October 18, 2011

By Ann Waterman


“We-lllll, I guess I’d better let you go now.” If you’ve talked to me on the phone, you’ll know that’s my signature line for ending almost all my calls. I feel bad, but I’m just not much of a phone person — 15 minutes and I’ve usually reached my limit. Phone calls tend to pop up unexpectedly, and I have a hard time dropping something that was on my to-do list and redirecting my attention to something that wasn’t.

It’s gotten worse since I’ve had kids — calls are difficult to take when you’re in the middle of a diaper change. Even if I’m not doing something that involved, I still find phone calls challenging, with the kids rioting in the background; and when I do finally have a free moment, I’m usually exhausted and can barely string words together for a conversation.

My preferred method of communication is email, text, or — as sad as it sounds — Facebook, since none of them requires an immediate response. I can finish what I’m doing and then respond, or if it isn’t urgent I can wait until the kids are down for the night when I don’t have distractions. Written communication also gives me control over the length of the interaction (yes, I admit there’s a bit of a control element at hand here).

In spite of my phone aversion, I recognize that, for some people, the phone is their preferred method of communication, and that sometimes it’s important to hear someone’s voice and talk to them in person. It’s a perfectly legitimate need and one that is necessary sometimes, even for me. Occasionally, a phone call is the most expedient way to resolve an issue rather than long back-and-forth email threads.

So how do you reconcile these two different approaches to communication? This article by Mandi Ehman over at SimpleMom helped shed some light on my dilemma — and apparently, I’m not alone. She describes two different kinds of people: task-oriented and people-oriented. I am most definitely the former — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While task-oriented people like me value people, they also value order and productivity. The challenge is to find a balance between the two. In my case, Mandi would suggest scheduling some time on my to-do list to return calls or make calls to friends and family, particularly those who love it when you do.

If you’re people-oriented, but struggle with organization and getting things done, you might want to try breaking projects into smaller parts so they don’t seem as overwhelming, or incorporating people into your work — turn on some fun music and clean the kitchen with your spouse, or fold some clothes while chatting on the phone.

Are you task-oriented or people-oriented? Are you a phone person, or would you rather email someone?

Image: CircaFurniture

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1 Zoe Saint-Paul October 18, 2011 at 10:03 am

Great topic, Ann!

I’m definitely people-oriented, and used to be a major phone person, which, I suppose, is hard not to be when you’ve got 11 immediate family members spread across the continent, many of whom are not computer/email people. Not to mention friends.

That said, I’ve become less enamored with the phone for some of the reasons you mention — it can be disruptive and time-consuming. I’ve tried to stop multi-tasking so much, and there have to be priorities. I have a land-line in the kitchen with a corded receiver which has no caller-ID window. (Portables don’t work well downstairs in our house.) It ties me to the phone (and kitchen) when I answer it and because I never know who’s on the other end, I can get stuck. Because I work from home, sometimes I just can’t answer it and boundaries have to be set. I think it’s important to have times where you let voicemail pick it up and you return calls later. There’s also nothing wrong with saying that you simply can’t talk right now.

I think this is a great topic though because it invites the question of whether we’re constantly so busy and rushed we don’t have time for an interruption by another person. A ringing phone is a step removed from someone stopping by unexpectedly, which is something I grew up with. No matter what you were doing, you paused for a little visit, maybe even had a cup of tea together, and then went back to what you were doing. To be sure, it was part of a lifestyle that wasn’t so deadline-driven it couldn’t accommodate such things. The pace was slower and people came first. I do remember it wasn’t always welcome when you were really busy and someone stopped by, but it was part of hospitality to cheerfully be present to them. I wonder if we’re living in our bubbles a bit when we don’t want anything unexpected to touch our time. I’m totally guilty of this.

I do love email because it’s quick and doesn’t require me or the other person to immediately respond. But I don’t see it as a substitute for in-person or phone contact because there are many things that can’t be conveyed well via email or texting. They are helpful for conveying information, but they don’t allow for much real connection.

I think it’s helpful to know if you’re task- or people-oriented. I know a lot of people who hate emailing and always call… and others who are the opposite. A lot of it is how they’re oriented, and how computer savvy they are. (I definitely live with a person who hates the phone and is a tech geek.) But I think in a fast-paced, impersonal world, it’s good to consider whether we’re allowing enough space in our lives for real connections to be made.


2 Sarah D October 18, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Severely phone-phobic over here. Whenever I had to make a phone call as a teenager, I would have to take the phone into my bedroom, shut the door, and then spend five minutes working up my nerve before I could dial the number. It really didn’t matter who I was calling either, bosom friend or total stranger. I’ve gotten slightly better over the years (working jobs that require time on the phone helped with that), but I still have a subconscious aversion to calling anyone, for any reason. “Call so-and-so” items on my to-do list tend to stay there for oddly long periods of time, which mystifies and irritates my husband. (I haven’t really had the nerve to tell him about my phone-phobia after I confessed my mild phobia of the post office and he thought that was ridiculous.) I have no problem *taking* phone calls and talking with people on the phone, it’s just making the call that’s awful for me. Once email arrived on the scene, I discovered my social element!


3 Courtney October 19, 2011 at 8:33 am

I feel exactly the same way (minus the post office phobia)! I’ve never been much of a phone talker either!


4 LL October 20, 2011 at 1:31 am

I’m more of a phone person (though I do try to be mindful of that when chatting with you Ann!) :) I find that I can tend to ignore e-mails too long. It is convenient to be able to answer when I want to, but then I find myself forgetting to do just that. Texts I like for their instant nature, but I do feel that I need to respond quickly to them.
Something Sarah said above clicked with me too. While I love chatting with my friends, I always hate making work/professional calls and can still get nervous before doing that. I think I have big fear of saying the wrong thing or not knowing the answer to a question a client might ask. So I often put off those calls too!


Margaret Cabaniss 5 M.C. Cabaniss October 21, 2011 at 11:18 am

Oh man, I am terrible on the phone. I don’t mind long gabfests with friends and family I don’t get to see often (it helps if they’re talkative, too), but as a general rule I don’t particularly enjoy being on the phone. Calling strangers or business people is even worse. Thank heavens for e-mail and texting!

I also find it funny that we lament the passing of phone calls in favor of the “less personal” e-mail or text, when at one point we lamented the passing of face-to-face meetings in favor of the “less personal” phone call. Still, I do love seeing a friend’s name pop up in the caller ID on my cell phone when we haven’t spoken in a while…


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