Hello? Is Anybody There?


By Sara Harrup

I’m a fundamentally shy person. Those that have met me might dispute that, but my shyness is an internal state of being which I have worked hard to overcome, or at least worked hard to work with. Believe it or not, until about 10 years ago talking on the phone used to frighten me, particularly if meant talking to someone I hadn’t met. Bit by bit I have come to love talking to people on the phone. The gains are so much greater than any momentary discomfort I experience. I am realizing that many people don’t share my enthusiasm for conversation.

I am in the business of talking with people and I also do some voluntary philanthropic work so it makes sense that I need to make phone calls to people. I make a point to only make one attempt to call someone per day. After I have left two messages I will usually send a confirming email and then wait patiently for a week before I try again. I understand that people are busy. I am not trying to sell anyone anything. For the most part I am calling people I know. I am noticing more and more that it has become acceptable practice for people not to return phone messages and I am asking the question…why?

I recall a job I worked in years ago when I was a culprit. A non-responder! I was so overwhelmed by the amount of work I had to do that every phone message seemed like another imposition, another person wanting something, even if it was only my time. I used to get a lot of emails and a lot of phone calls and a point came where I only returned 70% of the phone calls I received. I actually became resentful of those phone messages.

Looking back I realize that the problem wasn’t the volume of calls, the problem was me. I had become unproductive, I was chasing my own tail, not managing my workload efficiently or effectively. To be honest I suspect that with that resentment there was a little bit of ego working its magic. “Don’t you people know how busy I am? Why don’t you stop calling me all the time! Don’t you know what an important job I am doing here?” Ah I love the ego…it just worms its way in when you aren’t watching and for the most part it hides in the subtext of our actions and words so we don’t even know it’s there.

I am wondering whether a lot of people are suffering from the same plight as I was back then. Overworked, overwhelmed, and working past the point of productivity in a constant state of hyper vigilance? In that state, you cannot see the value of the humble phone call.

I implore you to reconsider the benefits to making, receiving and returning phone calls including:

  • Connecting with people and looking after your professional relationships
  • Gaining the respect of your colleagues
  • Achieving and maintaining your accessibility to people
  • Getting a clear understanding of issues and solutions
  • Saving time by working on issues and actions in the moment rather than following email chains which may take days to resolve matters
  • Feeling human, by talking with a person and not relating to your keyboard
  • Having a laugh
  • Resolving conflicts quickly
  • Using phone calls as an opportunity to have a natural pause in your other work

So I am going to lay down the phone call challenge. For one week, answer your phone when it rings, return your phone calls within 24 hours and never send an email when you can phone someone. Do you think you can do it? So ingrained are our behaviours it’s actually harder than it looks. I challenge you to try it and see if you don’t feel better after that week.

About Sara: Sara Harrup is a Cause & Effective Associate. She is a former not for profit CEO and has first-hand knowledge of the challenges and issues faced by organisations in the sector and the people who work in them. Sara brings this experience and insight to our Leadership Search team.

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

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