Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

What You Want to Say When Asked to “Hop on the Phone” (and What to Say Instead)

person using smartphone
Westend61/Getty Images

Can we hop on the phone?

Did you just grumble? You aren’t alone. Despite the fact that we’re attached to our phones 24/7, many of us actually loathe the one function they were designed for: making and taking calls.

I get it. Interrupting your workday in order to participate in a phone call that could’ve happened over email—maybe far more efficiently—can be a nuisance.

But, what exactly can you do about it? There has to be a more polite and professional way to avoid a phone conversation than by saying, “No thanks, I’d rather listen to a soundtrack of nails on a chalkboard for eight hours,” right?

Yes indeed, there is. If you’re one of the many phone-averse people out there, here’s a guide based on what you’re tempted to say when someone asks you to “hop on the phone”—as well as what’s behind those feelings (and, you know, what you should really say instead).

You’re Tempted to Say... “I’m Going to Forget Everything You Tell Me, So You Might as Well Email Me”

Phone calls can be efficient—but only if you’re actively engaged in what’s being discussed. If you’re not, all of those crucial tidbits are probably going to fall out of your brain the second you hang up.

Could you take notes? Absolutely. But, if you’re anything like me, you’ll return to those scribbles at the conclusion of your conversation and have no idea what any of them actually mean. Or, you might lose focus during that well-intentioned phone chat and opt to scroll through Twitter or jot down your grocery list instead of actively listening to the topic at hand (ahem, guilty as charged).

Either way, that phone call ends up being a waste of your time, because you didn’t actually retain any important information.

That’s one of the many perks of email. You have documentation to return to whenever you need it—and you can rest assured that it’s accurate (unlike your doodle of a sunflower with a cryptic note that says, “Ask Jim!” next to it).

Lucky for you, this is a perfectly justifiable reasoning to lean on when you need it.

Oh, and if your attempts to escape that phone call don’t play out as you hoped? Take your moment to complain, and then make sure that you’re ready to listen (just think—you don’t want to have to hop on the phone twice because you missed stuff the first time!). Also, follow up on that conversation with an email summary that highlights action items—so you still have that written record you were hoping for.

Say This Instead

“If possible, I’d like to get this conversation started via email. That way, I have notes to refer back to and can easily loop in anyone else who needs to be in the know. If we still think a call is necessary after getting this groundwork laid out, we can pick a time to chat.”

You’re Tempted to Say... “I Have Nightmares About the Fact That You’re Going to Ask Me Something I Can’t Answer”

Put your own ego aside for a moment and admit this to yourself: Part of what makes phone calls so intimidating is that they happen in real time.

You have to think on your feet way more than you would if you were simply responding to an email that grants you ample time to ask your colleague or consult Google.

So, if your nerves are what are inspiring you to stay far, far away from a phone conversation, a response like the one below will hopefully help you avoid a dreaded live chat—without blatantly admitting your own insecurities.

And hey, sometimes it’s worth pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, too. Remember, if you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to, you can always share that you’ll need to circle back with them after via email.

Say This Instead

“I want to make sure I’m prepared to give you all of the information you need. Would you mind emailing me the questions you’re aiming to have answered? I’ll reply to what I can via email and, if necessary, we can schedule a call to discuss the rest.”

You’re Tempted to Say... “Ugh, I Just Really Don’t Like Talking to People”

Let’s just call a spade a spade here—phone calls can really be a major pain in the you-know-what.

You have enough meetings and commitments cluttering your schedule, and the last thing you want to do is rip your attention away from your actual work again just to participate in a conversation that you could’ve handled via email in your own time.

Of course, a retort that lays bare the fact that you’d rather not talk to anyone probably isn’t going to go over too well.

Frame your response a little more positively by explaining that you have something you need to stay focused on at the moment and would prefer email if that’s a possibility. It still gets your point across—in a way that doesn’t make you seem like quite as big of a recluse.

Say This Instead

“I’m in the middle of a big project and am primarily focused on that right now. If you’d like, feel free to send me your talking points here and I’ll address what I can in an email. If you still think a call is needed after that, we can get one scheduled after this project wraps.”

You’ll notice something about all of these responses: They still give the option of having a phone chat if absolutely necessary.

I’m not trying to betray you here, I promise. However, it’s important to recognize that sometimes phone calls really are needed.

They can be more efficient and effective than dozens of emails sent back and forth. And some conversations need the human element of speaking something out loud—like giving tough feedback or talking out a workplace conflict. Plus, being able to hop on the phone is an important skill in many jobs—sales, for example—and ultimately crucial to your success.

But, that doesn’t change the fact that there are some phone conversations that are worth transforming into email exchanges. In those scenarios, use the replies I’ve outlined here and you’ll (hopefully!) avoid a dreaded phone in a way that’s still polite, professional, and productive.