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The lost art of leaving messages

Gone are the days of voicemail etiquette, according to our blogger Miss W who has a phobia when it comes to answering unidentified calls.

The lost art of leaving messages

Gone are the days of voicemail etiquette, according to our blogger Miss W who has a phobia when it comes to answering unidentified calls.

I, like many other people in the modern world, am not a huge fan of answering my phone when I see an unidentified number on the caller ID. There are a few reasons why – firstly, I’m usually in the middle of writing something and don’t want the flow to be interrupted (I’m a creative, don’t you know darlings?) and other times, I might be on my way out or driving (meetings, shoots, dinners, lunches, I can’t help it if I’m popular) and don’t really want to get stuck on an unexpected call and wind up late. And finally, truth be told, I’m just not much of a phone person in general (I’m much more comfortable with a keyboard), so if I don’t know who you are or what you want, it’s highly likely I’m going to screen. Unless I’m expecting a delivery from Amazon of course, in which case I’ll pick up in case you’re my courier. Anyway, I digress…

Despite the fact I am famously not a phone person, I’ve actually had a mobile phone since the dawn of mobile phones as we know them – and by that I mean the small-ish flip ones, not those giant brick type car phones they used in Miami Vice (how old do you think I am?). Even back then, I was dubious about private numbers and unidentified callers – but there was a very simple screening system, and that system worked. It was an innovative thing called VOICEMAIL. Just like an answering machine, except INSIDE your mobile phone (well technically it was probably up in a cloud somewhere but let’s not get technical). Hands up if you remember it?

An unidentified call would come in, the user (aka me) would ignore it and about three minutes later you’d get a beep on your phone to notify you the random caller had left a message. You’d pick up your phone, access the message, find out who was calling and what they were calling about – because telephone etiquette insisted you leave your name, your number and the reason for your call and people obeyed the rules – and then as common courtesy dictates, you’d call them back when you had time to chat. Seems pretty simple, and indeed obvious, right?

In the past few years (Months? Weeks? Days? I can’t tell anymore; they all blend into one) things have dramatically changed. It seems leaving a polite voicemail has gone the way of letter writing – it has become somewhat of a lost art. I get quite a few missed calls each day because I keep my phone on silent when I’m working. And I’m popular, obvs. But never ever, does a caller leave a message anymore. Now – I get it when it’s a friend calling. They know you’ve got their number and they’ll presume when you see their number on your screen you’ll know to call them back. They might even follow up with a WhatsApp or text message to let you know what they were calling about. And the unspoken rule of friendship is that you’ll dutifully call them back when you’ve got time to talk. Or at least text them later!

But it’s not the friends who don’t leave voice messages I take issue with. It’s strangers. People who surely must know that you do not know who they are, nor the reason for their call, and then simply hang up with no further explanation. It’s these people I don’t understand. If you’re calling for a reason – tell me! For example, yesterday when my phone was on ‘do not disturb’ mode, I had two missed calls. One from a landline on the Spanish mainland, another from a local mobile phone number. I look at the voicemail box – hoping, praying for the little number ‘1’ or even ‘2’ to pop up, so I can decipher who was trying to call me but no joy. I wait a little longer to see if they’ll call back, or if someone will message me but nothing.

I spend the next half hour wondering who could be trying to reach me and why, but I’m not going to call them back. Nope, I’m not that keen. I forget about them very quickly The last FIVE times I answered my phone to an unidentified caller, it was a telemarketing company trying to get me to change mobile carriers. I eventually got tired of the interruptions (always from different numbers too) and stopped answering. I figure – if it’s a friend, they’ll find another way to get in touch (hello Facebook, Instagram, email). If it is anyone else… anyone at all… doctor, bank manager, vet, client, courier, electricity company, landlord, whoever… they should LEAVE A MESSAGE and I will call them back as soon as I can. Because I’m good like that.

If you call me and leave a message, I will 100% call you back as soon as possible. If you let me know what you’re calling about, I’ll do my best to find out what I need to address the reason of your call before we speak, so we can make some kind of progress during our call. Once I had a missed call from a Swiss number at 9am on a Saturday morning – I was lying in bed feeling slightly hungover at the time, but because (with true Swiss efficiency) the caller had left a message, I immediately listened and returned the call – within 35 minutes (which included a very quick shower and mad run to the taxi rank) I was sitting down with none other than Luciano for a breakfast interview, grateful for dry shampoo and the call screening process. Had I answered instantly, I don’t think my groggy, sleepy voice would have bode well for a pending professional meeting.

Some may argue that with every missed call is a missed opportunity; for example, what if Luciano had not left a message? I would never have known it was him and never have gotten an exclusive interview (ahhh, but he did – we were on the same wavelength). I can see the logic to this, and yes, on occasion I have suffered for it – like the time I ordered an amazing new Bluetooth speaker online, the courier called me to see if I was home before wasting his time driving up into Dalt Vila with a bulky package, I didn’t pick up and then got a text message from the delivery company saying ‘we tried to deliver but you weren’t home’ which wasn’t true – I was home the whole time! He just never bothered to come up and I ended up having to drive to the middle of nowhere to pick it up from the warehouse and lug it home myself. So you live and learn. Now when I’m expecting a delivery, I DO answer unidentified calls!

But put the shoe on the other foot and I’m the type of person who doesn’t even call someone spontaneously unless they have requested it in an email or message prior to the call. Generally, I’ll pre-contact the person I wish to speak with and ask them when would be a good time to call and chat? Because I don’t want to put someone (especially someone who perhaps doesn’t know me yet) in the position of having to stop whatever they were doing to answer a 20-minute call they were unprepared for. This new system works for me. And if the recipient doesn’t pick up, I still leave a message. I try calling back a few minutes later. If they don’t answer again I send a message asking them to phone me back. Eventually, we get in touch.

It turns out that one of my missed calls was from the bank yesterday. They instead emailed me today to tell me that they couldn’t get in touch with me by phone, and asked me to arrange a meeting in the local office. Which I did. Immediately. Problem solved. As for the second call? I have no idea. But here’s the thing: THEY NEVER CALLED BACK AGAIN. So was it really all that important in the first place? I guess I’ll never know. Is my life really all that different for not picking up the phone? Not to me it isn’t!

[Side note: If you have ever called me in the past and not received a call back, please call me again and leave a message! I promise I’ll get back to you!]