difference between what a client says they pool want and want they actually mean is worth its weight in gold.

  6. APM*

    I’m not sure we can ever get away from phone calls- sometimes it really is easier to talk something out and hear the inflections in the other person’s voice. I say that as someone who also wishes all communication would be by email. LOL

    1. AndersonDarling*

      And when some is asking me for a quick call, it’s because they don’t know how to articulate the question. It’s easy to forget that when you are the expert, you understand the problems, the solutions, and the language to explain those. Most of my customers have an insecurity but aren’t sure where their hang up is. They need my help to walk them through it so they can find the root of their issue.
      That kind of conversation would translate into 10 emails back and forth.

  7. D*

    It seems like this strategy would work better for situations where everything is going well. In that case I would have no problem receiving everything through email. However, if significant issues came up I think I would not be happy if the freelancer didn’t want to speak on the phone. It can be really frustrating and feel like you are being brushed off if issues can not be addressed over the phone sometimes.

  8. voyager1*

    You’re the owner, you most certainly can communicate how you want.

    However your clients may not want that and move their business elsewhere.

  9. Amber Rose*

    Zoom/Teams/Skype/text chatting may also be an option maybe? For those clients who want a more flowing discussion, which is difficult to have over email.

    I don’t know, I feel like in an age where phone calls can be hard for lots of people for lots of reasons, there’s no reason not to say that you need some other form of communication. If we can accommodate the hearing impaired, we can accommodate phone anxiety. It shouldn’t be such a big deal.

    I did force myself to more or less function on the phone, but I really hate it and the smallest thing throws me off so much worse than it would over text, so I make liberal use of the Teams chat function.

    1. ali*

      “If we can accommodate the hearing impaired, we can accommodate phone anxiety. It shouldn’t be such a big deal.”
      There are still a ridiculous number of companies/people who can’t/don’t/won’t accommodate people with hearing loss.

      1. Amber Rose*

        The fact that they don’t is not the same as can’t in most circumstances. And we are making some amount of progress I think. It’s slow going, but that’s the way it always is with change. I just feel that if we can recognize the need to accommodate for the Deaf or mute, than we can do it for other reasons too.

    2. pinguino*

      I’m sure you have best of intentions, but hearing impaired as a term is not really considered appropriate anymore, and can in fact be considered offensive! Hard of hearing or d/Deaf are better to use.

      1. Hearing Impaired*

        Nope. You don’t speak for actual hearing impaired people outside the United States – of which I am one – who prefer to use the term hearing impaired to convey the seriousness of their disability.

        Hard of hearing is not a common term in my Anglosphere and to my ears (ha!) tends to come across as a juvenile term for a life-impacting condition. Let the actual HI/Deaf/deaf/HoH determine what term they wish to use and go along with the individual’s request.

  10. OwlEditor*

    Jumping in here to say that being able to talk “on the phone” is vital. I’m an editor and it saves countless emails and time to quickly call someone via Skype or Teams to show them the questions that I have rather than try to explain it via email. Or leave a comment and wait for them to look at it and get back to me. I would be hesitant to work with someone who didn’t want to talk “on the phone.” But does this count as a “phone call?” Genuinely curious what people think.

    1. Amber Rose*

      If it requires me to speak to someone with my voice over a piece of technology, it’s a phone call.

      If it’s like text chat, then it’s usually fine. In my experience anyway. Text is just easier than speech.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      I hate this. I’m in the middle of another project and I have to break my train of thought just because my phone rings? Nope. Email or text me.

      Or leave a comment and wait for them to look at it and get back to me.

      You want me to get that done by COB Thursday? Then put “I need this done by COB Thursday” in your email. I will have it done by then. Probably sooner.

      Honestly, I like to get questions via email. I have time to think through my responses and check my notes if necessary. I also have a written record of what my responses were. I get too many phone calls that could have just been a quick email. I’m busy and I don’t need interruptions. I do get through my emails on a regular basis (i.e., at several points in the day).

      1. Cold Fish*

        Yes, agree 1000% with the whole, email me the question and let me look it up! With the nature of my work, the project you have questions on I was working on two weeks ago, no I don’t remember off the top of my head. Phone calls often include and brief greeting followed by 5-10 minutes of awkward silence/chit chat as I’m trying to pull up the file from the server and search for an answer then usually concludes with me asking that they email that change over so I have record of it. Just email me to begin with, if it looks like there is some confusion with the request we can get on the phone. 90% of the phone calls I deal with are just a waste of time.

        (full disclosure: I do have pretty severe phone anxiety myself)

      2. Lacey*

        Yup. Sometimes a phone call IS easier, but I like the bulk of the communication to be email.
        Also, there’s a super easy thing people can do where they send a text or chat or email and ask the person if they have time for a call. Interrupting people’s work flow is the worst.

      3. middlemgmt*

        maybe in certain situations, but in others i’m with OwlEditor. it’s totally insane for me to spend 20 minutes typing up an email, plus more time in a back and forth, explaining something that could be explained in less than 5 over a shared screen, especially if the other person might have questions. I’ve been on emails with 20+ responses over days, where we never get a resolution as someone fails to respond or takes “time to think it through” while missing the urgency, where someone keeps writing a novel to justify their point, and the whole thing drags out forever.

        you can prefer one form or another, and have that be primary (email or chat for me), but you have to be open to all methods of communication and use whatever is the best in a situation to move the project forward (not just whatever is most comfortable)

        i generally won’t call someone out of the blue though – I’ll set up a time to talk or I’ll ask if available over chat.

        1. Anon E Mouse*

          Yeah, I’ve been on both sides of the equation tbh; in my real life, I tend to have to psyche myself up for phone calls & I will intentionally miss calls so that I can listen to the voicemail and then call people back. (In my defense, scammers have gotten a lot bolder.)

          In my work life, though, I’m often the person who has to make calls to people, and it’s wild how often an issue that a customer has been having, that has been going back and forth over multiple emails, can be sorted out in one 5-10 minute call.

          If I were the OP, I would at least make sure to have a non-email option available, even if it’s not calls per se, like a chat option, and I know that if I was hiring anyone, I wouldn’t be super comfortable with someone who only had one contact option available.

      4. anonymous73*

        And what happens if it gets lost in your inbox? Or I need an answer by 3 but you only check your emails between 4 & 5? I also don’t want to go back and forth for a day and half over email because something is getting lost in translation. You may hate it, but it’s sometimes necessary .

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          What happens if the person isn’t at their desk when you call? What happens if they’re in the middle of meeting with someone and can’t take time to pick up the phone? Every scenario has a bunch of “What if’s” tied to it. Mental Lentil is simply saying what works best for them.

          1. anonymous73*

            Yes, and I’m pointing out that you can’t just simply say I’m not getting on the phone because that doesn’t work for me. There are times when you need to be flexible – being “my way or the highway” helps nobody.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              Except nowhere did Mental Lentil (who you are responding to) say they are not getting on the phone because it doesn’t work for them, they’re explaining why they prefer emails to phone calls.

      5. Amethystmoon*

        Was in a one-on-one meeting with my boss for my actual annual review the other week, and someone who I had made the mistake of giving my cell phone # to kept calling me during it. Of course, I ignored it until the review was over. But sheesh, some things can wait 20 minutes!

        1. Amaranth*

          That’s one down side to cell phones, personally and professionally people assume if you aren’t picking up right away you must be ghosting them for some reason.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      I have mentioned that I recently signed a book contract. Before that happened, the editor (who is a thousand miles away from me) and I scheduled a phone conversation. Partly this was because he wanted to establish that we are on the same page. (It is an academic press, and I am not an academic. He is OK with that, but wanted to make sure I understand what this means.) It also went far to establishing a relationship. We are agreeing to devote time and resources over the next two years to each other. We might never need to speak live again, but I am glad that we did.

      1. Pennilyn Lot*

        This is very much the norm in publishing and journalism. When they’re big projects, editors often want to have a chat with the person first so they can get to know them a bit better and have some real-time back and forth about the project. Books and long articles are months and years long projects, so it’s basically just the same as wanting to interview someone in-person/over the phone/over Zoom before you hire them for mid-to-long-term contract work.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Tying this back to the original letter, if we are talking about anything where we might use the word “relationship,” I would want to talk to the freelancer before hiring them. The letter says it is more one-off work. For that I probably wouldn’t care.

          1. Pennilyn Lot*

            Yeah I mean more than anything, if you’re a freelancer, you want the amount of unpaid admin that you do for a project (i.e. getting the contract set up in the first place) to actually be worth it. I would take a phone call for a big project, or a call with a client that I had been working with for years. I don’t usually need to take calls when setting up work with clients for small jobs and I’d definitely see someone wanting to endlessly chat on the phone about a minor assignment as not worth it. Only the LW knows where their clients are falling within this scale, I guess.

      2. londonedit*

        I am the editor on the other side of that, and I always try to have a video call with new authors so that I can introduce myself and give them a quick rundown of how the editorial process will work. They’ll forget everything I say and I’ll have to send them an email anyway, but people like to meet ‘face to face’ (pre-pandemic they’d come to the office for an actual meeting) and they like to have a chance to ask questions at the start of the process. It also really helps with building a relationship with an author, which is useful when I then need to chase them for something, or tell them we can’t deviate from house style, or whatever. I’m a person rather than a faceless ‘editor’ sending them emails that they don’t like.

