Because I teach 100% online and work remotely, I give my students plenty of ways to contact me, including my email and cell number. On the first day of classes last week, a student accidentally called me by clicking my cell number instead of my email. She was very apologetic. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to call you. I was going to send you an email.”
“That’s perfectly alright,” I said, “how can I help?”
“I’m in the hospital and will be missing the first few days of classes. Will that cause me to fall hopelessly behind?”
After first telling her that I hope she is okay and wished her a speedy recovery, I explained that in my online courses, the first week is dedicated to orientation and there are no formal assignments beyond basic setup tasks (e.g., emailing your group, signing up for Twitter if you need to). She sounded extremely relived and thanked me profusely.
Why are we so afraid of phone calls?
Maybe you’ve made phone calls that you’ve regretted. (Many college students learn the hard way the dangers of drunk dialing.) But, how many times have you made a phone call and after you hung up said to yourself, “I should have done that way sooner.”
When I first started my position as a faculty member nine years ago, I was very afraid of making phone calls to people I didn’t know. I would sit in my office, completely baffled by the unwritten rules, systems, and norms of this new workplace, trying to figure it all out by myself.
A turning point came for me when there was an email about a grant offered by the dean’s office. I thought I might want to apply for it, but wasn’t sure. I sat there for a good 10–15 minutes getting stressed about it. I decided to ask my Department Chair, whose office was conveniently across the hall. I asked her if I should apply for the grant. “I’m not sure,” she replied. “Why don’t you call The Dean?”
The Dean? Are lowly Assistant Professors without tenure allowed to call The Dean? I didn’t say that but she probably knew what I was thinking by the look on my face. “Go ahead. Let me know how it goes.”
So I called The Dean. Long story short, I applied for that grant and received the funding. It propelled me towards trailblazing online learning in my department. It helped fuel my passion for creating and teaching online courses. In short, it was career-changing.
From that point on, I no longer feared the phone. When a student once told me that she was having trouble finding sources for her research project, I told her to call our Reference Librarian. She looked at me like I had two heads. “Is he scary?” she asked.
I laughed. She didn’t. She was dead serious. I quickly apologized and explained that I know the Reference Librarian, he is a very nice man, and will go out of his way to help you. But you have ask.
With so many choices to communicate — email, slack, text, phone, skype — decision fatigue can set in. If your default is email, challenge yourself to use the phone.
And, of course, nothing (yet) beats real life, three-dimensional contact complete with non-verbal cues and physical contact that engenders true human connection.
As someone who is independent and self-motivated, too often I forget that, sometimes, I need help. Yes, there are times when it’s worth it to fight it out and learn from your own mistakes. But sometimes it’s not.
Especially when an answer may be a simple phone call away.
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