Making the telephone less annoying


The phone has no respect for your time. Other means of communication happen on your own terms, but this only happens with the phone if you ignore it.

Email is only reliable when the reply is important to the recipient. If it’s not important to the recipient, then it goes on the backburner, and may slowly carbonize.

You can email about some convoluted topics, but the email can be used for the sole purpose of scheduling a two-minute phone conversation. A scheduled phone conversation can make the phone less annoying.

Here are a couple scenarios in which the phone can easily trump email or texting.

A: Last month, I got a phone call from a colleague in another department, who I have not yet met, about some university service. We chatted for about five minutes. If we even came close to having the same conversation over email, it would have taken 30 minutes of back-and-forth typing and I wouldn’t have even come close to establishing the working rapport that happened in the conversation.

B: You can harness the dislike of the phone to work in your favor. Use the phone to avoid unnecessary interactions. Students will make all kinds of imprudent requests by email, that they’d never dare do so in person or over the phone. When this happens, email back one sentence: if you’d like to discuss this give me a phone call during my office hours. They probably won’t call or drop by. But if they do, it’s easier than the email. If you need to respond to this request with substance promptly, then you can call the student. Their phone number is on record. They probably won’t pick up because they don’t know the number, and then you leave a voice mail and you’re done. That’s faster than crafting an email that has the balance of politeness, concern, and firmness that you need to portray when responding to a peevish request in writing.

Caveat: do not leave a voice mail for me, unless I already contacted you and asked for something specific that requires a voice mail.

5 thoughts on “Making the telephone less annoying

  1. I’m an email freak. Nothing beats social interactions though!

  2. I completely agree that back-and-forth email exchanges are annoying and ineffective, especially when the person send the email is just down the hallway!

    There is, however, one big limitation when using a phone: no paper-trail. If (when?) things go wrong, it is nice to have a record of what was written by whom, when things were decided etc.

    • Yeah – I prefer the no-paper-trail if I’m dealing with an unreasonable student request (can I have extra credit, can I skip an exam and go to Hawaii, can I have a better grade?). It takes so much time to deal with unreasonable requests with a professional, sensitive and firm demeanor by email, that speaking to a person does this more promptly.

      Otherwise, my butt’s been saved a few times by a follow-up email that summarized a conversation (in person or by email). Someone promises something but may not honor that promise unless it’s in writing months later. (This is relevant to tomorrow’s post, actually…)

  3. Great advice! One caveat: calling the student will only work if the number that is on record is actually connected to a phone. A lot of colleges (or at least the one where I’m a student) have the number that would call a student’s room on file as their number, despite the fact that nearly all students use their cell phones instead. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with a land-line in their room. Professors have tried to call me on a few occasions, but, as there wasn’t actually any way for me to receive their voice mail, this created more confusion than anything else.

    • So it worked! (for the professor). I usually just tell students to call me at a time when I know I’ll be in my office.

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