        However, there are always people who then want a phone call for absolutely every subsequent question they have, even if it would be far easier for them to just send me a quick email. I don’t need a 15-minute phone call to answer ‘Do I need to put page numbers in the Word document?’ or ‘Who do I thank in the acknowledgements?’. And it is often much easier for people to have information like that on an email so they can refer back to it.

    4. I edit everything*

      I am also an editor, and I much prefer to lay out queries in text form, whether that’s a quick message, a comment, or an email. It’s much easier for me to articulate what I mean and give examples in writing than verbally. I have never had to call a client on the phone and never wanted to.

    5. allathian*

      I hate phone calls out of the blue. I don’t mind communicating by voice, as long as I get a heads-up in chat first. That lets me focus on the person who’s calling, and organize my thoughts in a way that makes it easier to get back to what I was doing after the call. Calls are particularly useful if someone wants to show me something on a shared screen, or I need to share my screen with someone else. In those cases, the matter is usually solved right then and there and I don’t need to retain any info about the conversation.

      I don’t like getting instructions by phone, though, because then I’m always second-guessing myself if I got everything written down or not. I process things much better in writing.

  11. bunniferous*

    I used to have a similar phobia. The only way past it is to DO it. I know it’s not what OP would want to hear but for me it worked and now I have no issues!

    1. Amber Rose*

      It doesn’t always work like that. I just DO IT, but all that means is I have a higher daily stress level than most people. It’s been 10 years since I first started working jobs that required a lot of phone use and it’s still a huge battle for me.

      Not everyone can just get over it.

      1. bluephone*

        Okay, so that’s your situation. Other people have different situations. People get to decide where to draw their lines in the sand and deciding that you’d rather not do business with someone who’s all “NO PHONE CALLS EVER, THE PHONE IS THE DEVIL’S TOOL AND TRIGGERS ME!!” is not a knock on your particular, specific situation.

        1. FridayFriyay*

          This is an incredibly uncharitable attitude to take toward the LW. She didn’t say anything about being “triggered” or the “devil’s tool” and your hyperbole to describe a legitimate medical issue is unwelcome.

        2. KateM*

          I have in the past decided not to do business with someone who insisted on a phone call instead of replying to my e-mail, so that’s the other side of the coin.
          (I asked for photos of examples of a certain craft. Exactly how did he plan to show me these over a regular phone call, I have no idea.)

          1. Lacey*

            Haha, oh my mom used to do this to me ALL the time. I would say, “I emailed you because I wanted this in an email” and she would say, “I thought a call would be easier” and I’d have to explained that it’s not easier for me to have to write down the recipe she’s telling me over the phone. Take a photo!

        3. Jennifer Strange*

          You’ll have to point out where the OP said “NO PHONE CALLS EVER, THE PHONE IS THE DEVIL’S TOOL AND TRIGGERS ME!!” as I don’t see it in the original letter.

      2. Bucky Barnes*

        I feel you so much on this. This is my daily stressor as well. I’m trying to get past it but I have good days and bad days with it.

      3. AthenaC*

        I totally, 100% believe that there are people with genuine phobias that legitimately need to avoid the phone.


        I totally, 100% believe that over 95% of people that avoid the phone do NOT have genuine phobias and need to just buck up and pick up the phone anyway. I cannot tell you how many times I have directly told a subordinate, “You’ve emailed Client John Smith three times already; pick up the phone and call him” only to be copied on YET ANOTHER email that doesn’t get a response.

        Or – “Client Mary Smith seems frustrated by our multiple emails. Please give her a call and smooth things over” only to be copied on YET ANOTHER email to Mary Smith as the client continues to get more annoyed.

        So frustrating.

        1. Trillian*

          Or they may never have learned how to use the phone effectively, because it is a skill. I grew up pre-answering machine, in a medical family. By the time I was 11 or so, if the phone rang and my parent didn’t pick up or called for me to do it, I knew how to greet the caller, take their name, number (read back), and message, tell the person that I’d get parent to contact them, then pass it on immediately. My peers would be like, “Mom! Mooom. Someone’s on the phooone.” If you were lucky, they wouldn’t hang up the phone before wandering off, leaving you to listen to the exchange as the parent tried to elicit information as to whether this was a call worth interrupting what they were doing for, gave up, and came to the phone. Then when I was a grad student working in a lab with a shared phone, I’d get, “Oh, yeah, someone called for you. Before lunch sometime. Yeah, their name started with N. Maybe. Yeah, there was a number. I forgot. Dunno if they’ll call back.”

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, it’s definitely a skill. I also grew up in before answering machines were common. We got our first touch-tone phone when I was 14, when our local exchange was converted. Until then, we had a rotary phone. I was also a latchkey kid, and most days I was home before my parents. So I learned to take messages early and accurately. Because I was a kid, the callers never minded that I asked for their name again, especially if I’d never met them in person.

            When I was in college, I worked several call center jobs, making outgoing calls.

            I don’t have phone anxiety, and I don’t dislike calling people, even strangers, on the phone. But I don’t really like receiving calls, unless I have some idea about what the caller wants from me before I talk to them. I also can’t catch people’s names easily on the phone, and for that reason I prefer Skype, because I can see their name on the screen. I also don’t identify people easily by their voices, unless it’s someone I know very well. It’s embarrassing to get to the end of a phone call and I suddenly realize I don’t remember the name of the person I’m talking to, even if it’s a coworker. My organization has more than 2k employees, and only those who are in our favorites on Skype are identified by name if they call on the phone. I can sometimes get past that by asking for their email address to confirm what we’ve talked about on the phone. Doesn’t work when they say it’s, and that’s happened to me twice that I can remember. Then I have to confess that I have no idea who they are, and that’s really, really embarrassing, not to say humiliating, to the point that I cringe whenever I think of it for several days. It certainly doesn’t improve my relationship with the phone, either. All this just because my wits leave me when I get a call out of the blue, and while that happens, I can’t take in what the other person is saying, even if it’s their name.

          2. AthenaC*

            The only way to “learn how to use the phone effectively” is to just get on the phone already. Also, I offer my subordinates scripts for both phone and in-person conversations, so they really have no excuse.

          3. AthenaC*

            Forgot to add – effective client communication is literally part of our job, so it’s absolutely necessary to be flexible and use the phone if it’s more effective in a particular situation. And yes, this does appear in performance reviews that I write for people.

      4. Sandman*

        I’m the same way. I wish I experienced less anxiety over this stuff because I can see how much easier a quick phone call can be than an email, but still feel it. I do it when I have to and really do think it’s important, but I also find it difficult.

    2. Jess*

      I was the same as OP and was given the advice you just gave. I worked in a call centre to try and get over it. I now have such a strong aversion to phone calls that I now avoid them at all, even from family and friends. It took an anxiety trigger and made it a full blown phobia.

      The ‘only way past’ is to do exactly what OP is doing and work through it with a trained professional, which may or may not include exposure therapy. You wouldn’t recommend someone with a broken ankle to just run on it until it fixes itself.

      1. Splendid Colors*


        Also, I’m wondering if people with phone anxiety may ALSO have problems with auditory processing sometimes? Granted, anecdotes are not data (but the idea is free to take if you need a thesis topic) but I and many people I know who hate phone calls also have difficulty understanding speech over noise, speech with phone glitches, etc. Obviously if half the phone call is going to consist of me asking someone to repeat part of the last sentence (or misunderstanding things and not realizing I didn’t get it right) it’s going to be uncomfortable.

        1. rubble*

          I’ve got auditory processing problems due to autism and ADHD, and while some of my phone aversion is definitely social anxiety, some of it was definitely having trouble comprehending the conversation.

          I did so much better with phone calls than I used to once I started taking them through my headphones. no more terror that the mic on my phone was too close or too far away from my mouth, no more needing to turn the volume up so loud it hurt and everyone around me could hear to be able to understand what was being said, no more uncomfortable phone posture!

      2. quill*

        I… cannot imagine how a call center job would make you less anxious about answering the phone. Already anxious, and now Customer John is yelling at you? No thanks!

        1. cassielfsw*

          I am very introverted and have had a life-long hatred of telephones. A few years back I worked in a couple of different call centers for a combined total of about 5 years. It made it… Simultaneously better *and* worse, somehow? I can deal with a phone call if I have to, but I still sure as heck don’t like it. And I NEVER want to work in a call center again.

        2. allathian*

          Depends on the call center job. When I was in college, I had a few call center jobs, but I was doing customer surveys by phone, and the companies were very good about letting us end abusive calls. Even if they didn’t want to participate in our surveys, the vast majority of people were polite when they refused.

          I didn’t want to sell anything by phone, because even then, I thought the field was full of unethical companies.

          So working in a call center definitely made it easier for me to contact strangers by phone, and to call businesses when I needed to.

          I have some auditory processing issues that make it hard for me to retain spoken information for longer than it takes to write down replies in a survey, etc. That said, if calling someone is what it takes to get something done, I’ll call them.

          My pet hate about coworkers on the phone are those who call for progress reports. Luckily we don’t get too many of those, but now I have enough seniority in my job to tell them that calling me won’t get their jobs done any faster, rather the reverse.

    3. Cold Fish*

      NOT TRUE!
      I had a mild phone anxiety. For a while I had a job that required more phone conversations. Now I have pretty severe phone anxiety. Familiarity did not bring any more sense of comfort and has made the situation much worse.

