Overcoming Phone Aversion: It's Not Just a Problem for Millennials
I’ve been reading lately that Millennials often don’t see the benefits of picking up the phone to carry on their conversations, preferring instead to communicate via email or text. Plenty has been written on the way in which Millennials are lacking the important job skills of speaking with people directly, reading the tone of a written piece of communication, understanding body language or picking up on non-verbal queues from others. For those of us who roamed the planet before chat rooms and emoticons, we understand that these skills are critical to building relationships, especially of the new client variety. But it’s time to come clean and acknowledge that it is not just Millennials who have bought into the notion that phone conversations are a thing of the past.
When I think back to my youth, circa 1987, if I wanted to communicate with someone, it was usually done verbally. It would have been impossible for me to imagine a time that I wouldn’t be using a phone to do that. Do you remember that hunk of metal with the rotary dial that was stuck in place, on the kitchen wall? And let’s not forget that original “hipster” device known as the pager or beeper. This one-way SMS device was the best I could do if I wanted to “talk” to someone immediately. In other words, I would send the message, “07734” (a.k.a. “hello”) with a call back number and not long after my phone would ring. For me, the phone was a gateway, not only to managing the social relationships of my youth, but also to a career focused on providing excellent care and service to my clients. I understood that to succeed in the business world I would need stellar oral communication skills.
Fast-forward to 2014, working as Client Principal for a start-up software development firm, picking up the phone and calling potential business partners should be second nature to me. Why is it then that I spend such little time having one-on-one phone conversations with clients or initiating sales calls? One would think that for me, the master of speed-dial and conference calling in my youth, calling clients on the phone at any moment during the workday would be no big deal. Early on in my career, I was told that phone etiquette was one of my best skills. These days, however, I find myself avoiding the phone and instead, following suit I choose the email and text methods of communication. I don’t even have a desk phone! But are emails and texts really better methods for communication, especially when dealing with the delicate details of new business relationships?
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, titled Bosses Say ‘Pick Up the Phone’, the author points out that employers do not see communication via email as the answer, especially when it comes to making and closing sales because “personal rapport matters…” In another article in Entrepreneur Magazine, writer Ross McCammon claims that we communicate better over the phone. Unlike email, he explains, “The phone forces you to be more emphatic, more accurate, more honest.” McCammon describes how research shows that humans have evolved “to listen to other people talk.” Most of this listening happens automatically as our brains know to listen for the subtle, “emotional gradients” that our voices use, such as when we pause or stammer to understand the full meaning of the words being spoken. These are important details that emails just cannot convey or, more importantly, achieve.
So, how will Millennials adjust once they become project managers or join a sales team? Will we all be exchanging texts and signing into chat rooms? It’s time for me, not just Millennials, to stop accepting the “phone aversion” that we have become accustomed to. We need to come out from behind our curtain of emails and give our clients the service they deserve. I want my clients to hear in the slight inflections of my voice, my intention to work to meet their complete satisfaction. With all that technology has done for us, it cannot replace the passion with which I approach my job everyday. After all, there is no emoticon for that, I think! :-/ So, clients beware and be listening for that next phone call coming in, and don’t be surprised if you hear, “Hi, this is Yoli from Little Green Software. Is this a good time to talk?”