Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thanking the Messenger

The other day I got a call from an unknown number, area code 603 (southern New Hampshire). With the call coming on a day off from work, and me being in the middle of some Viet-Thai buffet, I figured I wouldn't pick up and risk whatever surprise might be lurking on the other end of the line. I waited to see if the caller would leave a message before responding, and sure enough, the message left was just a middle-aged woman's New England twang telling me she'd reached the wrong number, and sorry for the confusion.

I wanted to call her back and thank her.

But I didn't, for fear of sounding sarcastic or otherwise off-kilter.

But here was my reasoning: Every day, my job requires me to coordinate several meetings, briefings, and other events between people with paygrades several levels higher than my own. It also requires many other types of phone-based coordination, and here's the kicker: I'm usually not at my desk.

I work in several different offices/rooms (and sometimes different buildings entirely) to perform various functions, so chances are overwhelmingly high that if you call my extension, you won't get me. Everything works quite well when people follow the simple instructions on my voicemail -- leave a message and I'll get right back to you.

If only things could be simple.

Many times, people call, don't get the instant gratification of someone on the other end (and that comes with the "WTF" factor, because we might have just talked before I had to run, so naturally you wonder why-in-the-heck-is-he-not-there-he-just-said-to-call-this-number)? So of course, people hang up the phone in frustration. I don't get the voicemail, so I don't know why the person called or what needs to happen...and suffice to say, if they're calling on that line, it's not just to B.S. about the weather.

To use one of the many sports analogies I love, the chains haven't been moved 10 yards downfield, even though a simple message could have accomplished that quite painlessly.

Where it really gets over the top, however, is when people blame me for the not-being-there phenomenon.

Last week, I picked up the phone to hear from a Petty Officer who I'd never met/seen before. It went something like this:

Him: "Whoa!?! Lieutenant Page, is this really you? You're a hard man to reach...I've been trying and trying for days, I thought you might've been away or something."

Me: Uh...actually, I'm probably one of the easiest people to reach out there. Was my voicemail broken?

Him: No, I just don't always leave messages.

Me: Well if it was really that important, I just want you to know if the shoe were on the other foot I would've just left a message and given the person the benefit of the doubt that they would've gotten it and returned it."

Him: Well, it's funny you should say that, this was the time I had decided to actually leave one.

Me: Well, in the future, if you ever want to reach me, just leave a message...I check this line every hour or so, so you'll get a pretty prompt return. But if you just hang up on me, we're both [Shoot] Out-of-Luck."

As you can probably tell, some frustration and sarcasm were making their way through from my end, for sure.

And only then did we proceed to discuss an important and somewhat time-sensitive aspect of the movement of a bunch of files from one building to another for storage.

Personal calls are one thing -- I understand sometimes frivolous or timely things (hey, want to grab Subway for lunch?) don't require messages.

But for work-related business, I find it somewhat unprofessional for people to not leave messages. And I find it over-the-top ridiculous for non-message leavers to *blame* others when they can't get through.

And that's why I was so impressed by the anonymous lady from New Hampshire who was presumably looking for someone else with the 508 area code and 451 prefix.

She left a message. She stated what needed to be conveyed, even though she didn't have to, and then hung up.

If only everyone could catch the fever.


Chris said...

Even worse is the person who waits until the answering machine is recording, and then hangs up, saying nothing.

A "missed call" is nothing more than that, but when you are alerted that a message has been left, you make the effort to receive that message, only to discover no words were recorded!

C R Krieger said...

The ones that get me are the ones for whom you leave a message, usually somewhat informative, and then the person, who asked you to leave a message, calls you back without having listened to the message.

At some level I am sure that is efficient, but they know I called from the missed call function. I have moved to texting such people. A hard move at my age. :-)

Regards  --  Cliff

The New Englander said...


Great examples (and Cliff, I remember your example from your blog...I agreed that it was rude of the non-listeners but it looks like texting has solved the problem).

Bottom Line: Voicemail serves a great purpose. Comms can be asynchronous thanks in large part to wonderful things like voicemail, texts, and e-mail.

Second Bottom Line: (And subject of an upcoming entry) DON'T AUTOMATICALLY ASSUME THE WORST in your interpersonal dealings. For example, just because someone's not at their desk or phone doesn't mean they're goofing off, ignoring you, or whatever. So don't just slam the phone down in frustration when you get V/M.