    4. Glomarization, Esq.*

      This thread has veered into “not everybody can eat sandwiches” and sniping territory, and it’s representative of why this comments section is such a cesspool sometimes.. bunniferous was talking about what worked for them. You know what? That kind of process has worked for me, too. The only way I’ve gotten away from anxiety over phone calls has been to be in jobs where I have to make a ton of phone calls.

      1. Texas*

        I think people are more responding negatively to bunniferous’s assertion that the ONLY way to deal with phone anxiety is to just talk on the phone. That’s not just saying what works for them, that’s telling OP the only option is bunniferous’s method.

      2. FridayFriyay*

        This person already sees a professional who is well-versed in their specific health issue. No need for the commentariat to veer off into giving unsolicited and potentially harmful medical advice in the form of personal anecdote.

      3. Not a cat*

        Agreed and why is everything “because of my anxiety” these days? I’m on meds for anxiety and have been taken to urgent care more than once because my anxiety attack caused me to faint. And I would never, ever expect a client to conform to my preferred method of comms. They are the client, their preference is what we do. It’s great that we’re open to people’s sensitivities and can offer options for communications. Is it generational? It’s frustrating.

    5. ElzPross*

      As someone who took on a job in a call centre in the hopes it would help my phone anxiety, this absolutely did not work. Just made me dread going to work to the point I’d be physically sick. I still have to use the phone sometimes in my job but I waste half my day having to prepare and psyche myself up for it and often get sick flustered that I forget everything I know and fall all over my words. I’m fine with video call though, I think I just rely very heavily on reading body language

  12. TPS Reporter*

    I also dislike the phone but my job is very communication centric. What really helps me is to get an intake in writing first of the major issues and links to any of our records or other documentation. If I can review the background in detail before the call I feel much better and like the call will be more productive. Also that lets me schedule the call in advance without being put on the spot. I also follow up afterwards with a summary email and ask the others to confirm what we discussed.

  13. Berlie Girl*

    This is so me. I am also graphic design with social anxiety on the phone. I hate talking to clients, it stresses me out, but for me, the unplanned calls stress me out more than when I can plan for it. Sometimes a call has to happen but I never “jump on the phone.” I schedule my calls via an online calendar and block off big swatches of time that I am not available and have set days/times that I am available that I know I mentally do better with (first thing in the morning so I don’t dwell on it all day for example) and limit the calls to 15 minutes. If a client books a time slot, I block off the entire day to not have more phone calls. And I block off every Monday and Friday and every other Wednesday by default. I don’t get any pushback from clients doing it this way. Often when they see how “busy” I am on my calendar they just send the question/comments in an email instead.

  14. ashradski*

    Suggestion for the OP: my office voicemail says something like “The fastest way to reach me is via email at”. You’d be AMAZED at how many people I see calling in, I don’t answer, and then they send me a quick email! It works!

  15. Little Lobster*

    Coming from someone who does freelance work: Don’t do phone calls. Always insist on email. You want the paper trail, believe me. If you have to do zoom calls, record them. Start the call by saying, “I’m recording this so I don’t forget anything important,” they probably won’t object. It’s 100% fine to have a firm “no phone calls” policy, you can just say you don’t give your personal number to clients/you don’t use your personal phone for business.

    1. Little Lobster*

      Replying to myself because I have more thoughts on this. Never let a client bully you into doing a zoom call *right now.* Make them schedule it by sending them 2 or 3 time/day options. That will help a lot with the zoom call anxiety!

    2. anone*

      Eh, depends on the freelance work/client – what you’re suggesting wouldn’t work for my business at all. You don’t need a paper trail in every circumstance and you can always pair a phone call with a follow-up email that says, “Just confirming here’s what we talked about on our call” if you need to. People should figure out what’s necessary in their own contexts.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        This is fine if you get along well with the client and just need to jog your memory later–but not so much if there’s an actual dispute over what was said. I haven’t had a problem with clients about this, but my landlord pretty consistently comes back later and says that he never said X and that I said Y that is nowhere near what I would’ve said. He also likes to use the phone or face-to-face meetings because he knows there’s no paper trail when he harasses me about my disability. If he summarizes a meeting, he always gets the facts wrong and accuses me of being mentally ill if I say that’s incorrect.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          This is the point of the confirmatory letter (usually email, nowadays) after the conversation. You summarize your understanding of what was said. If the other person understands it differently, they have the onus of writing their own letter. In the worst case, you then redo the discussion in writing. But this is rarely necessary. Lawyers have done this routinely since forever. It is called “Papering the file.”

          1. Little Lobster*

            Yeah, I’m not a lawyer though. I’m a freelance writer. I want what the client wants to come from the client directly, in writing. Sending an email after a phone conversation summarizing the conversation is fine, I guess, but I’d prefer the client send me an email saying “I want X by Y date,” so that when they argue with me over the date or payment or whatever, I can point to the email that THEY sent. There’s no ambiguity at all. It makes my life easier. Especially when dealing with edits!

        2. anone*

          I mean, that’s a much more hostile situation plus a serious power dynamic. I too always want my landlord-tenant communications in writing (though I’ve been blessed with non-asshole landlords so far thank god). Someone who is using phone calls specifically to avoid a paper trail and wants to gain an exploitative advantage over you is different than a significant percentage of contractor-client relationships (though I feel for any freelancer who is in a position where this does describe a significant portion of the clients – I know they’re out there!), plus the strategy of “this is what we discussed in our conversation; dispute now or forever hold your peace” by email still works in most cases. The point is that “Don’t do phone calls. Always insist on email” is an extreme position that doesn’t actually apply to all freelancers universally as suggested and the advantages of being flexible in your mode of communication are also worth considering (though not necessarily a deal-breaker for those for whom phone calls are genuinely not possible).

    3. anonymous73*

      A paper trail is necessary for many jobs – I always have CYA files. BUT, you can always follow up a phone conversation with an email to make sure everything is understand by all parties involved. Insisting on email all the time is not feasible in all situations – things get lost in translation and tone can be misunderstood.

    4. tree*

      Paper trail is so important.

      I am dealing with appointments and orders. People who do this over the phone stress me out. I repeat everything four times.

      It is so much easier with written. That way I can refer back to everything when I am double checking my day planning for people’s requirements.

      1. Curious*

        Some folks here seem to be assuming that anything in writing will be unambiguous, and necessarily interpreted the same by both parties. That assumption is … somewhat heroic, particularly when using the English language.

        While I certainly agree that relying on a phone call alone to establish agreement is highly risky, I think that a phone call, followed by an email setting forth the final agreement, that is acknowledged by the other party, is the safest way to establish mutual understanding. (Moreover, under the Parol Evidence Rule, that agreement will override the prior conversation). The fact that you know not to rely on the phone call serves as an excellent spur to summarizing the agreement in writing.

  16. anone*

    I used to have terrible phone anxiety. A volunteer job I did when I was in my 20s forced me to get a bit more comfortable with it (as in, still hated it, but at least had some experience to fall back on to more easily force myself to do it, a la “it will be horrible and then it will be over!”), and I’m so glad for that. Now that I’m a consultant, sometimes *I’m* the one saying, “hey, this will take us 20 minutes to sort out over the phone, instead of twenty more emails and confusion – let’s just have a quick call” and it’s saved my butt more than once. So I co-sign with Alison’s suggestion that if you *can* get over it, try to. It’s just good to have the option.

    Things that helped me initially: writing scripts, giving myself privacy and time to rest my nerves after, and, honestly, screwing up a few times (either on the call or by not calling) in embarrassing ways and getting innoculated to the idea that embarrassment is terminal. Once your body knows you won’t actually die, it’s easier to cope.

    1. anone*

      One thing that strikes me reading through all of this is how much variability there is, so I want to add a bit more context. The circumstances in which I find phone faster than email are when what we’re trying to figure out is really nuanced and my answers are context-dependent, so I need to either ask a lot of follow-ups to know exactly what to recommend, or provide a lot of explanation of different possible options and when they might apply. Being able to sort that through in real-time and verbally is wayyyy faster. But when the answers are constrained and obvious, like “When is the event happening?”, that’s definitely a question for email. I have a client right now who keeps trying to set up hour-long phone meetings for questions I can answer in a few sentences after maybe one or two clarification questions, so I am deflecting those requests and sticking to email communication.

      So…. know your context!

      1. Green great dragon*

        Yes, I think this shows it really varies! I generally have a 3 emails rule – if a reply to a reply to an email hasn’t sorted it out, it’s probably time for the phone/video and I’d probably prefer not to work with someone who was totally inaccesible by phone/other real-time conversation route, but I prefer email where possible, for the written record and because I have time to refine my thoughts.

  17. too many too soon*

    I find phone-insisters like to jump on the phone to cut ahead of the hundreds of other faculty I am working with who calmly and proactively used email or my ticket queue to request help. Thank the maker that my workplace let me set my call inbox to auto voicemail so I can screen appropriately and equitably.

    1. Curious*

      There are two issues here — (1) is communication by simultaneous bilateral/multilateral voice more efficient in certain circumstances, and (2) should communications be scheduled in advance (preferably through an asynchronous method of communication, such as text or email) or ad hoc. It is possible to stand firmly in favor of scheduled communication, while agreeing that some of those communications should be by voice.

