If You’re Not Available to Talk, Then Don’t Answer Your Phone!


If You’re Not Available to Talk, Then Don’t Answer Your Phone!

What’s your immediate reaction when your phone rings?

  • Answer regardless of who’s calling.
  • Answer because you’ve seen who’s calling.
  • Ignore and let it go to message bank.

It’s my belief the majority of people will be in the first camp. Why? Because we have moved into an environment where we believe we must be available 24/7 in business and life; and it’s killing us.

With technology changes enabling us to be more connected than ever, instead of pushing back and seeing if this is actually a good thing or the right thing for us at all times, at this moment etc.; we have just embraced the notion and accepted this is how things are now. To which I say, an emphatic “No!”

Remember what happened in the old days when we were out of the office or doing work when we couldn’t be disturbed, or at the movies with our family and friends? No one interrupted us. Instead, they left a message on our answering machine at home or the office or on our phone’s message bank, and we called them back as soon as we could. Did the world end? No.

Did people complain about how long it took you to call them back? Generally, no, because it was usually less than 24 hours which was deemed reasonable. So, why is this not reasonable now? Why is it people answer their phones whilst in a meeting with a client, when I call and say, “Sorry I can’t talk now, I’m in a meeting.” To which I yell in my head, “Then why have you answered the phone?” I, like most people, are actually okay with the fact you’re not available at the time I ring because I understand you’re running a business or working at your job or living your life; instead of sitting at home, staring at the phone, not doing anything else because you’re waiting for my call.

So, if you’re one of those people who can’t turn their phone on to silent (even for 5 minutes) and/or answers the phone before it goes to message bank, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing, here’s my three, not so friendly, reminders about what this behaviour tells me:

1. You believe you have to be ‘on’ 24/7 – in business/work and your life.

Warning: Mental, physical and emotional burnout will get you in the end.

2. You are more concerned and focused on what’s happening out there (scared of missing out), then being present with the person you’re with right now.

Warning: Remember, this person is you, your client, your family and your friends. They want to feel valued and part of your life, not be dismissed as not important.

3. You feel it’s ok to annoy people by telling them you’re actually not available, something a message bank tells them quite easily.

Warning: People get frustrated easily when their time is wasted.

Although not everyone will agree with me, I believe, doing this is just rude.

Now I realise some of you may be thinking, “I can’t do that because I need the business.” My response to that is if a client has the expectation you will be able for them whenever they click their fingers, then is this really the client you want? I pride myself on my client service, but I physically cannot and will not be available 24/7. If you are, what price are you paying for that unrealistic expectation?

Time and space are amazing things, and their power should never be underestimated. Stepping away from our business, technology and people for short bursts so we can turn off from everything enables our business (and ourselves) to flourish and grow.

Why? Because we gain clarity, options and new ideas when we step back and take a look at things from a different perspective, and the only way we can achieve this is to give ourselves the necessary time, mindset and opportunity. Otherwise, we will remain a ‘firefighter’ instead of an ‘explorer’.

One of my favourite movies is Dead Poets Society and the scene where John Keating, played by Robin Williams climbs up on to the desk and asks the class:

“Why do I stand up here? I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

So, I invite you to climb up on your desk and see what it looks and feels like from up there when you answer your phone when you really shouldn’t. I hope that reflection results in a change for the better.

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  • Rosemary

    Great post. I think that one of the reasons people answer the phone and say: “I can’t talk now, is it important?’ is that they respect the person who is calling, and want to show their recognition of prioritising them, even when busy. As you say, a message bank would probably be sufficient, if the message is responded to as soon as possible after the call.

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