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01 November 2010

Why do people return calls before/instead of listening to messages? [More:] I am genuinely curious. If you do this - why? Do you like to talk on the phone, maybe? My phone just rang, and it was the person I left a message for a few minutes previous - "Hi this is X. Did somebody call me?" Ummm, yes, I called you and I shall now repeat the information I left on your voice mail, which would have told you you didn't need to call me back.

What the? Why? I have family members who do this, too.

Did I miss some sort of technology etiquette thing where I'm supposed to call a number and not leave a message because it's assumed they will just call back?
I don't know, but I find that annoying, too. Can we just do away with phones completely and do everything via email already?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 01 November | 09:08
I'll try to channel the spirit of someone who does this.. Ooooommmmm.....

"If you called me, you wanted to talk to me. Here's your chance. And maybe I will have something to say about this thing you're calling about, even if you don't think I will, because my plans do change. Or maybe you're trying to tell me something that I want to hear you say live and not delivered in a canned statement.

"Plus If you left me information, it might be out of date. Maybe you have something else new to tell me and I don't want to call you back after your message only to find out you left me two more messages giving me further updates blah blah blah. How can I know? And am I going to have to get a pencil and paper to listen to your message? And what if I have 10 other new voicemails I might have to go through, do I have to sit down and prioritize each one and make a list of resulting action items, because you're not the only one who calls me you know. And my voicemail has such a shitty menu system! I'm too busy at the moment for that right now as I walk from the office to my car.

"In any case, afterwards we'll both know that we both know that the message was received and everything was settled.

"So yep, it's going to be quickest, easiest, and best if I just call you back cold. It's perfectly valid for you to give me the gist, then tell me to listen to the voicemail for the specifics&,dash;and how hard is that for you to do, really? But no no no don't leave NO message, we're not chatty teenagers with weird etiquette rules as a result of seeing each other all the fucking time, casually, anyway.

"... Or maybe I just like you, and want to hear your voice, and maybe we'll happen to both have time for a convesation."
posted by fleacircus 01 November | 09:21
Most of the time, your call to me will require a call back. If I'm going to call you back anyway, then why waste the time listening to the message?

Plus, if the call is more of a "here is this information you need, no return call required," then I think it should really be a text message.

I'm currently trying to train my parents to stop leaving me messages that are, in their entirety, "Hi punch, it's your mom. Call me back." Those drive me nuts.

It might be an age thing, or a cellphone user vs. landline user thing. But yeah, I'm totally the opposite of you, and get annoyed when people do leave a message. If I could figure out a way to disable voicemail, I would.
posted by punchtothehead 01 November | 09:22

I would have sent an email or a text, but I received a voice mail yesterday from a person I'm doing a gig for tomorrow that said "please call back to confirm." So I called. And left a message to confirm. That's it.

I hate talking on the phone!
posted by rainbaby 01 November | 09:48
I listen to the message and then call, but if it's important I usually deny having listened to the message because conversations are much clearer. The phone message is there to remind me to have pen and paper handy when we talk.

Also, I don't use call waiting; if someone calls while I'm on the phone and I know it's crucial, I will end the current call and answer the new one. Otherwise I note that so-and-so has called and call them back, often without listening to the message (because the phone is already in my hand). I miss the old busy signal.
posted by Hugh Janus 01 November | 09:55
I do this all the time. . .because I always panic when I miss a call, and the reptilian part of my brain is telling me to get back to that person as soon as humanly possible, because I was such a bad person for missing the call. If I call back right away, the person won't think as badly about me.

Honestly, this is how my mind works.

Plus I hate VM.
posted by danf 01 November | 10:20
If it's someone I really wanted to hear from, I'll call first to ensure that I have the most up-to-date info. Then I'll listen to the message later if I get their voicemail.

Also, not everyone has an unlimited texting plan or likes texting as much as I do, so I call first.

It's call, then listen to message for me. Especially at work, when deals can be won or lost depending on when you get back to someone.
posted by TrishaLynn 01 November | 10:30
Flip side answer: some people leave messages that consist only of "This is so-and-so; call me back" or (and this makes me CRAZY, in a way I wish I could switch off) "This is so-and-so; I have a question for you, so call me back."

SWEET FANCY MOLASSES TELL ME WHAT YOUR QUESTION IS SO I CAN HAVE AN ANSWER FOR YOU WHEN I CALL BACK HOW OBVIOUS IS THIS? No, I know: it's just a different communication style, not a WRONG communication style, no matter how crazy it makes me.

