On the last morning of my visit to my brother and his family, I'm sitting at breakfast with my nieces. I have a mid-morning flight. As I spoon some cereal, the eight-year-old asks, "Uncle Ricky, when you were little, did they have airplanes?"
I suddenly feel old. "Yes, we did," I reply. "But there were some things we didn't have." I search the room. "Answering machines, for one."
"Really, no answering machines? Who answered the phone like when you weren't there?"
There's just no end to the curiosity of an eight-year-old. "What happened when someone called and nobody answered?"
"Well, I guess it rang for a while, and then they gave up. If it was important enough, they called back later."
You probably know how it went from there — I almost missed my flight.
What did we do without answering machines? Today, we have answering machines and voice mailboxes at home, at work, and on cell. Some of us even have assistants who take messages.
And the people we call are similarly equipped. Whenever we call, except in the rare event that we actually reach someone, we have an opportunity to leave word. And we almost always do leave word.
Make answering the phone
a choice. Consider turning off
the ringer when you're
doing something important.We play phone tag, leave messages, listen to messages, replay messages, jot down what people say in messages, and track whose turn it is to call. And if we're owed a call, and don't receive it in a timely fashion, we sometimes feel angry, frustrated, ignored, or unimportant. When we owe a call, and somehow don't get around to it, we can feel guilty. Too often, it's all a waste of our time and our energy.
We've let call-answering technology get out of control. Here are some reminders of the choices we sometimes forget we have.
- Decide whether to answer
- When the phone rings, we answer without even thinking about not answering. Make answering the phone a choice. Consider turning off the ringer when you're doing something important.
- Decide whether to leave a message
- Before you phone someone, consider what to do if you get a voice mailbox. Make a conscious choice: do you really want to leave a message? Or would you rather call back later, send email, or do nothing?
- Decide how to set your answering system
- You can turn it off altogether, or set it to announcement mode: "I'm not taking messages or calls just now, please send email or call back after 4 PM." This reduces both the number of messages you have to listen to, and the number of calls you have to return. Close friends and family with urgent business probably have your cell anyway.
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.
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