We are more connected than ever yet we very rarely pick up the phone and have a real, human-driven conversation. The more sophisticated technology gets, the more we seem to stop speaking to each other. We’ve seen this happen with the rise of texting throughout the 2000s, and now we’re seeing it at work, as video calls have become the go-to source for all hybrid and virtual work meetings.
The phone call is a lost art, especially in the workplace. But with the loss of the phone call, comes the loss of so much more. Phone calls are important. They drive more meaningful conversations, avoid bias, and sometimes are the much more efficient means for getting things done. We all assume that we have the capability to hop on a quick Zoom, but in a world where the lines between at-home and at work are blurred, the phone call gives us a balance to step away from screens, handle matters, and have an actual conversation.
With a pandemic that taught us how human connection is everything, why are we not relying on what could be considered the best form of connection? What are some of the key elements of human existence that we’ve been missing out on with the death of the phone call? And why should we start dialing again?
Human connection and substantial conversation
A 2018 study by Ofcom found that over 80% of calls were shorter than five minutes, and the majority were under 90 seconds. What little phone calls we are having are anything but substantial. Look at your call log right now and tell me, how long are your recent calls? Probably not very.
Texts, emails, voice notes—none of them matches up to the true connection that we receive from a good ‘ol phone call. Think back to the last time you had a real, substantive phone call with someone. Think about what was discussed, how your conversation probably covered a dozen different topics, how you made the person on the other end laugh, or how they captivated you with their great storytelling ability. Think about how it made you feel. That is what we are missing.
A study by the University of Texas at Austin found that people feel significantly more connected through voice-based media like phone calls, yet they opt for text-based media out of fear. In one instance, researchers asked 200 people what they think it would be like to reconnect with an old friend over email or phone. And then, they actually had them do it. More participants stated that a phone call would probably make them feel more connected, but preferred to email out of a fear of being too awkward.
Our screens give us something to hide behind. On one hand, we can put on a facade of bravado and avoid the real-life feeling of cringe. But is feeling awkward really all that bad? Is it not better to embrace our real emotions, and learn how to cope with them or grow past them? How are we supposed to develop as individuals, as people, without the growing pains that come with it? By avoiding uncomfortable situations by hiding behind a screen and text-based media, we’re hindering our growth and our ability to connect better.
And this proved to be true according to the study—researchers found that, despite any apprehension that a phone call would be awkward, the phone calls on average went remarkably better than the emails. The human element, the connection, was there.
Tonal context and presence
Something that we’ve been losing with the art of the phone call is tone, intention, and annunciation. All of these things are more apparent over a phone call than say, an email or text message. Without it, it’s easier to experience workplace mishaps—whether that’s a harmless joke not landing, the importance of a particular task not being understood, or a person’s reaction to proposed ideas not being accurately interpreted.
How are you supposed to do your job to the best of your ability, and work with coworkers/clients/etc. effectively, when you are missing that vital element of connection? The short answer is: you can’t. At least, not to your fullest extent.
This much-needed context that phone calls have also made it easier for people to be more present during conversations. It stops you from skimming through an email too quickly or drowning out the monotonous sound of a voice-over zoom. By having a direct conversation with someone over the phone, by understanding the tone and intention behind their words, you are immediately becoming a better communicator and collaborator.
One of the most important things we are losing with the art of the phone call is, in my opinion, our intention with time. When your daily discussions and communications are based around a more personable and connection-based form of media, you will find yourself being more intentional with what time you have.
Many of us fall victim to spending far too much time pondering the things that don’t really matter all that much. When you are more intentional with your time, you’re putting more thought into how you spend it. You’ll find yourself working more efficiently, and prioritizing the right things above all else.
This is especially important for someone like a founder who has a million and one things on their to-do list at all times. Shooting a text might be the easier option, but the phone call is the better one and is the choice that will ultimately lead to a longer and better work relationship.
Knowing all of this now, I challenge you to open your phone and make a connection that you otherwise would’ve done over email or text. Don’t think too much into the potential awkwardness, or what seems like a lack of convenience. Make more phone calls and build better relationships—you just might surprise yourself.
Heather Hartnett is the CEO and founding partner of Human Ventures.