“Don’t Call Me”

The issue of Psychology Today reports on an experiment  involving identical business negotiations between test subjects.  The only  difference was that half started the transactions with a brief phone call  and completed it with email.  The other half used only email. 

The transactions beginning with a phone call turned out much better. 

So we should all foster our business relationships with more phone calls,  right? 

Well, maybe not.   

See if this script sounds familiar.  You’re watching Jeopardy (or whatever  your favorite TV show is) when the phone rings.  You answer it and get  tied up with a telemarketer, your sister, your business associate, or a  wrong number.  

It’s fairly easy to get away from wrong numbers and the  telemarketers.  Your sister and your partners, however, require your  attention for more time.  

As Alex Trebek starts the Double Jeopardy  round, you’re stuck listening to your sister describe her latest drama or  to your associate prattling on about some inconsequential matter.   

If this happens once a night, you can handle it.  If it happens twice a  night, you can still handle it. 

But what if this happens many times every single evening?    

You can probably regulate how often your sister is allowed to bend your  ear, but your business calls have to be handled as they come in.  

You  become increasingly resentful of the intrusions, and your Pavlovian  response to a ringing phone becomes a growl instead of a drool.  You  start screening calls.  You feel besieged in your own home.  You start to  like email more and more.   

So other than being less intrusive why do I prefer email to telephone  conversations?  Let me count the ways.   

For starters, I can handle a LOT more volume with email.  Most of us can  read about ten times faster than even a speed talker can speak.  With an  email you can quickly reread questionable material that you didn’t  understand the first time through.  

Both you and your customer have a  written record of what is discussed.  And there’s less unproductive  chitchat.  It might bring you closer, but do you really care what color  they’re painting their kitchen?   

Have you ever finished a phone conversation with an impression of what  was going to happen only to find out that the other party had a different  impression?  That’s not uncommon. 

It doesn’t happen as often with email, does it?  

Beyond the personal hassles of being constantly available to anyone with  phone access, however, is whether this is a system you can convince  others to adopt.  You’re hoping that the people you recruit will handle  business the same way you do.  (Actually I hope they handle it BETTER  than I do.  Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)  

So they see that you are getting  hammered with calls all the time.  Conversations with you are constantly  broken by your taking cell phone calls and being interrupted by call-waiting.   

They figure out that, if they can call you any time, they too will have to take  calls from people when THEY’RE trying to watch Jeopardy.   

Does this make it likelier that they’ll want to duplicate your system?   Probably not.   

Yes, I know that we could just let an answering machine take the calls  and return them all during a period we choose.  This doesn’t work for me.   

Leaving a message on an answering machine is probably at least as  off putting as leaving an email, and in these days of wide-ranging business  activity, the time zones become problematic.  

Playing “telephone tag” is  no fun, either.  Perhaps your customer is also setting times when she will  answer calls.  If this isn’t the same time you’re answering, you can go for  days just trading messages to respond.   

Getting back to that Psychology Today article, probably making at least  one telephone personal contact to start a business relationship will  improve that relationship.  

You can make this call to your customer  without necessarily inviting any calls coming in from her by giving her  only your email address.  Encourage her to stay in touch with you through  this email contact.  

This is less likely to offend if you make it clear that  you check your email many times a day and can give her a fast response  every time she contacts you.  (Of course then you’ll have to actually do it!)    

Eliminating telephone contact may cost you some very lonely business  associates, but these needy folks are unlikely to be your best producers,  anyway.  

Sticking with email for routine interactions may be the best way to  go.  Even (or maybe especially) with your sister.   

So if Alex questions “the best way to handle business communications,” I’d  answer “what is email?!”  Don’t call me; I’m giving my ear a break.  

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