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Why I Rarely Answer My Phone

mute button by woodleywonderworks on FlickrIncreasingly, as a digital native, citizen of the internet, geek girl – call me what you wish – I find myself more and more discerning about how, when, and with whom I use the phone.

It is simply another trending practice that all marketers would be wise to note: Interruption of any kind is increasingly irritating and unnecessary in today’s world of technology and community. Consider this yet another free tip from your early adopter, Rox.

Clive Thompson in Wired.com captures the sentiment perfectly:

Consider: If I suddenly decide I want to dial you up, I have no way of knowing whether you’re busy, and you have no idea why I’m calling…. Plus, voice calls are emotionally high-bandwidth, which is why it’s so weirdly exhausting to be interrupted by one. (We apparently find voicemail even more excruciating: Studies show that more than a fifth of all voice messages are never listened to.)

The bold emphasis is mine. FYI our insider club of precious clients have phone access to me 24/7; you folks are listed in my Caller ID. Yet even with you/them I don’t always answer immediately. Because I have more than one client, I often choose not to drop my work on Client A to answer a call from Client B. I will listen to the voice mail as soon as I “come up for air” and will respond accordingly.

So let me explain “come up for air.”

The nature of my work is very brain intensive. When I sit down to craft a proposal or to build a blog or troubleshoot a marketing problem, I go deep into many layers of experience, technology, human behavior, internet psychology, the client’s budget level, etc. It is not a casual exercise. I have on average, 8-10 different software applications that I run concurrently.

In these busy times, I am ever more committed to using my time efficiently, as the various social web communities would otherwise tug at me literally 24/7. I not only would be severely lacking in sleep and recreation, I would not be getting anything done! Meaning – completed, finished, to-do item checked done.

To be interrupted throughout the day by ringing phones with a whole different set of (sometimes random) questions causes me to have to be yanked out of “the zone” which I consider a dis-service to my clients (my efficiency for them just crashed) and it is certainly taxing on my energy. And trust me – you all want me happy not cranky, right?

Why I Generally Prefer DIgital Communication

  • It can be sent and consumed at mutually convenient, self-directed time frames.
  • It can be sent and consumed using mutually convenient, self-directed devices/platforms.
  • It provides a written record; that saves so many brain cells from trying to remember things!
  • That written record lowers error rates and confusion over deliverables. Yes, it takes my billable time to write up the notes – but you are so well-served by my laying things out so clearly for you to consider over time.
  • It can slow down the process, allowing answers to appear without anyone being interrupted. Feelings of urgency are not always accurate.

So even though you’ll hear me say, “I get waaay too much email!” don’t confuse that with “I would SO much rather get a descriptive email with a handy subject than a phone call almost any day!”

Understanding the phone preference

Often, people who phone just want an answer to their question now (don’t we all!), or they are not that comfortable with email (join KnowHow Cafe where the smart people come to get smarter), or they don’t want to take the time to write out their question (you’ll be the main beneficiary of doing this!), or they are shielding the conversation specifically from a written record (hehe, no comment).

What’s more polite, phone or digital?

So while those of you who like to use the phone may consider those of us who don’t answer rude or selfish, here’s an upbeat take on things from Clive:

The telephone, in other words, doesn’t provide any information about status, so we are constantly interrupting one another. The other tools at our disposal are more polite. Instant messaging lets us detect whether our friends are busy without our bugging them, and texting lets us ping one another asynchronously. (Plus, we can spend more time thinking about what we want to say.) For all the hue and cry about becoming an “always on” society, we’re actually moving away from the demand that everyone be available immediately.

Let’s treat the phone as a really valuable business tool and make appointments for phone calls! We can leverage our powerful connections together IRL to their maximum by using the best tool for the job. Want to talk to me? Just send a quick email with your general topic and list some times *you* are available. I’ll get back to you. Keep ringing me up and not leaving any details in your voicemail while I am immersed in delivering services to someone else? It could take days to get a response.

