The Lost Art of The Phone Call

Kelly Whalen,  Sheila Kulik

Ah, the phone call. An efficient method for communication that unfortunately gets a bad rap these days. In a 2013 study from Jurys Inn Hotel Group and Crosscountry, almost 40 percent of 18-24 year olds admitted that they are nervous to use the telephone. One in 20 said that they were “terrified.” Alexander Graham Bell must be rolling in his grave.

Terrified to pick up the phone? Okay, having to make small talk with your Great Aunt Ruth when you call to wish her a happy birthday is terrifying, but you only have to make that call once a year. What’s our excuse for the other 364 days?

At one point, we raced to answer the landline and say, “Whalen residence, Kelly speaking.” Now we’re just tagging each other in funny Instagram memes. The irony of this being that we use smartphones to scroll through Instagram. We all sometimes seem to forget that the handheld computers that we’re all so permanently tied to are actually extensions of the telephone.

So is the phone obsolete? According to Nielsen data from 2016, Americans are spending over 10 hours a day looking at screens. It seems that we’re not communicating any less than we have in past years, but simply that we’re choosing to do so digitally. Please don’t get us wrong, sometimes we can get our thoughts across in a four-word text, but we can’t forget the value of the phone call.

Working in communications means spending quite a bit of time communicating. Strategic thinking, creativity and problem-solving all require collaboration. At Prosek, we work with internal teams, clients and reporters every single day and depending on email as our sole means of communication is impractical and inefficient. We need those phone calls!

When given the choice, it’s understandably easier to type out a few words than have to actually -gasp!- speak. But speaking candidly is where true connections are made and isn’t that the nature of the industry we’re in? Rewarding work comes from meaningful connection and we only achieve this when we’re willing to take a second to reach out.

If we keep picking up our phones, we don’t have to worry about losing our jobs to robots. A recent study shows that thirty-eight percent of jobs in the U.S. are at risk of being replaced by AI over the next 15 years. Until robots learn how to tell jokes on conference calls or convince hesitant reporters to cover an announcement, we think we’re safe. As our colleague Josh Passman says, the best way to get feedback on a pitch is by calling the reporter directly.

As for the “art” of the phone call, you’re probably already a natural. If you can say hello and are capable of having a two-minute conversation with anyone in-person, you’ll be great. An added incentive might be that phone calls are more effective than emails and even government legislators are impacted more by a personal call, according to this story from The New York Times.

Perhaps someday technology will allow us to virtually meet face-to-face (we’re not talking about FaceTime) but for now, the phone call is the most personal touch we can offer in the professional world. We’re prepared to hold onto it.

And don’t forget to call your Aunt Ruth and wish her a happy birthday. 

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