Can I tell customers I’m not speaking on the phone?

Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues – everything from: how to deal with a micromanaging boss how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

I run my own small graphic design business. I work with some regular clients, but a lot of my work is one-off projects for small business clients. I am always open to new clients, although I also have a steady stream of work, enough to make me feel comfortable.

Here’s the problem: Often a customer or potential customer will ask if I can “get on the phone” for a quick call or schedule a conference call. I have terrible social anxiety, and just thinking about talking to a stranger on the phone makes me want to throw up. I get so nervous on the phone that I can become practically unintelligible, so I’m not selling myself well on the phone after all. I also like to have every conversation in writing so there is no confusion about task guidelines, deadlines, etc.

Is there a way I can say “No, let’s continue the conversation via email” or explain that I don’t communicate via phone/teleconference? I have a therapist I work with, I’m on medication, and I know there are strategies I could use in the future to make phone calls more comfortable – but from a business standpoint, is there a way to decline this request without looking ridiculous? I am aware that if I insist on communicating by email only, I could lose some jobs, but I have enough work that I don’t have a problem with that.

As long as you’re okay with the possibility of losing business from people who are more comfortable when they can talking on the phone–and since you already have enough work to be comfortable — you can exercise your option to do this if you wish.

For example, you can say, “My schedule makes it difficult for me to jump on the phone, but I’d be happy to answer any of your questions by email, and that way I can usually respond fairly quickly.”

Or if you want to be clearer that you always will be not available by phone: “I have a medical problem that prevents me from using the phone, but I’d be happy to answer any of your questions by email, and I can usually respond quite quickly that way.”

That said, more generally – and this doesn’t sound like it applies to you, considering you’re in a position where you’re in charge – I think people who hate the phone are a service to themselves and their career. if they worked on talking comfortably on the phone, even if they didn’t want to.

There are a lot of people who hate to talk on the phone and actively avoid it. I’ve heard dozens and dozens of executives say some version of this about junior employees: “She kept telling me she hadn’t heard from the person we’re waiting for information from, but said she’d responded several times. Eventually I found out that all her had follow up been by email. She had never picked up the phone and called, even when it became urgent. I had to tell her to use the phone, and then we got the information we needed.” This is always said in a tone of annoyance, which is understandable.

At some point in the future, the phone may go the way of the duplicator. But until that happens, “I hate the phone” isn’t enough of a reason for most people not to use it when it makes sense for your job. But you are an exception to this because you are in a position where you can be picky about how you work, which is great.

Ask a question yourself? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.

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