Photo Credit: Mute by woodlywonderworks on Flickr.


16 Comments on “Why I Rarely Answer My Phone

  1. Excellent breakdown, as usual, Rox. :D

    I never answer the phone and almost never check my phone messages.

    The only exceptions are for friends I happen to want to talk to right then (emotional issues, as you mentioned) and clients that I scheduled speaking to or that I need input from at this point in the project I’m working on for them.

    Video Editing requires me to “live” in the project, so I can’t afford to be interrupted and pulled out of my immersion.

    I inform people that they can email me and I’ll get back to them when I get back to them. The other option is Instant Messaging, but that’s again available to clients whose projects I’m currently dealing with AND that I need to hear from in order to move forward with their project.

  2. Hey Bill – You don’t listen to your voice mail? That could possibly be explained by our age difference. I hear that about 20 and 30 somethings frequently. That is a little too brave new future for me though I admire you being on IM – I find that just as interrupting UNLESS I am actively collaborating. Then it rocks – being able to share comments and links back and forth as I make things happen in real time.

    Thank YOU for leaving a real live warm-blooded comment too!

  3. You’re welcome, Rox. :)

    To expand on my point, what I do is very “Set it and forget it”. I need to know what the client wants, arrange to receive the media and then it’s off to the races for me until it’s time for the client to review the project. In between that time, there’s nothing I need to know from them unless there’s a change in the parameters of the job.

    If there *IS* a change, that means that I need to have it via email anyway, because talking on the phone wastes even MORE of my time and mental energy as I have to take notes about something that the person could and SHOULD have just typed to me in the first place. I’ll check the email when I come up for air or depending on the situation, I’ll leave my Mail App open and polling every 60 seconds so I can receive correspondence in a timely fashion.

    The reason I don’t check voicemail is that I don’t offer to anyone to call me on the phone. My friends all know to email, text or IM me. The only reason I would check is if a call came through from a client who had an open project with me, even though I would have explained to them beforehand that for record-keeping purposes AND for them to get the best service from me during their billable hours that they need to email me.

    On top of that, all of my contact information is on the internet. If you happened upon my telephone number, that means you saw my email address as well and perhaps even my twitter and Facebook links. If someone calls and doesn’t get a response, the intelligent move is to try another avenue instead of banging one’s head against a brick wall and continuing to call and get ignored. :)

  4. @ Bill: “If someone calls and doesn’t get a response, the intelligent move is to try another avenue instead of banging one’s head against a brick wall and continuing to call and get ignored. :)” LOVE IT!

  5. I’m on a tight budget, but I still require portable communication to keep in touch with family and friends.
    So, I signed up for a Pay-As-You-Go phone, with unlimited Text Messages and Internet access for $18/month.
    Oh sure, I pay through the nose when I make/receive a call … so I don’t! I’ve told everyone not call unless it’s life or death, but feel free to text me until their hearts content.
    It works very well!
    Good article.

  6. @Mike – Unlimited texting really covers the mark. And when we had our little earthquake here a few years back, phone did not work tho SMS did!

    Looking at the “emotionally high bandwidth” cost to phone call interruptions as Clive mentioned, you’ve added context here. Dollars and attention in the mix. Thanks for stopping by. Any more lake walks lately?

  7. YES on all accounts! Multi-tasking is a huge killer of productivity. One thing at a time please.

    I like the perspective that digital communication is more polite AND allows us to stay committed to the task at hand. So true.

    Thanks for your insight, Roxanne.



  8. @Lauren – I used to think of myself as a queen multitasker – and I can still talk on the phone while doing dishes – but I have always been a big fan of having dedicated time and space to get certain things done.

    Funny side note – my purse was stolen from my car last night, and sure enough, it had my phone in it. No one will be able to call me until I get that replaced! Sometimes life just cracks me up. LOL.

