What Is So Scary About Business Conversation?

i-hate-talking-on-the-phoneMy biggest business pet peeve? The unanswered email. I mean, really, how tough is it to hit reply, type in a short answer like “Sorry. I don’t know,” and then hit send? A close second is the unreturned phone call. Does it really require you to block out time on your calendar to call back?

When I do decide to gently call out this bad behavior, the excuses are all the same. Something like “I’m sorry. I’ve been really busy?” Really? Too busy to actually use that Blackberry you check every five seconds? Another favorite of mine, “It’s been crazy around here.” Really? Crazy like a barricaded gunman situation at the office? That, though, would be a legitimate excuse.

We’re no psychologists, but after several years in business, we see what’s really going on. Many people absolutely abhor business conversations with any tinge of negativity. If a journalist isn’t interested in our story, it’s easier for them to ignore emails and calls rather than say “no thank you.” If a potential client can’t accept what we’re proposing, it’s easier for them to ignore our follow-ups, rather than to say “anything we could do differently to make this work?” If someone really is busy, how hard is leaving a voicemail in the evening saying, “my schedule has been packed, can we please figure out a time next week to talk?”

Some honest business people will even say, in their apologies for weeks or even months of unreturned calls, in a moment of true candor, that “I’m not good at confrontation.” For some reason, for some people, any potential category goes under the category of “confrontation,” even among people who are not confrontational. All that does is impede business progress and, of course, communication. Sometimes they avoid real conversation and choose to handle the challenging conversation over email. That, of course, is not ideal but it’s better than avoiding it altogether.

This phenomenon is certainly not new. I’m old enough to have worked for bosses who would rather deliver messages through a secretary or issue the latest edict via memo (copied and placed in every employee’s mailbox) rather than face a challenging conversation face-to-face. But somehow, even in the age of email, voicemail and text, it seems worse now because there really is no good excuse for avoiding necessary business conversation.

So what about the salesman who calls me almost every day at the office and about once a week on my cell phone, but won’t leave a message or a voicemail? I know his name (he uses it with my colleagues to try to get through to me) and his company name (we have this newfangled thing called “Caller ID”). Why won’t he leave a voicemail? What’s he afraid of? Maybe I need a team of psychologists to answer that one.