  18. Evonon*

    You can run your business however you want but of course there are some instances where a chat will be more efficient and less confusing than 100 email exchanged. I would reccomend being upfront with clients about your communication preferences and specify when the rare call would be appropriate. If you get the “can you hop on quick?” Question it’s alright to say “Can we schedule a call for x and would you send over your questions about the teapot draft?” That way you are going in with an agenda, a designated time (and end time!) And can set up a zoom to share screens or turn off your camera to help guide the conversation

  19. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    The new horror is the impromptu video call.

    I think we should start to normalize that some people communicate differently and they don’t need to change that — or to look at it another way, others need to accommodate their differences — mental health, developmental disorders, hearing loss, or speech impediments can all be reasons why the telephone just isn’t a viable option. I know this is an old letter but I hope the OP felt comfortable saying that she has a disability that makes using the telephone nearly impossible for her so she communicates via email or messaging only.

    1. Sharon*

      The flip side to this is that some people are not good at communicating by email, so you may need to negotiate if there are both “reader/writers” and “listener/talkers” involved.

  20. Uncle Bob*

    The phone thing is real. I cannot for the life of me get my kids to use it – and it was effectively the ONLY way to communicate for my generation (and I’m not that old honestly). I suspect it will go the way of the mimeograph just for that reason – everyone under the age of about 35 basically can’t deal with it.

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      I wonder if it’s less dependent on age and more dependent on the function of the job. I’m under 35 and much prefer a quick phone call to sort things out. I work in a field where people are not attached to their desk all day and people do not carry their personal cell phones in the workplace, so if I need a right-now answer, my options are to call their extension, track them down on foot, or call the main desk in their office and see if someone has eyes on them. I can cover 20 emails’ worth of information in a 2-minute phone call. It’s much, much easier and quicker. Dealing with the “but I can’t handle the phone” types can be painful in my environment. But maybe in a place where everyone is at their desk at all times, has an instant-messenger system that everyone uses reliably, etc., it would be a different culture.

    2. quill*

      It really depends on the utility. Your kids probably prefer text because everything they deal with in life requires asynchronous communication. If they’re still kids it’s because most of the time you can’t take charge of your time to answer a phone call while you’re still in school.

      But also, being under 35: whether or not I use the phone is about whether it’s more efficient *for me* than texting. Avoiding spending an hour speaking to, say, my mom about a third cousin’s medical condition can be a huge factor in whether I use the phone socially.

      1. Uncle Bob*

        It’s not even prefer text – its when there is no alternative means of communication like calling a golf course to get a tee time or ordering pizza from a small local shop. I think it’s mainly around the anxiety of not knowing what the other person will say and how to reply.

        1. quill*

          Yeah I do that enough that I think it has more to do with growing up in an environment where there’s intense social pressure to always be a perfect speaker (people who were not eloquent growing up tend to be the people with phone anxiety, in my anecdotal experience) than anything that’s directly related to the phone.

          That and I can feel myself getting less annoyed by phone calls as I age – possibly exposure, possibly being in charge of my own damn time in a way I was not until I was into my 20’s.

        2. Moxie*

          I am dating myself again but I remember that there was instruction in elementary school (sometimes even practice! ) about how to make a phone call, answer the phone in different situations, and take a message. It was part of learning the essential social skills to function in society.

          1. allathian*

            Yup, that’s me, too.

            Anecdotally, my dad who’s in his mid-70s has always hated to use the phone. If he was at home but mom was at work and the phone rang, he often asked us kids to answer. He’d take over when he knew who was calling. Some of his friends found it very amusing that we answered the phone for him, like an admin would do. I’m much more willing to use the phone than he is, in spite of the fact that when he was a young adult entering the workforce, the only means of business communications were letters, inter-office memos, and the phone. Or maybe telegrams or telex.

    3. fueled by coffee*

      Under 35 here, and I think there are two things at play behind my dispreference for phone conversations:

      1. I find that, often, asynchronous conversation via email is sufficient and also doesn’t interrupt my workflow with what effectively amounts to a meeting (like others have said here)

      2. I find phone conversations across a power differential to be the most anxiety producing. With a coworker? No problem, totally comfortable on the phone. But I have to do a lot of communicating with people I don’t know well *and* who are much higher on the status hierarchy than I am, and so impromptu phone calls are so much more stressful to me than emails.

      Also, I think I have a lot of residual trauma from having to make small talk with my friends’ parents every time I had to call their home phones as a kid (joking. Mostly.).

      1. Sandman*

        Number two is so interesting! A lot of the calls I have to do right now are like that, or cold calls to people I don’t know. I think of myself as someone stressed by phone calls, but maybe it’s just that I really only have to do the hard ones.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      I think having other options besides ONLY the phone made a lot of people realize how much they hate the phone.

  21. Cassandra*

    I would probably be upfront with clients and tell them that you prefer to have business communications in writing and push towards that sort of communication. Because a “quick call” never ends up being quick. Maybe add, “I wouldn’t be able to do a conference call with you today, but if you send me your ideas in an email I’ll see if I can address them sooner.” Or something like that.

    But also bear in mind, that some clients might prefer a call because they are better at communicating what they need/want verbally instead of writing it down. So, it might be worthwhile with those clients to work out a process that works for both of you. I know with your anxiety it might not be ideal, but maybe come up with a template for having them express their ideas and needs where you do most of the listening and not as much of the talking, and then you can follow up via email with your ideas?

    1. I wish I were Tiffany Aching's friend*

      This right here. People who enjoy reading advice columns online and participating in comment threads have high literacy, and it’s easy for us to forget that this is not universal. Literacy is not about intelligence, it’s about being able to coordinate skills and brain function and eyesight and any number of other things.

      Lots of people can write and read well enough to get by, but not well enough to be comfortable with it. And you can bet your bippy that they’re not volunteering that information, because our society absolutely conflates literacy, intelligence, and education levels.

  22. North Wind*

    I’m ok on the phone/internet call but am super anxious on video. I don’t have a conversation with prospective clients about not doing video (every project starts with a Zoom call to screenshare project materials), I just don’t use it. Haven’t had a problem yet, but I would also walk away from a project if a client insisted.

    When other folks have their video on, I actually find it really distracting and I can’t digest the conversation as quickly or as well. I concentrate better not looking at people’s faces, so I minimize the video as much as I can.

    Really glad OP has the option to work how they are comfortable. I’m good at my job and am even good handling tricky client conversations, but I know I couldn’t do it face to face – the anxiety wouldn’t be worth any amount of pay. I feel really lucky to have found a way to do something I really enjoy in a sustainable-for-the-long-term way.

    1. KateM*

      I would find it easier on video call – seeing who I talk to really helps. But then I am an expat so most of my daily conversations are not in my native language, which probably in turn helps my phone aversion.

  23. nnn*

    I’m idly curious whether a medium like zoom would be easier or harder for people with phone anxiety?

    On one hand, you can see facial expressions and such, which might make it easier. On the other hand, it’s way more of a performance than phone, you have to be properly dressed, groomed, decluttered, etc., which is more labour.

    I grew up using a phone socially and I hate appearing on video, but I still sometimes find I can communicate better over a video medium. I’m exhausted at the end, but I find it’s better for things like rapport, approachability, etc.

    If you do find a video medium easier, maybe you could say something like “I’m not able to communicate by an audio-only medium, but we can schedule a zoom in 15 minutes/this afternoon/tomorrow”

    1. PhonePhobic*

      Not LW, but as someone who *hates* the phone, for me it’s planned vs unplanned nature of the communication. If you call me or email and suggest hopping on a zoom immediately, I’ll hate each of those equally. If you email and suggest a zoom meeting tomorrow, I’ll be more amenable to that.

      For me, it’s about budgeting energy. I’m always drowning in projects, and being client-facing takes energy, so I need to plan for that ahead of time. Plus, when I’m already fully immersed in addressing my current set of problems, being asked to context-switch to a whole new set of problems on a dime is really taxing.

      That said, I work with a team who is pretty accommodating about the above. It means I may have a few more recurring meetings/calls on the calendar that might go away if I were more open to being interrupted, but it’s a good compromise that works for our context.

      1. allathian*

        I don’t hate the phone per se, but I do hate forced context-switching and interruptions, so I despise calls out of the blue.

        That said, for me it’s usually enough if someone contacts me on chat and asks for a voice or video call. Voice is usually enough if we’re sharing screens, because I’m not going to be looking at the video.

  24. TiffIf*

    I don’t know if you will be able to avoid all phone calls but if you rely on written communication, make sure you read carefully all emails/texts/chats and answer all questions. A lot of times I find myself suggesting a call when the person I am with misunderstands my communication because they didn’t read fully or didn’t answer with all the pertinent information.

    It is really frustrating when email is the best way to communicate something and people don’t send what is needed. (We’re talking API code–you can’t communicate that over a phone call when I need the precise information you requested or the response you received.)

    1. tree*

      Is it?

      I only find it is for elderly clients.

      Younger clients there is no reason I would ever need to speak to them on the phone.

  25. Eponin*

    I hope this is an okay response, and I’ll preface this by stating this is my own experience, however, I also have pretty severe social anxiety in certain situations. I’m a mess during job interviews and presentations, for example. This year, I finally went to talk to my primary care doctor about what I was experiencing, because I also could not think straight through the anxiety during those times, and she prescribed me a very low dose, as needed only, anti-anxiety med that I can take 15 minutes before I go into a situation that I know will trigger my anxiety. It takes the edge off and leaves me able to think and function. I don’t know if this is something that will help you but maybe it’s worth a conversation with your doctor if you’re able to see if there’s something that will help?