  9. I don’t answer my phone unless I am expecting an important call. That’s what voicemail is for! I find even more annoying about the phone is call waiting! I have disabled this from all of my phones. Unless it is an emergency I don’t see the reason for it. It is essentially telling the person you are on the line with that “oh, wait, this other call might be more interesting than you!” :)

    Roxanne, Darling:
    Customer B doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Customer A.
    All Customer B wants is your immediate and undivided attention.
    Letting Customer B know that another customer has priority over them is dangerous business.
    I have a hard and fast rule for building (and keeping) any type of business: answer your phone. If you don’t want to do it yourself (because it’s so weirdly exhausting) hire someone to do it for you.
    You’re not going to change (any time soon) human interaction that answers immediate (and sometimes emotional) needs.
    Consider this a free tip from an old adopter.

  11. @Maureen – Thanks so much for adding your opposing view. I do understand that is how many in business think – and emotional desires (I don’t count them as “needs”) are important and I do consider them. But I don’t believe in letting others emotional needs dictate business relationships. I prefer to have consciousness in action, and that means both me and my clients occasionally experiencing some short term discomfort for the long term benefit of more efficient work habits and mutual respect!

    Back before there were no email or numerous other communication channels that exist today, your position would be valid. Today? I think letting other peoples’ perceived urgency interrupt my work for others promotes a needy, inefficient, and immature work place. That’s just my opinion, and I am glad that you have a system that works for you!

    Aloha, Roxanne

  12. On top of what Rox just said, each person or company gets to choose how they feel like interacting with their clients. If someone wants to use the phone and I don’t, that’s too bad for them.

    One of the problems with the phone is you get into arguments about who said what. That’s eliminated with email correspondence because it’s right there in Black & White what you said and what the other person said.

    Do I miss out on business by not answering my phone? Yes.

    Am I more efficient with the business I *AM* doing because I don’t answer my phone? Yes.

    I’d rather provide value more quickly to my current clients and to myself than to cater to how someone else feels like communicating with me.

  13. As someone who has had to dismiss more than a couple young employees and cease business, on two separate occasions with suppliers operated by young entrepreneurs due to communications issues, I can tell you with certainty that this kind of behavior, “I only communicate my way, when it suits me” is a terrible way to operate and will end up costing you. You are an adult engaged in an enterprise and you need to meet the needs of your colleagues and your clients every bit as much as they do yours… and if you cant muster the courage to speak with someone directly and in real time (Frankly, i think this is the real issue, people are increasingly afraid to interact with out a delay involved and dont have the strength of character for serious conversation) then, eventually, you are going to face problems in any business.

    • @James – welcome to our blog and thank you for taking the time to comment! I do hear your concerns – there is definitely a loss of some of the more traditional courtesies of business.

      I had hoped my article would focus on the fact that I think not answering my phone at times is in fact the more courteous thing to do! If it means interrupting work on one of my clients, then to me that incoming call can wait. To me, it is similar to being on the phone with one person, and interrupting that call for someone else calling in – making them wait through no fault of their own. I never liked that call-waiting service because of its interruption aspect!

      I do return my phone calls and do request phone appointments that are mutually convenient and respectful to everyone’s time – perhaps I could have emphasized that more in the article.

      Lastly, our company has been a leader in tech trends for over 15 years. Part of that is helping each other learn and adapt to new behaviors that help us all get more done with less stress. Now that we have so many ways to communicate, I just don’t see the random phone call as the be all and end all of communication that it once was. This does vary from business to business of course as well.

      My point here was to share some of the ways we try to balance our commitment to current clients while still being welcoming to new clients, as together we navigate the changing business environment. Business etiquette is and always has been a very important ingredient to the success of our company. We have a waiting list for clients at the moment – which partly explains my strategy as well. If we were hurting for business, you can bet I would be answering my phone on the first ring! But since I am sometimes behind in getting all my work done, choosing to let first time callers leave me a voice mail is just one part of my balancing act!

      I hope you’ll let me know if this addresses any of your concerns.

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