At first, I was going to write about my discomfort with phone calls. How I don’t want to take calls at all and prefer texting. In the last couple of years, I’ve realized that while I can easily get over my discomfort – it is business after all – the quality of calls and the professionalism displayed has gone down the toilet.
Culturally, in India atleast, a lot of us prefer to discuss work over phone calls. It is considered a quick and efficient way of getting things done. It also propagates the culture of “he said / she said” because there’s no email trail. It promotes gossip culture – in my opinion. Put it on email and cut out the bullshit. There’s no escaping the phone call, however. At least not for another 10-20 years in India.
Saying that India is a culture where one can “just pick up the phone and call”, is not an excuse for unprofessionalism or basic courtesy and decency.
If you’ve managed to locate someone’s phone number, I suggest that you text them first and ask :
- What ( is the best way to get in touch with them )
- When ( is the best time to contact them on the phone, if they’ve agreed to be contacted )
- Why ( you’re getting in touch with them )
- How ( you came to possess their phone number )
I suggest you first start with emailing them. If you are unable to summarize your purpose of getting in touch with someone and have little to no clarity on what you want from them, especially using the written word, you have no business getting on a phone call with them. You’re wasting their time.
Once you’ve managed to email them correctly ( a subject for a whole another blog post ), and if the occasion requires a phone call, you schedule one. Give them 2-3 options on time and date and ask them to pick one. Tell them how much of their time you’ll be needing.
“2pm on 21st January, Thursday, for 15 minutes tops.”
And then call on time and stick to your time limit.
If you know, from experience, that you are likely to forget making that call, put a reminder on your calendar for fuck’s sake.
Ten minutes prior to calling them, drop them a text – an SMS – not a Whatsapp message for the love of God.
You shouldn’t be using Whatsapp for any professional communication anyway. If you’re stuck on an office Whatsapp group, God help you. But do not, under any circumstances, bring that inefficiency into another professional’s life.
Emails are ideal for professional communication because they serve as a record and are easily reference-able / searchable. Whatsapp is device-dependent and not everyone saves back-ups or knows how to access and search through back-ups. If you ever get to a point where you need to cover your ass, email will save you.
After the phone call is done, follow-up with an email summarizing what was discussed – or ask them to send in an email finalizing things like pricing, terms and conditions and deliverables – if those were discussed.
If no follow-up email was sent or received, do not accuse them of “changing their word” if you chat with them at a later date. In all likelihood, they don’t remember correctly. ( I get calls sometimes where people expect me to remember them after a phone call they made two years ago – when I’ve not met them in person, ever, haven’t done business with them or received any emails from them. I once had someone accuse me of “lying”. We had a phone chat, I emailed an invoice and agreement to them, they paid me, I delivered my deliverables. They then wrote to me on email asking for additional deliverables, “which were agreed to on our call”, but were not in the fucking contract. I told them to show me where I’d agreed to the extra deliverables and they had nothing except, “Naina, you’re lying.” Don’t be this person. I might want to work with the brand they represent but I will not till they work there. )
If you’d much rather just call someone out of the blue, and they don’t pick up your call, once it stops ringing, drop them an SMS. This is the least effort you can put in.
I get a number of calls on a daily basis. Most from unknown numbers – no, Truecaller identification is NOT my metric for deciding who is known or unknown. They will call, clearly outside my phone call hours, and then won’t even drop a text to tell me who they are or why they were calling.
“But if you want work, you have to take the call!”
I don’t want to work with people who have no respect for my time or their own. People who are unprofessional, discourteous and rude. If their first interaction with me is completely out of line, I can only imagine what a nightmare it will be to actually work with them. It’s a red flag.
Remember, you can always make more money but neither you, nor anyone else on the planet can make more time.
You can choose to spend your time wherever you like, of course. Calling twenty people without prior notice on a daily basis. Please don’t let me stop you. However, I’m not going to be the one taking your call, and allowing you to waste my time as well.
( Please note that the above are loose guidelines for professional phone calls. If I have a strong working relationship with someone, built over constant work over a few months or years, they are like friends and can call me anytime. Friends can call me anytime too. Complete strangers who have taken the time to email me with a summary of why they want to get on a call & have scheduled a call at a mutually convenient time, are the only other calls I take. The only other category of people who can all anytime are clients, when were are in the middle of an assignment and urgent communication is required. )
Phone call etiquette is going to vary from country to country. In general, whenever you’re unsure about something, ask someone. The above piece is meant to be a primer. You will figure out more nuances as your practice. Keeping the basics in mind from the get-go tends to make sure, for the most part, that it will go well. Do tell me if I’ve missed out something essential, using the comments section below.
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