Just take the call already …

I’ve been here too many times to count: around 3pm of an already long day, serving clients for most of it (some happy, some not-so-happy). Everyone needs a piece of me; the boss, direct reports, clients, kids, and even the family dog. I’d start my next “shift” at 5pm being mom, doing the sports shuttle and still trying to juggle incoming work calls. That kind of a day would make anyone want to bury their head in the sand. (And I’d bet most of us do have more than one of those days per month.)

So what would I do when the LAST thing I wanted to do was talk to yet another person? Well, of course I’d silently thank the universe for inventing texting and e-mailing and fire up the iPhone! What an easy way to transact business and avoid all the potentially messy stuff that comes from people calling and wanting something that I may not be able to give them at that precise moment.

Guess what that does? It deprives you of an opportunity to build a better connection with someone. It doesn’t matter who, or what they want, but trying to fulfill a request or evaluate an inquiry or do anything beyond a simple yes/no answer by text or e-mail robs you of valuable opportunities to practice being a good communicator. How do I know this? From personal experience.

I know this because in my PR days, one of the agencies for which I worked was in danger of losing a client. While it had to do with many factors, it was a client with whom I’d relied upon a lot of e-mail transactions. There was plenty of good face time sure; but when I did the Monday-morning quarterbacking about the relationship I realized several times I had avoided picking up the phone when the client didn’t answer an e-mail. I was trying to be polite, assuming they were busy. But I should have called more than I did.

Would that have saved the relationship? Who knows. But, what it did was taught me a valuable lesson about talking with people. (Again, here I was advising on communications …. hmmmm.)

Here are a few observations I’ve made about actual phone conversations:

  1. There is no need to fear immediacy. Yes, our attention spans are shorter and yes, people (especially in work/client service situations) do expect immediacy. But just like it’s okay to say to a reporter “I don’t have that right now but let me find someone who does and get back to you,” it’s OKAY to just take a call and not actually finish the conversation. At least hearing your voice and starting a dialog lets the other person trust that you are paying attention.
  2. Technically, two people share responsibility for steering a conversation. Just because you pick up a call doesn’t mean you need to listen to a whole 30 minutes. Again: it is OKAY to tell another person regardless of who it is, that you have X minutes to chat. Just do it politely, before the call gets underway.
  3. If you’re screening because you are worried that someone on the other end is unhappy well, chances are they might be. Our instincts are usually right. Avoidance is NOT a good strategy! It only makes the next encounter more difficult and sometimes doing this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have a great strategy for diffusing potentially tough conversations, and if you’d like to learn more about it, let me know here or by e-mail and I can include it in a future post.

Bottom line: we are all about convenience and that’s okay, we’ve got a lot to do and we wear so many hats, technology can be a great help. If we rely on it too much it can also hinder our ability to connect, which is so important as we learn how to build teams, gain influence, persuade and motivate people around us.