When it comes to communications, I can’t think of any habit that serves us better than trying to picture ourselves in the shoes of the person we’re trying to reach. Usually, we talk about communications aimed at masses or at least groups of stakeholders, but we also need to pay more attention to our day-to-day personal communications. Either way, thinking about the other person’s own “ecosystem” can make a big difference in how you communicate. So let’s focus on how telecommunications technology has changed the rules for something as simple as making a phone call.
A lot of us — especially whose who are over 45 — formed our telephone habits in another day and age. One that didn’t include cell phones, Caller ID, texting and call forwarding. When we called somebody who was on the phone, we got a busy signal. If they were away, chances are we just heard it ringing, as answering devices were still primitive and less than ubiquitous.
So we tried again later. Somebody was in the shower. Or in a meeting. Or gone fishing.
That was a perfectly functional and necessary thing to do in 1975. Now? Not so much. Yet, some of us revert to those old habits, to the great annoyance of our younger friends and associates.
Let’s assume you started with the person’s landline. That’s usually the best place to start, and the one I prefer when somebody’s calling me. But if there’s no answer, no worries. I’ll try his cell. But here’s the problem: When I’m out of the office for more than a few minutes, I always forward my calls to my cell. So let’s say I’m in a meeting, or maybe driving. You call my office and my phone rings. You dial it a second time and it rings again. You’ve now disturbed my meeting twice. Even if my phone is on silent, the vibrating is a distraction. So you leave a voice mail.
Know what happens when I get a voice message? I have to dial a phone number. OK, on most phones you can just press and hold the “1” button, but it’s still a pain. Then I listen to the mechanical voice telling me how many new messages I have, how many archived messages there are, and what I need to push to get your message. Finally, I listen to a rambling message that’s barely decipherable, especially if I’m in a noisy environment. A few more keystrokes to delete the message, then a quick search for the back of an envelope for me to write it down.
Can you blame me — or your friends, co-workers or clients — for preferring a text or email? I can read that in a second or two, and like everybody else, I get it all on my phone anyway. Often, even that isn’t necessary. My phone tells me you called, and it seems safe to assume you wouldn’t do that if you didn’t want to talk to me. Here’s a good way to be sure: For people you talk with regularly, just ask. Most will tell you that no voice mail means “Give me a call.” I have a service that turns your message into a text anyway, but it doesn’t work so well if you mumble.
A side point: I notice a lot more “This mailbox is full” messages at the end of somebody’s outgoing message. The younger somebody is, the more likely it is to encounter this. Lots of folks have simply bailed and no longer even pretend to listen to it! (I’ve never seen any stats on this, but I’d sure like to.)
Sometimes voicemail is unavoidable. If I need to convey something simple and important and I’m driving, I’ll leave one. But if I’m at a computer, or if it’s safe for me to text, I’ll shoot you a text or email.
Yes, I revert to old habits like other folks my age. I’ll call back later. Or hang up and try the cell. But I’m getting better. And in today’s world, you should too.