My Phone Conversations Suck – Can the 8-Minute Rule Save Me?

On April 3, 1983 Marin Cooper made the very first call ever on a cell phone (which he invented). I would bet that the call was short. (Image from

Ann begins today’s blog with the poem by Forrest Gander entitled The Conversation. I agree with Ann that it is spot on for describing what goes on in our family. In case you haven’t read Ann’s blog yet, here are the first few lines of Gander’s poem :

All the while he talks to
the boy, their son, on the phone,
she is interrupting, telling him something
to say, not to say, indicating
that she needs to talk to the boy

If Gander is anything like me, I would guess that he has something more going on than merely being pressured by his wife to turn over the phone. When I talk to my son, Travis, on the phone, I generally run out of things to say in about 5 minutes (correction by Ann: Travis timed it this morning and, in fact, it was 8 minutes) and have to shift into emergency-backup-small-talk mode to keep the conversation going. Ann, on the other hand, alway seems to have a reservoir of observations and pertinent questions and can maintain a fluid exchange indefinitely.

So, why do I suck as a phone conversationalist? One possibility is that such a disability runs in my family. As an adult I periodically called my parents to see how they were doing. My mom always answered the phone and would fill me in on what they were up to and ask about me and my family. After we would have talked a bit she inevitably would ask if I would like to speak with my dad. Of course I couldn’t say no, so she’d hand him the phone and the awkwardness would begin. We were lucky if we could make it through 10 minutes.

I broached this issue in an earlier Andy’s Corner (Sex Ed 101: The Father/Son Talk). Although it was not a phone conversation, the “talk” I had with our son about the “birds and the bees” was just as lame and nonfunctional as my Dad’s talk with me when I was a kid. Like father, like son.

Another possible explanation for my klutzy phone style may have less to do with my family background and more to do with the fact that I’m a male. One study that I came across caught my attention. The authors of that research found that when it comes to schmoozing on the phone, the women in their sample left the men the dust. I’ve included a graph from that research which dramatizes the male/female schmooze gap. [Editors note: the term “schmooze” wasn’t used by the research authors; I just thought it might lighten up the jargon]

FIG. 5. Average schmooze duration of calls made by males and females (Source: PLoS ONE)

While this all makes it look pretty bleak for male phone-conversationalist-wannabes, there may be a work-around that can help even the playing field – The 8 Minute Phone Call.

The Secret Power of the 8-Minute Phone Call, NY Times

The idea of an 8 minute phone call is from a recent NY Times series “The 7 Day Happiness Challenge.”

Happiness Challenge Day 2: Try the 8-minute phone call

Today your goal is to think of a person you love: someone you miss, someone you wish you connected with more often.

Send that person a quick text asking if they can chat on the phone for eight minutes — ideally today, but if not, schedule it for sometime this week.

The article claims that there are substantial social and personal benefits of such phone calls. But for me, the main benefit, which is not mentioned in the article, is that it would get me off the hook before the emergency-backup-small-talk mode has to kick in.

Hope to hear from you soon, if for only eight minutes – and be sure to text me ahead of time.

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