A live phone call — someone loves me

By: Theo Burke

"Hey, I didn't know it could TALK!"
“Hey, I didn’t know it could TALK!”

Not long ago, while working on a PSU Vanguard story, I received a return phone call, within 24 hours, from Scott Gallagher of the University Communications office. I nearly fell down from shock.

I had not received a live phone call in months from anyone other than my mother. And it seemed as though an ever-increasing amount of important people in my life had barricaded themselves behind “email walls.”

When I recently asked to meet with an editor at one of the three student media outlets I worked for, she simply refused to do it. Her supervisor had established a policy, she said, that editors could limit communications with writers to email. No meetings, live conversations, or body language required.

A professor supervising me on a huge term paper could only be reached by email and was only on campus two days per week. She had not even set up the voice mail on her office phone. But this makes her no different from most PSU profs —not a single professor in my three years here has used the office phone.

Mr. Gallagher reminded me what humans are capable of. Follow up.  Consideration. Professionalism. Simple human respect and kindness. And he understands that the old standards of professionalism still matter to do your job.

I submit to you all that we will not be able to live without live voice communication and nonverbal body language over the long run. We will not be able to abandon those and hold onto the jobs that we like, as well.

No amount of quiet, feverish tapping on our devices will replace our voices and ourselves.

23 thoughts on “A live phone call — someone loves me

  1. Personally, I would prefer to call a potential boss or employer. So easily can an email get lost, deleted or overlooked. I am a better writer than I am improv person, so I can understand the safety net of email communications. But when it comes down to it, hearing someone’s voice, hearing the passion and their enthusiasm for something I think makes that person stand out. And also, almost anyone can send an email and sound like they could potentially speak to customers or clients, but speaking and communicating in many ways is vitally important for many careers and businesses. On a side note, after applying to push carts at Fred Meyer for my first job, I called the HR to do a follow up, and while leaving my phone number I messed up on one number I was too embarrassed to start my phone number again and to admit to my mess up that I just went with it! She must have went in and found my number on my resume and then called me back, but she did and I got the job! I was very lucky.

    1. Cassidy, congratulations on your job! So true what you said; the passion, enthusiasm–the humanness– of our voices on the telephone, or in person, is irreplaceable. And the ability to “improv,” to have poise and to recover when we goof, is a skill that will never go away in the working world, or other parts of life. (Even beauty pageant winners are judged on “poise” as well as beauty — look at how many of them go into public speaking and media careers). Even in job situations, we have to develop the ability to say, “Oh, excuse me, I meant to say . . . “. A cousin of mine who had giggle attacks when she was nervous learned to get through job interviews (when the laugh attack was imminent) by cupping her hand over her mouth, pausing to breathe, and replying, “excuse me, I needed a moment to compose myself.” She got the job, too–as a second grade school teacher.

  2. I agree, I would prefer a phone call over email. I currently work with a non-profit and the communication is done through email. The information often gets misunderstood or left out. I believe that the way to help limit these issues would be to call someone instead of email. I know that many people in the organization prefer email or text because it is more convienent. Verbal communication is very important and conveys more meaning than we can put in an email. Some people need to understand that there are somethings that you can not communicate using emails and texting.

    1. Right, Nicole: clearer information, instant correction, conveying more and deeper meaning — and voice calls are usually faster than typing — the voice telephone call is the ‘Next Big Thing’ that will take over the 21st century! With all those advantages, is email and texting really more “convenient?” Or are we subconsciously becoming afraid to interact as we used to?

  3. I have found in business, the phone can be the quickest way to communicate when you want the message to be important. I use the phone sparingly at work, for non-critical communication I use text and email. I am in meetings daily communicating with my team about our daily workload. My boss and her boss both promote communicating directly with people when it is important.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Shannon. Very on-the-mark. Here’s another strange-but-true anecdote for all of you: the past president of an Oregon construction trades association tells me that a young woman who worked for a contractor TEXTED her bid for a job — you know, the kinds of bids that are usually several pages and full of specifications. Not surprisingly, her company did not win the job.