  26. cubone*

    Can I sit say as a counterpoint that the opposite (insistence on phone only), while perhaps less common, can be equally frustrating?

    At a former workplace, we had someone who LOVED to give everyone 25 and under impromptu “just jump on the phone and call them!!” lectures. Besides it being pretty infantilizing, every single time this person called me it was either:
    A) she’d dialled the wrong person
    B) she thought I was responsible for a project I had zero to do with
    C) it was 4:58PM and she had 20 minutes of stuff she wanted to go over

    For A+B, which sound like honest mistakes (if they hadn’t happened dozens of times), it would take at least 10 minutes or more to get her to understand that she had called the wrong person. Even when she understood it wasn’t the right person, she still insisted on telling me as if I cared about this work that had nothing to do with me. It was bizarre.

    Obviously this is a one off anecdotal but I’m someone who is very very comfortable on the phone and I’ve gotten the “just call” lecture so many times unprompted (or apparently “promoted” by “I emailed them 1 hour ago for a not remotely urgent issue” = warranting a “learn to use the phone, millennial” lecture). I work with youth, I know phone phobia is real and common, but I would pay money to never have to get one of these lectures ever again.

    1. quill*

      Yeah. It’s probably my age prompting only certain people to give me their opinions, but I’ve found that there is a cohort of people who just don’t trust anyone from the “generation” below them to know that there are multiple avenues of communication and be able to adjust them to their needs… whether those needs are based on anxiety or simply using the right tool for the job.

      1. cubone*

        Right? I had a boss who was constantly pestering me to phone some of our youth volunteers (over 18) if they didn’t reply to an email within a few hours. Would get the whole lecture: “these kids need to learn to get comfortable with the phone” etc etc

        If it was really urgent, I would text them and get a response within the hour. Why? Because that’s how long their classes AT SCHOOL were roughly so they had time to reply to my text in between breaks. And were not only prompt but really clear and professional in text communications. The issue WAS getting the right communication at the right time. But calling wasn’t it.

        1. fueled by coffee*

          Also, I’m not a teenager, but I’ve gotten these kind of “just call them!” lectures or requests for impromptu phone meetings – but I have *never* had a job provide me with an office phone, which means I’ve used my personal cell phone for these calls. I don’t want to then have to field calls from random clients/work associates/friends of my boss on my personal phone!

          1. allathian*

            Google Voice might be an option, at least if you’re in the US. That way you don’t have to give out your personal phone number.

            Conversely, I’ve never had a job where I have to be reachable by people outside the organization that hasn’t given me either a work extension, or a cellphone.

    2. anonymous73*

      I think what can be taken away from this is that there are multiple forms of communication, and one is not always best for every situation. I’m a GenXer and spent the majority of my teenage years with a corded phone attached to my ear, my dad in the background saying “weren’t you in school with them all day?” At this point in my life I’m not a fan of the phone, and I prefer instant messenger or email at work because if it can wait I don’t want to interrupt them. But if I’ve spent hours ( or days) going back and forth over email and am not getting what I need from the other person (which happens to me frequently because people tend to skim emails), I’m going to call them to discuss the issue.

    3. cassielfsw*

      How about the people who insist on phone calls to the point where they will call the person in the office next to them, both put the call on speaker at TOP VOLUME, and then I (right next to both offices) get to listen to the whole conversation in glorious *quadruple stereo*. It’s one of the most annoying things I’ve ever experienced.

  27. Aquawoman*

    I’m not a fan of the phone and have a mild disability that makes it harder for me. I also function much better in writing. But there are also people who have dyslexia or dysgraphia and process speech much better than writing. I also find there are times to have a phone call (e.g. if we go back and forth more than a few times with questions, it’s time to get on the phone). Also, people can (and should) follow up phone calls with confirming emails.

  28. chewingle*

    I have hearing problems that make talking on the phone difficult at times. I can handle Zoom or Google Hangouts because they do closed captioning. (Even if it’s not aways accurate—the sounds and the text combine give me enough to understand what’s being said.) It would be really nice if everyone would embrace non-phone methods of communication.

    1. Splendid Colors*

      I have similar problems.

      And Alison’s answer completely ignored Deaf employees, by the way. Yes, some Deaf people have cochlear implants, but the quality of hearing is not always good enough to understand speech without access to lip reading. Also, it’s not reasonable for a workplace to expect an employee to have ***invasive brain surgery*** to work around a problem we already have accommodations for at no extra cost: email, text chat, and (to some extent) auto-captioning. And written notes if you encounter someone Deaf in person (customer, business colleague).

      Don’t be like the Dunkin’ Donuts manager and staff who refused to sell donuts to a Deaf customer because she couldn’t lip-read through your mask and you wouldn’t let her write down her order.

      1. Lacey*

        Deaf people often use services that allow them to “talk” on the phone with a translator. I have a deaf friend who uses one all the time. She also used to have a machine that would convert voice to text, but I don’t know if she still has that as I know she likes the translator better.

      2. Zephy*

        I mean, Alison is responding to a specific person’s specific situation, and the LW isn’t Deaf, so I’m not sure why you think she needs to address all possible reasons a person might have for not using the phone. But even so, right in the middle of the article, she advises the LW can make it clearer that phones aren’t an option with “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.” A Deaf person could absolutely use that language. Or does it not count unless the person in question discloses their disability status right up front, which plenty of people would understandably be reluctant to do, living as they do in our still-severely-ableist world?

        1. BRR*

          Exactly. This is about the LW’s situation and Alison gave a very understanding response and even says, you can avoid the phone but you might lose business.

        2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I liked Alison’s second script *because* it included the possibility of a hearing impairment.

          No one can be all things to all people, including advice columnists.

      3. Archaeopteryx*

        This seems like an aggressive and unreasonable take. She’s responding to a specific person who is just uncomfortable speaking on the phone, not someone whose body precludes the possibility. The “sandwiches” rule seems like it applies here.

        1. Not a College Student Anymore*

          Actually she is very much responding to a person whose body precludes the possibility of speaking on the phone, social anxiety is not being just uncomfortable, it’s a physical reaction.

          1. Calliope*

            It’s wrong to say that having clinical anxiety means your body categorically “precludes” doing the thing your anxious about. (I say as someone with clinical anxiety).

      4. Hotdog not dog*

        Ugh, this pandemic has made communication a million times harder! It’s hard enough to read lips when people mumble, turn their head, or wave their hands directly in front of their face, but through a mask, forget it! Text, closed caption, and email for the win.

      5. stitchinthyme*

        Small nitpick: cochlear implants do not require “brain surgery”, nor are they that big a deal for most people as far as recovery goes. (I have two.)

        That doesn’t mean I’m saying all d/Deaf people should get them; I just don’t think that spreading misinformation is going to help anyone.

    2. ali*

      All of this. I have a cochlear implant and while I can talk on the phone, my phone avoidance goes FAR further than just phone anxiety (which I also have, even pre-hearing loss). I am in Zoom/WebEx /Teams meetings a lot of the day and it’s downright exhausting, while that’s exhausting for everyone, having a hearing loss provides it’s own special level of auditory fatigue. The only person I will EVER “jump on the phone with” at work is my manager, and she’s well aware of my situation.

      1. stitchinthyme*

        Bilateral CI user here — I stopped by to say more or less the same thing. I do have to have phone meetings with coworkers sometimes (thanks, COVID!), but they all know about my hearing loss and are good about repeating stuff when I ask. I am REALLY glad I don’t have a job that requires dealing with strangers, either face-to-face or on the phone, because that is always a stressful thing for me.

        The way I usually describe it to hearing people: everything I hear sounds like it’s coming through a bad PA system — mostly understandable, but the quality is nowhere near as good as normal hearing, and it takes concentration to follow along. Add in the phone and that makes the quality a little bit worse, and therefore more difficult.

    3. Hey Nonnie*

      All of this. I have auditory processing disorder, and phones can be…. challenging. Video meetings are somewhat better, because I can take some cues from watching their face and body language; though bad captioning can mess me up more than no captions, so I don’t always use them. (Pre-recorded captions are better than live, so they are permanently on my TV.) But I haaaaaate people who insist on having a phone call when we haven’t even established if it’s worth having a phone call. Email your questions! If it’s complex enough I will set up a call, but if it’s something I can answer in an email in 2 minutes please let’s not waste 15+ minutes on the phone with me struggling to understand you. And aggressively insisting on a phone call when I don’t even know what you want yet it a surefire way to make me wary of working with you at all.

      This comes from hyperacuity and brain stuff rather than hearing loss, so I’ve had zero intervention or support (I was always great at hearing tests, because those tones are in isolation and not an accurate representation of real-world noise), and I don’t even know if there are workable accommodations out there that aren’t already my preferred modes of working — text-based communication first, audio only if absolutely necessary. I was well into adulthood before I’d even heard of audio processing disorder.

      1. Nat*

        Yeah this tbh, I have ADHD which causes my APD & I HATE unexpected phone calls because it is impossible for me to absorb & remember information like that, generally if someone at work wants to tell me something verbally I need them to give me time to write it down or send me an email confirming it, which means they could have just emailed me anyway! (I also didn’t know it was a thing until a few years ago, & suddenly all the hearing tests I did as a kid that were like “her hearing’s great actually” despite me never hearing my mum calling me when I was in another room focused on playing made a lot more sense lol)

    4. hayling*

      I recently learned that Zoom has this feature! Your IT admin has to enable it. I got our IT to turn it on for all employees. Any meeting owner can turn it on, and anyone can request is via a button in a meeting (anonymously if they want).

