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Return the Call
Mom with a View

Return the Call

Maybe it's time to get rid of your answering machine.


I try to be understanding. We all have busy lives, and they seem to only get busier. I try to be compassionate. I'm shy and I don't like to make phone calls myself. I try to be thoughtful, imagining the many burdens and claims on their time. I try to judge favorably. I know that sometimes my computer is down or the phone line is not working.

But sometimes I just run out of excuses. Especially when it's the same people over and over again. You know who I mean? The ones who never return phone calls, who never answer emails.

We all make mistakes. We all forget. I walk into shul on Shabbos morning and have an "oh no" moment. Standing in front of me is someone who left me a message earlier in the week, whose call I forgot to return. But I really try.

As I said earlier, I'm not a big phone person myself. So I understand the reluctance to return a call. I can relate to it. But there's an easy solution that does away with rudeness on the recipient's part and frustration on the initial caller's side. It's revolutionary and practical.

Get rid of your answering machine.

Answering machines provide the illusion that you plan to return the call. They make you seem lacking in common decency when you don't.

But if you find it difficult, if you really don't have an extra minute, just unplug the machine. People who need to reach you will continue to try, and you'll no longer be responsible for the gnashed teeth.

The same is true with email. "Get rid of email? You must be kidding!" I know it's next to impossible to give it up, but if you don't plan to answer your emails, at the very least, don't give out your address. Or make it clear it's for work-related issues only (I assume you answer those but maybe I'm wrong).

It's true that the burden is on us -- the unanswered callers and emailers -- to judge you favorably. But why put us in a position where we have to scramble to do so?

In our culture, the societal expectation is that we will return phone calls and respond to emails, even though it makes our lives more hectic. It's what most of us consider the appropriate behavior (without actually consulting Miss Manners, I feel confident of her position) of responsible adults.

At first I thought it was just a Hollywood kind of behavior, the old "let's do lunch and never call" routine. But it seems pervasive. And among people who have nothing to do with the entertainment industry!

Whew! I think I've finished venting now. I think some people just don't realize the expectations they've created. I'm moving on. I'm letting go. I'm focusing only on the positive. Besides I'd better get back to work. I have phone calls to make and emails to send...and if you don't respond, I guess I'll just smile and try again.

December 13, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) Beverly Kurtin, March 28, 2010 11:06 PM

Ever hear of privacy?

Bah, humbug. My phone is for MY convenience, not for the convenience of solicitors who are not covered by the do not call list. My announcement is "Please leave a message after the tone" in deep male voice. Since all of us are women, most people hang up immediately. If they are friends, they know how to reach us. I have a cell phone for my customers and friends, but more importantly, long distance is included in my monthly charge. Since I'm on Virgin, I have no contract and can change my plan any time I wish. It too has voice mail that tells callers, "I am driving, leave a message and I will try to return it sometime today."

(8) Anonymous, December 25, 2008 4:29 AM

Answering machines

I agree fully with Shoshana-Dvora in comment 4. Society today, for better or worse, has evolved to require some sort of access. While I thoroughly believe that it is unfair and unrealistic to expect the access to be instantaneous, as text messaging often requires (though this type of tool has it's place), nonetheless today's world requires the relatively simple ability to leave a message. It's when simple rules of etiqette are not followed that abuse occurs, such as in the comment from above when a caller's message includes an obvious lie. It is obnoxious and frustrating to cause another to have to continuously attempt to phone you because your out all the time without a way to simply leave a message. More than anything, giving someone the ability to merely leave a message is simple courtesy. What I think society needs to adjust is the expectation of receiving an immediate response, though this is a whole other topic.

(7) Anonymous, December 18, 2008 10:41 AM

i just tell them.....

i used to live in the states and have many friends there still who keep in touch by email there r many times when i can't/dont answer or truthfully find the email a waste of time or silly etc when it gets overwhelming , i just send an email and say please dont be insulted but i dont have time to answer all your emails and dont want u to think i am upset or angry w/u so please bear this in mind when u dont hear from me lo and behold, they r kind and understanding and lessen the load of emails to those that r the answering machine, with us, calling and not leaving a message does not warrant a call back so we delete if its important they somehow find us soon enough

(6) Anonymous, December 17, 2008 4:08 PM

Pre-recorded messages

Our panasonic answer phone comes with a pre-recorded message: "There is noone available to take your call. Please leave a message. We will return your call." I wanted to change it because I felt it was a lie - I don't want to promise I will definitely return the call. My husband and his parents laugh at me, the 'yekki', as they call me. But I think it's wrong and I always get annoyed wen I hear that message on other people's machines.

(5) anonymous, December 16, 2008 6:28 PM

I definately am glad that you put an exception to the buisness calls though. I have left a message with a request to be called back once a week for a month to a potential employer. I then went into the business and tried to speak with him. Once again, he is in a meeting. Ok, so you say perhaps not to expect a call. Well that is fine and dandy, yet one thing is definately a problem. This man has a message on his voice mail that says, " I RETURN CALLS PROMPTLY." "OH, REALLLLY? He could have fooled me. I am supposed to judge favorably and think that he is very busy, that he cannot return phone calls and the like, yet I for one think he needs to remove his claim from his message. I believe it gives false hope and definately a wrong impression, and in this recession when I need a job this is not helping.

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