Means of Communications, Vol. 15, Issue 42

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’ve been thinking about an Etiquetteer subject . . . I wonder if you've covered it? It doesn't necessarily speak well of me, but it's an issue I sometimes face . . . If I COULD, I think I'd be quite happy to live without a phone. I love email and "snail mail", but really am not at my best on the phone . . . There are exceptions . . . Some people I know are delightful via any means of communication!

Now, one thing I often hear from a handful of people is, "You are SO difficult to get in touch with. You NEVER answer your phone!" If it's someone I want to communicate with but don't love chatting with, I'll remind them that the best way to reach me is by email. These people don't take the hint and keep and continue to call and complain.

The question: does having a phone obligate me to use it? Are we free to tell people how best to communicate with us? Are we obligated to reach out to people in the way that suits THEM best? (I think "yes" and try to communicate in the way that works best for the person I'm trying to reach.)

I should note that this question is in relation to personal, not "business" contacts and refers to people that one is not particularly close to. Acquaintances, semi-close acquaintances, some personal business . . . You get the drift!

Dear Over-Phoned:

So, how can personal preference be accommodated in the method of one-on-one social communications? You have illustrated the problem beautifully. Everyone wants to communicate using the method that they prefer themselves, which is not always the method preferred by their correspondents. Sometimes these preferences are generational. Etiquetteer knows octogenarians who have never taken to the Internet and insist on phone or written communications. Often the hearing-impaired prefer written or electronic communication. And then there are all the various forms of social media - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, Snapchat, etc. - most of which have private message functions. Not to mention video phone capabilities such as Skype. Too many possible preferences!

Etiquetteer prefers email, but then misses out on hearing from the growing number of people who prefer texting. And sometimes Etiquetteer has had to reply to a text, “I’ll email. Too long to text.” (Etiquetteer has always felt that texting should remain a brief, telegraphic means of communication, and has been surprised, discouraged, and intimidated at how it’s become another form of email.)

So no, you’re not obligated to use your phone (or other communications media, really) to communicate with anyone. These are like the servant at the door who replies “Madam is not at home” when callers appear at inconvenient times. But then, whose preference should take precedence? Probably the method that both correspondents can use with the least inconvenience. In your case, email should be used since you’ve stated you prefer it. But if your correspondent is unable to use email, or finds typing extremely difficult and time-consuming, Etiquetteer encourages you to reconsider. Having to take 20 minutes to type three sentences is too great a burden.

As to your social acquaintances who can’t take a hint, you will have to give them the facts. “You’re absolutely right. I never DO answer the phone because I don’t like to talk on the phone. It’s easy to get in touch with me by email; I prefer it so much more, and actually do respond. I’d love to hear from you that way, especially now that you know I hate the phone!” You could, if so inclined, underscore the point by emailing the next day on a topic of mutual interest. If they continue to attempt telephoning, well, you’ve done what you can.