    5. Amaranth*

      I have moderate-to-severe tinnitus and its incredibly awkward to have to ask people to repeat themselves multiple times in a conversation. It makes me much less confident on phone calls because I know it can come across that I lack comprehension of the subject matter, or am distracted. Even my family sometimes gets frustrated because they are standing. right. there. and I didn’t catch on they were talking to me. It makes me feel obligated to mention that I have some hearing issues, which sometimes causes reactions of disbelief or people speaking unnaturally slow or loud. *sigh*

  29. Dust Bunny*

    I hate the phone and, by chance, my line of work is much, much, better served by email–we often refer people to websites and it’s obviously a lot more effective to just email someone than to explain a URL, especially since a certain subset of our patrons are really not familiar with the Internet.

    But I still use it. There are specific people and organizations with whom I know an email will be lost in a black hole and the only way to deal with them is to keep calling. And there is no-one else to whom it would be appropriate for me to pass it off, even if doing that were fair. So if I want to stay in this job, I accept/make phone calls.

  30. Rebecca*

    I very rarely use the phone, and have been pretty successful in navigating clients to email. Part of that is my work life balance – I run a small online school, and for some reason, my clients – parents – always think that business hours apply to them in their job, but not to me. I have had parents call or text at midnight because their son is crying about homework – I promise, a 4th grader’s homework is NEVER an emergency. I can’t answer the phone when I’m teaching, which is a large percentage of my working day, and I work in my second language a lot. I teach the kids in English, but have to deal with their parents in French, and I am terrible on the phone in my second language. When clients need a face to face conversation, I schedule a zoom appointment – not an unscheduled call.

    A few families have my phone number because they got it through a friend who gave it out, but I gently and firmly redirect them. When they text me or I miss a call, I respond to it through email, and tell them that’s a MUCH more reliable way of getting to me. All that to say, navigating communication away from the phone and onto email is mostly doable if you explain why, have boundaries, and stick to them.

  31. Glomarization, Esq.*

    The more flexibility you have in your methods of communicating with clients, the broader your client base and the more clients (read: income) you’ll have. The more you limit your communications, the more work you prevent yourself from getting. I’m thinking particularly about older clients of mine who don’t do e-mail, can’t view documents electronically, etc. They still need my services. And I tell you what, the time I spend on the phone with them pays for itself in referrals by them.

    It’s younger business clients, too. They’re savvy with technology but they’re also busy, and they often prefer to toss me a quick question over the phone rather than send e-mail. If I’m in the middle of something, I’ll let it go to voicemail — I’m busy, too, and just because a client calls doesn’t mean I have to drop everything and answer the phone.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      And that’s just it– flexibility. I prefer to do a lot of work over email, but I have several clients who prefer a phone call. Thankfully they usually ask me to call them so I can be prepared, but if I refused to call them, it would certainly tarnish the relationship.

      Your second point about letting calls go to vm is also true! I’m busy, I eat lunch, I’m on another call… no client of mine has ever been upset by not being able to reach me right that second.

    2. tree*

      This is true, part of our client base is over 65 and doesn’t use online channels.

      It is frustrating though and I understand if you’re busy enough you might simply cut out that demographic. If I could cut out that demographic I might do that. Unfortunately we can’t.

      I think a goal in business should be to be busy enough to cut out the hard work clients. Which may be phone call people if you don’t like the phone.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I really, really disagree with this, especially with the categorization of older clients being “hard work”. Cutting out a whole group of people because they prefer the phone? That’s not just uncool, that’s leaving waaaay too much money on the table.

        I have a client who keeps terrible records and prefers to hash things out on the phone. He’s probably in his late 50s. He can be super annoying. But he is a nice guy, he buys services from me, and every conversation hones my knowledge of my products. It’s worth it to be flexible, which is Glomarization’s point– not that we should strive to ignore business if it makes us step out of our comfort zones.

        1. allathian*

          In this case, though, the LW stated that they’re busy enough with their current workload that they can refuse to do business with customers who prefer or insist on using the phone.

        2. tree*

          We have 35 appointments in a day. If I can fill all of those with easy people then I will. It’s a business not a charity. Business is up and down with Covid but theoretically we should reach a point where we could just fill with ease.

          I feel sorry for old people but plenty of our older clients do use online and many of our older people who don’t were young when computers came out and refused to learn and act like codgers and carry on about having to keep up with the times. They don’t have disabilities, they’re just sticks in the mud and it’s their fault they are in a position where they refused to learn necessary skills.

  32. ResuMAYDAY*

    I encourage the LW to consider the client could be requesting a phone call because they don’t write well or type well, or some similar aversion to email that the LW claims.
    The LW’s preferred communication style could be causing the other person the same level of anxiety. What then?

    1. bananab*

      They’re not compatible! Not being flip, but they shouldn’t work together, and that seems ok to me. If they did, they’d both be miserable the whole time.

      1. ResuMAYDAY*

        And that’s a possibility. Not everyone was meant to do business with each other. I’m merely pointing out that in OP’s narrative, the needs of the other person doesn’t seem to be a consideration.
        I know, from 20+ years of self-employment, that ‘steady’ clients can disappear at any time for any reason. Or, a ‘phone’ client may call with OP’s dream project. At some point, broadening their communication skills may be a huge benefit.

  33. Copyright Economist*

    I understand the idea of not wanting to do some things in the work context; I’m autistic myself and have requested accomodations at my office. But I’m afraid that you might lose more business than you think if you simply say you “don’t do the phone” without explaining why. My first assumption if I heard that someone won’t talk on the phone is to assume that the business is a scam. My second assumption would be that the person is very junior, since, in my experience, older people tend to like the phone and younger people tend to prefer email/text. I would worry that you would get an bad online review.
    Would it be possible to hire an assistant to handle these phone calls? If not, consider explaining that you have a condition which makes it more difficult for you to interact on the phone. Just a few ideas.

  34. Dino*

    This is probably not an issue for the OP but companies, please I beg of you, have a phone number that people can call and get a person. I work as an interpreter for deaf and hard of hearing people to call hearing people and vice versa. Companies that won’t answer or only have a recorded message saying to email are the bane of my existence. Many signing deaf people are not comfortable with English and just want a real person they can ask questions of. Redirecting to written English is incredibly marginalizing.

  35. Pascall*

    I also used to absolutely loathe talking on the phone, but I also came from the position of a nonprofit fundraiser (as someone who did not come from money, is a minority, etc.) who was speaking to people several hundreds of thousands of dollars above my income level which was kind of terrifying and I hated the power dynamic there.

    Now I’m in HR and really spend most of the time on the phone with employees which is way easier, so I’ve pretty much gotten over my phone phobia. My only downfall now is not being able to really help Spanish-speaking employees, but luckily, I have a spanish-speaking coworker I can transfer them to.

    1. Pascall*

      I also do freelancing btw and getting better at the phone has absolutely enabled me to gain some great clients who really communicate better over the phone or a teams call. Then I follow up with a summary via email to have them sign off on or agree to for a record.

      It’s definitely beneficial, but honestly, I don’t think it’s necessary for EVERYONE. Just really helpful to anyone who wants to succeed at working closely with people. And even then, there are definitely ways around it for people who require accommodations for whatever reason, including disabilities.

      1. Daphne (UK)*

        Interesting point about power dynamics in the first post. Hopefully this isn’t detailing the main thread – but can do you have any tips Pascall about how you improved?

        Could be helpful for the OP….and me of course who also has social anxiety and needs to get over my phone fear!

  36. RagingADHD*

    You can set whatever parameters you want on your work.

    You can’t control what other people think about it.

    A lot of clients are going to think it’s wierd and off-putting if you refuse to ever speak with them in real time. Are those clients you need? Only you can say.

    But on the whole, no – there is not a magic script that can ensure nobody will ever think this is “ridiculous” (not the word I’d choose, but yours). People are going to have whatever opinions they have, and some of them are going to be negative.

  37. EC*

    If you’re fine with losing business then just be direct about how you’re willing to communicate at the start, and lose some business. Personally, I would prefer to know this up front so I could find someone else. I wouldn’t ever do business with someone who won’t do direct communication. Playing email tag to try to get an answer that should take two minutes is frustrating.

  38. Harried HR*

    Different people communicate differently some people thrive on written communication whereas some people hate it. There is less brainstorming and the natural exchange of ideas, having to edit, proofread, spell check etc. every communication filters out personality and nuance. I understand the reasons for written communication BUT if all exchanges were virtual and no personal contact at all I would 100 % walk away from the Vendor at a very very fast pace !!

  39. Pennilyn Lot*

    I used to struggle a lot with the phone. After a few years of doing a job that requires me to have a decent phone manner, it is second nature. That’s not going to be true for everyone. But it’s also not going to be true for everyone that email is a more accessible option, as a lot of commenters here are saying.

    It seems like it’s an accessibility barrier for the LW and that they’re happy to accept the possible consequences of losing business if they don’t do phone calls, which is fine and totally up to them. In general I would heavily advise freelancers doing work like this for clients to be open to phone calls (and to think about phone calls/email communication and build it into your contracts if either drains a lot of your time). Lots of people are more comfortable (and clearer) describing what they want verbally than in writing, and you can address follow-up questions in the moment. You can still send a follow-up email afterwards summarizing the conversation to make sure everyone is on the same page and keep a paper trail.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, but this really doesn’t work for people with social anxiety to the point that they aren’t even hearing what you’re saying on the phone. They don’t retain the information, so it’s no help to you, either.

