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

A reader asks:

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'm always open to new clients, though I also have a steady stream of work, enough to be comfortable.

Here's the problem: Often, a client or prospective client will ask if I can "jump on the phone" for a quick talk or schedule a teleconference. 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 flustered on the phone that I can become practically unintelligible, so I don't sell myself well over the phone anyway. I also really like to have every conversation in writing so there's no confusion about job 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 by phone/teleconference? I have a therapist I work with, I take medication, and I know there are strategies I could use in the future to make phone calls more comfortable--but from a business perspective, is there a way I can refuse this request without seeming ridiculous? I'm aware that insisting to communicate only by email could lose me some jobs, but I have enough work that I'm OK with that.

What do you think?

Green responds:

As long as you're OK with the possibility of losing business from people who feel more comfortable if they can talk by phone--and since you already have enough work to be comfortable--you can exercise your option to do this if you want.

For example, you can say: "My schedule makes it hard for me to jump on the phone, but I'd be glad to answer any questions you have by email, and I can usually be quite responsive that way."

Or if you want to be clearer that you're always going to be unavailable by phone: "I have a medical issue that means I don't use the phone, but I'd be glad to answer any questions you have by email, and I can usually be quite responsive that way."

That said, more generally--and this doesn't sound like it applies to you since you're in a position where you're calling the shots--I do think people who dislike the phone would be doing themselves and their careers a service if they worked on getting comfortable talking on the phone even when they don't want to. 

There are tons of people who hate talking on the phone and who actively avoid it. I've heard dozens and dozens of managers say a version of this about junior staff members: "She kept telling me she hadn't heard back from the person who we're waiting on info from, but said she had followed up several times. Eventually I found out that all her follow-up had been by email. She'd never once picked up the phone and called, even when it was getting urgent. I had to order her to use the phone, and then we got the info we needed." This is always said in a tone of exasperation, and understandably so.

At some point in the future, the phone might go the way of the mimeograph machine. But until it does, for most people, "I hate the phone" isn't sufficient reason to avoid using it when it makes sense for your job. But you're an exception to this, because you're in a position where you can be choosy about how you work, which is a great thing.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to