      1. I acutely text my rep at Waste Management when I need an extra pick up, but that was something we worked out ahead of time.

  4. Theo Burke makes several very important points in his blog, “A Live phone call—Someone Loves me.” As a constant texter myself, I have to admit that I almost always text people rather than call them. All of my friends use texting more than talking also. Just like the article says, the only person that I still talk to regularly in a live phone call is my mother. She is not a texter. I have to admit, having her text me instead of talking to me would not feel nearly as good. I feel more connected to home when I hear her voice. But with texting, you don’t hear the voice and the emotion in the voice. So, communication by texting is much less emotional. Maybe that’s why we choose it. We want to avoid any possible emotional responses. Who knows?

    1. Sultan, an “amateur theory” is developing amongst some of us that I’m sure professional researchers will soon explore: that our digital devices are tempting us subconsciously to avoid direct discussion in more and more interpersonal interactions. The irony is that many of us had more or less previously learned the principle that sometimes in life you have to face people directly when there’s conflict or emotion. I still hold out hope that we will wake up and realize what a fetish our devices have become, and what higher human things they are stealing from us.

  5. I have only been at PSU for a quarter and a half now. Although, I am a transfer student and have spent many years elsewhere. I can say that, ironically enough, my first ever phone conversation with a professor happened this quarter. I could not reach him via email, so I resorted to the next step, being that actually physically coming to campus wasn’t happening. When I dialed the number I was not expecting an answer. I was expecting a voice recording. However, to my surprise he answered. This is an exception however; I have tried calling professors in the past and to no prevail. I agree with Theo; we will not survive with non-verbal interactions. I was recently assigned to a group in my class and it was our responsibility to meet outside of class. My group and I communicated via email for a week or so. we also had three classes in that time frame. It wasn’t until the following week that I could even identify any of the other two classmates in my group. I was disgusted. This article really hits home and its sad to see this change to a less personable society.

  6. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Brandon. Keep the faith: I see signs all the time that we might be able to pull back from current trends and find a “balancing.” I talk to young adults who hate Facebook or gave up Facebook, or who have the same concerns about Internet privacy as other generations. As we rediscover the benefits of live human interaction, I know we can start to put our digital devices in perspective, and even implement more and stricter rules of public etiquette in using the devilish little things. Call it “Back to 1995.”

  7. In my opinion, I find it easier to call people or meet with them face-to-face. I for one receive a lot of emails and text messages on a daily basis. While I don’t enjoy using these methods on a daily basis, there are just some things in life that must be done with direct or indirect verbal communications. I for one, tend to pay less attention to emails especially when Im not on the computer. On the other hand, text messages can become a pain to type, especially when you’re constantly on the move. Personally, I think phone calls get the job done faster than email messages. Most of the time, I find that I receive responses faster, therefore allowing me to convey thoughts and information faster than I would waiting for someone to respond with email or text. In addition to that, being a busy person, emails or text messages that don’t seem important to me are typically deleted immediately. Only the messages I deem important are left behind. Even with a handful of emails left, I still have to go through them and respond accordingly. Couple those factors with a hectic schedule, responses from me are relatively slow. It is as what the previous commenter stated: ’emails can be lost’. Not only can they can be lost in a sea of other emails, the time for an individual to respond to that email can be relatively slow.

  8. Thanks for your comments, Mike. Makes sense to me. Has anyone in this forum ever been “yelled at” for calling someone on their cell phone (even though they gave out the number), or for using the phone for voice rather than text, or for asking for directions instead of using Google Maps (which can be wrong)? I certainly have been yelled at for all three of those.