      If you just hate being on the phone because it feels like a suboptimal way of doing things most of the time, there are workarounds you can use to make it seem less onerous. With a script/template, it’s also easier to take notes during the call to retain the information. But this doesn’t really help much if you have social anxiety to the point that the idea of an unscheduled phone call makes you hyperventilate.

      1. Pennilyn Lot*

        Which is why I said “That’s not going to be true for everyone. But it’s also not going to be true for everyone that email is a more accessible option, as a lot of commenters here are saying.”

  40. Mockingjay*

    OP, if you want to try a phone call, I suggest developing a “script” of common elements or steps to guide the conversation. That will reduce the time spent on the phone while you get the details and confirmations you need. You can also use the script for an email template so you gather info consistently, regardless of the media used to communicate.

  41. Kdubs*

    I could have written this! I also run my own creative biz and struggle with phone anxiety, too.

    I usually push clients to give feedback / updates in the document or file itself since I work in Google Docs. I know there are tools out there for graphic design that might alleviate the “quick call” BS.

    I also include a clause in my contracts where I charge hourly for “quick” phone calls that are usually anything but. I’ve found that charging for calls cuts down on a lot of (usually unnecessary) calls.

    And sometimes you just have to take a phone call even though it REALLY sucks. One of my coping mechanisms is to “pretend” I’m confident and not at all freaked out. It’s a weird mind trick but it works for me.

    As far as having a paper trail, I’ve moved all of my calls to Google Meet. I get the clients’ permission beforehand and record the entire call, providing the recording to them afterward. This way, there’s no question about what we discussed.

    1. quill*

      I think specifically with clients people are sometimes doing it in order to get around things like paying for the extra time you need to adjust to their changes of heart. Not neccessarily knowingly or maliciously, but “oh, I did tell Kdubs that the new designs have to be in helvetica font, not arial, right? I’ll just call and confirm because *I* have time right this minute, I don’t want to put in a request for a design change that would cost me money if I did tell them already!”

  42. turquoisecow*

    I dislike phone calls and try very hard to avoid them. But I also have worked with people who are pretty much impossible to deal with email-only. I send an email with three questions, they half-answer one. They give me directions that don’t make sense. They have so many errors that I’m not sure what they’re talking about. With these people, it’s absolutely necessary to have phone or in person talks.

    Since OP is a freelancer maybe she can choose not to work with people like this, but it’s going to limit her business. I’m extremely comfortable just writing what I think and making it coherent for other people, but I have known a LOT of people who are terrible writers. Phone calls end up becoming necessary to get clarity.

  43. Gloucesterina*

    With the sample language that Alison is offering, is the idea that the OP would be transparent before a client signs a contract about which communications options are offered and which are not? Or is it more language to use should a client ask about phone calls at any point in the contracted work?

  44. Texas*

    I’ve found writing scripts (or even just how I’ll introduce myself/open the conversation and some notes on what to hit [questions I need answered, info I need to convey to them]) to be really helpful in dealing with my phone anxiety. A lot of comments have referenced concerns about hiring a freelancer without at least an initial call. Would it be a possibility to have initial discussions on the phone then all continuing communication in email? Then it’d only be calls that you’ll schedule/be able to prepare for and only one type of phone conversation for which you can have the script/format.

  45. bananab*

    I also do graphic design and I’ve got a note on my website that I don’t do phone meetings, and whenever anyone asks for one I always refuse and explain that I understand it might be a dealbreaker (phone call lovers usually suggest it very early). If I’ve lost any work from this, it’s so trivial that Ive certainly never noticed it.

  46. Ozzie*

    I have pretty severe phone anxiety, which has caused issues at my current job… When we hired someone to help with my job (a simplification in a few words), one of the requirements – agreed upon by me and my boss – was that they had to be comfortable on the phone, so that they could take on the bulk of that part of the job. I will still use the phone when absolutely necessary, answer the phone when I’m needed to in place of others, etc. But the primary responsibility being moved to someone else made my day so much easier to manage mentally. So, I’m very sympathetic to LW here. I wish I had the ability to alleviate myself of the duty entirely, but I was grateful that my boss was willing to work with me on this over the years and find a compromise. (before hiring the 3rd person, she would handle calls as much as possible, and I would do the primary technical leg work that often accompanied the calls, though if this wasn’t feasible I would use the phone ofc)

    I understand why bosses will get exasperated about this, but it isn’t as though we choose to be this way, so working with phone-anxious employees/colleagues to find a solution is, honestly, greatly appreciated. And better for overall productivity (after particularly stressful calls with customers, I might need 10-15min to get myself calmed down enough to get back to work – something I desperately wish I could be better about, since as you can imagine, this makes many things in life challenging). But, obviously there isn’t always a compromise to be had. (I wouldn’t expect a supervisor at a call center to be terribly compromising, for exmaple, because… it’s literally the job!)

  47. cheeky*

    Look, I don’t love phone calls, but sometimes, especially with project work, it’s simply the best and most effective mode of communication, short of meeting in person. I probably wouldn’t stick with a contractor or service provider who refused to use the phone- it’s really frustrating when you NEED to have a real conversation.

    1. cheeky*

      And i have dealt with serious anxiety for my whole life, but sometimes you just have to deal with the anxiety- avoiding your triggers doesn’t fix the problem.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Neither does facing them.

        It’s awfully exhausting to be told what does or doesn’t fix anxiety when the reality is it’s just there and always will be. Might as well tell me to fix my height or something. There are things I can do to adjust, but it is what it is.

        You’d give a contractor or service provider a pass if they were Deaf or mute, but you won’t for anxiety. Think about that for a second.

        1. tree*

          IDK I have serious mental health problems and I have had conflicting advice. One eminent psychiatrist told me to use exposure theory and confront the problems head on and go and do the thing that gives me anxiety until the fear lessens.

          Another told me to avoid triggers!

          The reality I find at work is that there are some things I can’t avoid so I have to work around them. If you have phone phobia you might write down your talking points for example. I personally sometimes go into work early to give myself more time to do stuff to ease the pressure. There are ways and means other than giving up.

          1. cheeky*

            the standard of care of anxieties/phobias is exposure therapy- it’s not normal to have a crippling fear of things like phone calls, or in my case, needles.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              No, the standard of care is psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Exposure therapy can be part of psychotherapy, but it’s OFTEN not, and it’s highly dependant on the patient, the phobia, and the caregiver.

        2. FD*

          Hrm. I think for me, what it really comes down to is how intrusive it is to avoid the trigger, and the cost to avoid the trigger.

          I went through a period where I developed extremely intense driving anxiety (e.g. I would literally have panic attacks while driving). Public transit was not a realistic option so I *HAD* to go through exposures to get past that because otherwise I had no way to work.

          But for instance, my need to go back and check the door and the stove an extra time before I leave? It’s just once and it only adds a couple of minutes so it’s honestly not worth the effort of trying to get rid of it.

          So, I think for the LW, the question is, how much of a problem is this? If she is satisfied with the level of business she gets under these conditions, it may not be worth the trouble of dealing with it.

  48. tree*

    Phone phobia is what it is. I think if necessary people need to man up a bit and speak on the phone when necessary.

    That aside, I actually don’t think phone calls have any point in the workplace. It is so easy to mess up information that comes over the phone. In my work we take bookings and orders and it is so much easier when people message or email. I also get anxious and this way I can double check I have inputted the correct booking or order, cross referencing with the written communication.

    The only time I think phone works for me is social calls with friends who prefer to chat. But if the call involves important information I prefer it to be written to refer back to.

  49. tree*

    I also want to point out there is no reason for anyone to call my work ever in theory. We could in theory set up to be completely written communication. There is literally no reason to call if we set it up right.

    The main reason we accept phone calls is some of our clients are older and don’t use online.

    While phone phobia can be a bit eye rolling the reality is it has sound logical grounds and in the future places like my work will have no need for phone calls once the older generation is gone.

    1. Dino*

      All you’re doing it cutting off any customer who doesn’t read or write English. Those people will continue to exist even after the “older generation” dies off.

      1. tree*

        We’re not a charity. In a small business margins are tight (and in the negative during Covid) and we will fill our books as easily as possible and at as low a cost. As a manager of a small business in a small region it is exhausting being expected to bend over backwards out of our own pocket to benefit everyone else, all while the owner makes a low income. People expect way too much, they literally expect you to lose money to their benefit. During Covid we have had people expect us to be run at a loss so the community can have the benefit of our business, all while my boss is broke.

        I feel for people who don’t speak English but if we end up losing money having to work too hard to gain that client well what is the point of being in business if you don’t make money off the client?

      2. allathian*

        Indeed. And so will people who are functionally illiterate for other reasons, such as severe dyslexia. Although to be fair, voice-to-text (and text-to-voice) apps are getting better all the time, which should help somewhat, even if it’ll take them a while longer to understand strong foreign accents.

        That said, while organizations that provide essential services can’t really refuse to do business with anyone except in extreme cases, a small business owner in a reasonably competitive field is perfectly entitled to refuse to do business with clients for seemingly trivial, but actually pretty significant, reasons, such as an extreme aversion to using the phone. It’s not as if anyone’s being denied access to a service because a graphic designer doesn’t want to do business by phone. There are thousands of other graphic designers who’re perfectly willing to do so.

