Pick Up the Phone: Mastering a Lost Art

“1876 was the greatest year in human history.” The man paused for someone to ask why—or perhaps just for dramatic effect—and explained: “Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone that year.”

Our director of sales was fond of sharing this piece of trivia. In his profession, phone calls are vital. Emails and website content may offer marketing support. But deals are closed over the phone.

Advantages of Phone Calls
Early careerists tend to rely too much on email. Don’t get me wrong; it’s useful for sharing information and keeping a “paper trail.” But we seem to have forgotten the value of phone conversations.1

Whether or not you’re in sales, phone calls offer several advantages over email:

  1. Speed. You can accomplish in a 10-minute call what might take hours over email. First, you minimize the back-and-forth waiting time. Secondly, you won’t spend hours trying to craft the perfect message. You’ll find that you don’t need to.
  2. Clarity. It’s easy to misinterpret emails. People often read negative emotion into writing where none was intended. Phone calls allow you to listen for nuance. You can detect tone, you can sense hesitation, and you can respond accordingly.
  3. Efficacy. You can be more persuasive on the phone. Emails are impersonal; people say no and move on—or they ignore you altogether. Over the phone, however, they’re more likely to compromise or find a way to help you. If face-to-face requests are 34 times more successful than emails, phone calls fall somewhere in between.
  4. Connection. Most interactions are in the context of a relationship. People do business with those whom they know and like. Phone calls allow you to build that rapport. Now that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll come to mind. But all things being equal, people are more likely to remember phone conversations than email threads.
  5. Transience. On the flip side, sometimes you don’t want memories to linger. Now I don’t advise ever burning bridges. But if you must say something regrettable, don’t put it into writing. Your boss wouldn’t want to see it reprinted the next day.

Despite those advantages, it’s not either-or. Sometimes an email or text is sufficient. Not every phone call is worthwhile either. But let’s not hesitate to call when talking would be quicker or more effective.

The human voice has been called the “most powerful sound in the world. [It] can start a war or say, ‘I love you.’” We speak circumstances into being. So pick up the phone and make things happen.

This is the tenth post in our series: Advice for New Graduates.

1 In my opinion, the primary cause isn’t deteriorating social skills. Rather, we like things to happen on our schedule and believe that others do too. As such, we don’t want to be an interruption to others.