  9. I find it interesting that this decline of phone conversation applies to both personal and business relationships. It doesn’t matter who you are attempting to communicate with, whether it be your mom or a potential employer, it seems over-the-phone and face-to-face interaction will always add more personal value to the receiver on the other side.
    Recently, in one of my business classes we were asked to read an article from the Wall Street Journal titled, “Bosses Say ‘Pick Up the Phone'”, about the decline of phone usage in the business world. It intrigues me to see that a profession exists involving educating the younger generation on proper phone usage and personal communication.
    Although it is sad to see phone conversations becoming a thing of the past, I think that when people start realizing, like the article says, that sales are plummeting due to the lack of interpersonal communication, things will turn around. I predict that we will see an incline in the use of a more intentional and personal approach to sales and person-to-person interaction over the next few years.

    Wall Street Journal Article:

  10. Samantha, thanks for the link above, what an amazing article. Everyone should read it. Among other things, it describes a new phenomenon, “phone aversion.” It also describes a woman who has started a business training people to talk on the phone! To an earlier generation, “it was just common sense,” as she says. The scariest part for me was the 32-yr-old business owner who sees calling someone “without emailing first” as “prioritizing your needs over theirs.” For those of my generation, calling someone first is normal, professional, and considerate, whereas emailing them instead is lazy and impersonal, suggesting that the person is not important. To the extent that this gap in understanding is generational, we are really going to have to talk to each other and explain ourselves. Is any generation necessarily “wrong” or “rude?”

  11. Sometimes my best friend and I miscommunicate over text messages, and we use emoticons and know each other very well! So in my opinion, it seems a lot easier to misunderstand the tone of messages between strangers in a business. Perhaps overuse of electronic forms of communication can hinder business because many times people are too busy to take the time to figure out misperceptions… sometimes it does seem necessary to pick up the phone and talk.

  12. Amber, you’ve reminded me of what we learn in nonverbal communication classes — 63% to 93% of all communication is nonverbal, depending on the study quoted.
    When we are not talking to someone in person, we automatically lose the availability of the following nonverbal codes: eye contact, body language, physical appearance, the spacing between us (proxemics), appropriate touch, and even smells.
    With the telephone, we do hold onto tone of voice, up-and-down intonations, and pauses, all which carry meaning, emotion, and can express competence.
    With texting and emails, we are left with only language, a few emoticons, and maybe timeliness (punctual responses). Without tone and pauses, the written word can certainly be misinterpreted.

  13. You are absolutely right: so much of our communication has become tapping away at a keyboard. Online classes, email communication between students and professors; even socializing and dating have the masses hiding behind a “QWERTY” keyboard. It’s kind of sad that we are drifting away from the satisfaction of being able to look someone in the eye and pitch our idea using gestures, tones of voice, or even silence.
    I am actually incredibly concerned with what our world will turn in to if the trend continues. So was Albert Einstein when he said “I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

  14. Last year my office was trying to find a receptionist, and I was amazed to find out how hard it was to find someone who wasn’t legitimately afraid of talking on the phone. Since one of the main functions of the position was phone related, we decided to conduct the first round of interviews via phone interview. We only had two of fifteen calls actually had their voice mail set up, and not one called back by the end of the week. Even people in my own generation seem to have trouble with such a basic form of communication. I do hope there is more attention given to this issue in schools and from society as a whole. We can’t function with text alone, too much is lost between the lines of black and white.

    1. Jared, you, along with Samantha Moullet’s link to an article above, have shown the “up” side of this trend. People who can talk on the phone could be in demand and make money! I had a receptionist’s job years ago while working for a temp agency; maybe they’ll pay double or triple now! And Mary Jane Copps (in the article above) has her own business teaching people how to use the phone.

  15. Personally I think the importance of learning how to properly communicate online is just as important these days as a phone call. Between the amount of people one can write to (sometimes all at once), and the ease at which one can attach information, documents and hyperlinks, email has become a crucial and efficient part of running any business. I do agree that there are benefits to talking over the phone and discussing things in person, don’t get me wrong; but I also believe it’s okay to reserve these interactions for certain situations where they are more viable.

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