  50. tangerineRose*

    My concern would be that some people really don’t communicate well by e-mail. I don’t know why this is, but as someone who usually starts with e-mail, I’ve dealt with a few people who were incredibly frustrating to communicate with by e-mail but were perfectly coherent, clear, sometimes even succinct when on the phone.

    1. tree*

      My work accepts communication via phone calls, text, Facebook messenger, Facebook comment and email.

      It is a mixed bag as to how well people communicate. I haven’t found any one channel is better than another, but at least with written stuff I can read it back to check on it.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I agree. I do not find phone calls end up being clearer, the grand majority of time. Faster maybe, but not clearer and with no written record.

        A recorded zoom call might work for that purpose, but it depends a lot on the context.

        1. tree*

          We were closed most of this week due to Covid where I live (Not USA). Everyone knows every business is pretty random right now. It’s the whole country kind of and defiantly my entire state.

          I was at work, one of the few times we’re open, and I had a voicemail from a client who simply said ‘I will have x on y date, see you then.’ And hung up. No phone number. No acknowledgement everywhere does limited orders right now and you need to check if you can be fitted in. Ok, well we were closed that day they intend to show up and collect. I hope they did show up.

          So phone is not always better! At least if it was written I could have written back to them. And I don’t have access to the voicemail in the shop when at home. I do answer the online stuff when I’m off work to help out so if they had messaged they would have gotten a reply. A voicemail was left until we were back in the shop.

  51. EventPlannerGal*

    Honestly I would find it extremely frustrating to deal with someone who I could *never* reach on the phone. Reach only in emergencies, reach only by scheduled call, okay, I could deal with that. But never? Personally I would find that difficult.

    I think the best way to get clients to be okay with it is to be ON IT with emails. My issue with email-only people is that I have no idea if they’ve read my email, if they’re doing anything with it, if it’s languishing in their inbox while they take a nap, whatever. Or if they’re going to read my five bullet-pointed questions and reply “yes ok” then go silent for three days. If you can show that you send timely and full responses that would go a long way to alleviate those concerns.

  52. SpecialSpecialist*

    I don’t like talking on the phone either.

    One of the things that I’ve done over the last year since I’m mostly WFH is to offer to chat right away or schedule a call for later whenever a co-worker cold calls me through Teams (why oh why can’t people give you a head’s-up chat to see if you’re even available before calling…). I’m better able to manage calls if they’re scheduled.

  53. Lexica*

    To OP: I also strongly dislike (that’s a euphemism) talking on the phone. Yet sometimes it’s the best way to handle something. A question or misunderstanding that might take multiple back-and-forths via email to resolve may be possible to untangle in a phone conversation of less than 5 minutes.

    This is absolutely not intended to come across as “just get over it”, but maybe you could use the prompt of “can we have a phone call?” as an opportunity to spend a few moments getting centered so you can respond?

    1. Raida*

      and managing an anxiety often doesn’t mean avoiding the causes of it, it does mean learning skills and tools to manage the situations, lowering the anxiety in the future for them, too.

  54. Ms.Pepperoni*

    When I do graphic design on the side, I absolutely require that all initial communication happens by email so absolutely every detail is in writing. When the first draft is ready, I schedule a phone call with the client and send them the initial design. I have had too many clients insist that they asked for a design element that they absolutely never mentioned, and it is invaluable to have all early conversations in a written form. I don’t have social anxiety about phone calls, but I find that email significantly helps the client-designer relationship, and forces the client to think about actually communicating what they want.

  55. PhonesR4Talking*

    I hate-hate non-phone comms. It’s so hard to get tone and read the other person if it’s just text-based. And don’t get me started on emoticons. Bleah.I prefer a call and then email later to confirm discussion.

    LW, I hope you are receiving treatment for your medical issue!

  56. FD*

    I said this partly upstream. One of the benefits of owning your own business is that you get to make the rules. If you aren’t comfortable talking on the phone, you get to not talk on the phone. No one can make you.

    I do think it might be smart to disclose that up front. I also feel like it would be helpful to have some sort of real-time communication method where you could hop into a discussion if needed, some sort of chat client (I don’t know what people use for business, but I’m thinking of the equivalent of AIM or Discord–Slack, I guess?).

    I do think there are cases where it’s hard to do good design without bouncing ideas off each other, but I do think it’s possible to have some really good back-and-forth by a text channel.

  57. Talk Nerdy To Me*

    You can do whatever you want with your business, but I do think that it is beneficial to practice those skills that make you uncomfortable.

    For some people, talking on the phone comes naturally. For others, it’s a skill that must be practiced. But I do believe that YOU CAN talk on the phone. You just don’t want to. And that’s fine because it’s your business.

    In appropriate cases, I think if something makes you uncomfortable, you should try to push past it to the point where you are able to do it. This includes things like talking on the phone, public speaking, asking for that raise, or shutting down that client that is doing too much.

  58. Here we go again*

    Please Don’t mention anything about anxiety. It’s none of their business.
    Personally I prefer communicating with clients via email for a record. Less confusion and I can share photos and links. You can use that reason. Especially with a field like design emailing photos back and forth can make life easier. Plus there is a record of everything said.

  59. Raida*

    If you don’t need the extra work that avoiding phone calls might get you, then this is fine.

    That is to say, yes, some people will not want to work with a faceless, voiceless email address.
    It is easier to clarify things verbally than in writing without getting really. REALLY. BLUNT. including about things that are EXCLUDED, making emails almost rude or condescending in some cases. (I work with data requests and analysis, parameters is my bag).

    Having digital meetings, with an agenda, with a list of things to go through and confirm, and then at the end clarifying the agreement on each point, which is in writing on a shared screen, and emailing it before the meeting even ends has worked wonders for avoiding miscommunication.
    A lot of people communicate better verbally and get reassurance that they are being understood verbally.

    However if you are good at communicating over email, and don’t have issues with misunderstandings, then I’d say you’re in a good position to simply state “I am unable to perform phone calls/tele meetings.” and reiterate the value in having things in writing.
    Hell, perhaps suggest you have a medical condition which makes phone calls impossible to perform – and let them imagine that you’re deaf, mute, had a stroke, a tracheotomy, severe stutter…

  60. Tiger Snake*

    It changes the circumstances somewhat, but does anyone have any tips for how to orient this for someone who would be generally mute or hard of hearing?

    I had a coworker who was deaf. She had it written in her chat profile, but she also listed my phone number because, for obvious reasons, she couldn’t use her.
    The number of people who would ignore the chat notification and call me, asking for her, was staggering. Even after she changed roles, they were still calling me looking for her for at least a year.

    Everyone insisted chatting was too hard or would complicate things. Everyone insisted I give the phone to her and – when it was made clear that that wouldn’t work – that I help them through their ‘just one thing’ instead. I wasn’t working on the same projects as her, I genuinely couldn’t help, but we need these people to be willing to collaborative with us.
    Trying to get people to just use the chat window with her instead was an exhausting, combative exercise every time.

    1. anone*

      In that case, I would just not give people any phone number to call. If they need to talk to her, there’s one option and nothing anyone can do about it. Having a number there that they aren’t supposed to call seems to be asking for unnecessary trouble.

      1. Tiger Snake*

        I wish it were possible, but your assigned phone number gets automatically loaded into your profile. You can manually change it (I think its so you can make it a mobile if you like), but its a mandatory field so you can’t remove/clear it. Someone wrote the input checker decently, so it identifies and rejects non-legit numbers like 000-000-000 too.

  61. Steve*

    I do think this is something the op needs to work on. I suffered from social anxiety that gave me anxiety attacks for many years. I know the pain of suffering from social anxiety and have even thrown up from it. I get it.

    That being said, some conversations just need to be discussed in real time. That may be text or chat, but zoom or teams are becoming frequent. Ultimately, regardless of if there is a workaround to this problem, it creates a limit for the op, which is letting their anxiety win.

    I would highly suggest to anyone dealing with irrational thought to check out the app Mood Kit, which has a though checker to determine if you’re thinking is distorted based on things like all or nothing thinking. I have found that going through the through checker will reduce my anxiety levels by half.

  62. GiveItaGo*

    I also have anxiety about taking on the phone. I often use the excuse that “I don’t hear well on the phone”. That seems to go over better.

  63. Brain the Brian*

    My desk phone has been broken for at least a year now, and our IT / admin departments cannot figure out why. It goes straight to a busy signal, without even the option to leave a voicemail, when someone calls me; however, I can call anyone from it. IT has been attempting to diagnose the problem for over a year with absolutely zero luck. It’s very, very strange… but it *is* the perfect excuse not avoid annoying phone calls: “Oh, I’m sorry — my phone refuses to connect and our IT department cannot determine a solution despite months of trying. E-mail is best.”

  64. Gilgongo*

    Web/graphic designer here, and I’m exactly the same way. I had some clients who INSISTED on talking on the phone. They were mostly lonely & just wanted to chat.

    I didn’t used to bill for phone calls, but I started to. And then I would bill for the time I spent typing up the notes of what was said on the call for them to approve.

    I hate the phone. HATE it! It’s often hard to hear/understand the other person, and I like to have everything in writing so that there’s no confusion. I have to take notes while I’m talking & often miss stuff. And, yes, the lonely people who just want someone to talk to.

    One of the (many) reasons I stopped freelancing is because of clients who insisted on using the phone.

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