can I stop taking phone calls at work and direct everyone to email me?

A reader writes:

I hate taking phone calls. I find them intrusive — they require 100% of your attention (it’s almost impossible to multitask while on the phone), immediate responses to questions, and I for one find it awkward and difficult to talk in real-time to someone whom I can’t see face-to-face. Phone conversations also aren’t very private — unless you have a closed office, everyone around you can hear your end of it.

I vastly prefer email, instant messaging, or texting for any long-distance communication — with those media, I can take time to re-read and think before replying, I can multitask around them much more effectively, and there’s much less chance that someone walking by will accidentally catch a snatch of a private conversation. I sometimes think I should just stop picking up incoming phone calls — I could record a voicemail greeting something like, “I don’t answer phone calls, but leave me a voicemail and I’ll get back to you, or even better, send me an email – in general, that’s the best way to reach me.”

Is this a reasonable position to take, or do I need to just get over it and accept that phone calls are part of the way business gets done? Am I alone in feeling this way, or do others hate phone calls as much as I do? Are there “phone people” and “email people,” like cat and dog people?

(This has been on my mind lately because I’m in the final stages of the hiring process with a new company, and have been dealing with some HR folks there who insist on calling me about every little thing, rather than emailing. It’s getting on my nerves, especially since I cannot take these calls at work due to the risk of a coworker overhearing. I’ve taken to leaving the office and walking down the street to a park to take/make these calls, which is of course inconvenient. If they emailed, I could respond from the office with no concerns about privacy.)

I hate the phone too — hate it, hate it, hate it. Unless something is urgent and needs to be attended to immediately, or is so complicated that an email would be inefficient, I don’t see why people default to the phone. If you email me instead of calling me, I can concentrate on other things without interruption and answer you when I’m at a good stopping point. And lots of conversations take far longer on the phone than they would in email.

However, that said … yes, you do need to accept that phone calls are part of the way business gets done.

And there are indeed phone people and email people. Some people are like us and despise the phone, and others can’t imagine why we’d write an email instead of jumping on a five-minute call and dealing with whatever’s at hand right there and then. They are wrong, of course, and we are right … but they are plentiful, and it’s not reasonable to think you can avoid them in your professional life.

That means that you really should not leave an outgoing message on your voicemail telling people that you don’t answer phone calls. It will come across as odd, kind of rude, and a bit prima donna-ish. You can, however, have a voicemail message that suggests that people can get a faster response by emailing you. For instance: “You’ve reached Fitzwilliam Darcy. While you can leave a message here, I’m often able to respond more quickly by email, so feel free to email me at ___ instead. Otherwise, I’ll return your call as soon as I’m able.” (Keep in mind, though, that this might not be cool to do in some offices, so make sure you know your culture first.)

As for those HR people who keep calling you … You can certainly say, “It’s difficult to for me to talk from work during the day, so it’s often easier to reach me over email.” However, ultimately this may be about who wants who more. If they want you more than you want them, feel free to take a strong stand on your communication preferences. If that’s not the case, though, then I wouldn’t take a hard-line here; they’re communicating with you in the way that works best for them … just like you prefer to do yourself.

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