It seems to me that those people especially do not listen to my (brief but often info-packed) messages, probably because they hear "Hi, it's so-and-so" and assume that's the only meaningful content of the message.
posted by Elsa 01 November | 10:32
I only do this when I just miss a call and there's a chance I might catch the person.
posted by Eideteker 01 November | 10:33
I can honestly say that I have never in my life gotten enough phone calls, even in a business setting, for any of this to be a problem.
posted by JanetLand 01 November | 10:35
Did I miss some sort of technology etiquette thing where I'm supposed to call a number and not leave a message because it's assumed they will just call back?

A few years ago, a couple of my friends started making that assumption: that I'd see their numbers in my missed calls and call them back. But how are you to distinguish between those people and wrong numbers or chattererboxy friends make an idle, friendly call and don't want a call back? If you don't leave me a message, I assume you don't want a call back.
posted by Elsa 01 November | 10:36
If it's one of the three people I talk to regularly, I generally don't listen to the voicemail. This is because I already know what the voicemail says.

The voicemails my partner leaves are *literally* the same pretty much every time she leaves a message. Like, verbatim. The message goes like this, every single time:

"Hey sweetie, it's me. Just giving you a shout. Thought I'd see how your day is going. Ummmm... Yeah! I guess that's it! Give me a call when you get a chance."

[And yes, if you're wondering, "just giving you a shout" does get old after hearing it about, oh, 400 times.]

So really, listening to the message is pointless. I get just as much information, in a much more efficient way, from the little note on my phone that says "1 missed call from G_____."

This is the same reason I never leave a message for her. Her phone will tell her I called. That's good enough. That's all I'd say in a voicemail anyway -- that I'd called.

All that said, the circle of people to whom I talk on the phone is about three strong -- partner, mom, brother. (And I don't talk to the latter two more than once a week -- usually more like every couple of weeks.) If I had a big collection of phone friends, I might act differently toward the whole thing.
posted by mudpuppie 01 November | 10:40
If I had a big collection of phone friends, I might act differently toward the whole thing.

This is a great point, and it reminds me to be cognizant of my own reasons and motives. If I liked the phone more, I might interpret things differently. And as handy as a phone is for quick messages and for conducting quick , I don't like it for much else. I don't like chitchatting on the phone, even with my dearest family and friends.

I'd much rather email, especially if we're mixing chatter with necessary information --- for a seasonal example, planning Thanksgiving menus and tasks. I'd much rather send or receive detailed info in writing so everyone has it handy for later reference. (The phone equivalent would be text, but I never really got into the habit.)
posted by Elsa 01 November | 10:57
I'm working hard to reduce my number of friends so that nobody calls me, ever.
posted by Hugh Janus 01 November | 11:24
Did I miss some sort of technology etiquette thing where I'm supposed to call a number and not leave a message because it's assumed they will just call back?

I have some friends who live in tech-heavy worlds for whom this is exactly true. I've asked and they've told me "don't bother to leave a voicemail because I won't listen to it, I'll just call back when I'm able to. Send me a text if there's something specific you need." They're busy, this is how they operate. I have friends who leave long blabity-blah messages on my phone and I'll usually listen for a while to figure out if they're telling me something I need to know, but if the upshot is "I want to talk to you" I'll delete it and call them. People who call and don't leave messages, I call them back too.

Most people don't call me. My phone only barely works in most places where I interact regularly, the less phone in my life the better.
posted by jessamyn 01 November | 11:39
Sometimes I notice a missed call--or just barely miss a call--before I get a voicemail notification. Hence, no listening to the message before calling back. I don't even know there is one.

Sometimes voicemail notifications are screwy, too. When Kat (my horse) had her baby, I tried all morning to reach my husband, in a place he usually had great reception. He didn't get missed call notifications or voicemail notifications. Finally, four hours later, when we were both sitting in the barn admiring the baby, his phone buzzed with the voicemail notification.

Poor guy had rather a shock when he got home and didn't see me in the house or Kat in the pasture, and had assumed the worst: that I was busy with her, something going wrong, and had been too busy to even call him and let him know something was up. But no, he dashed out to the barn and found the three of us. Surprise! We got a new horse!
posted by galadriel 01 November | 11:49
I don't usually bother leaving a voice mail message since I'm totally unable to leave a coherent message and generally if I want to talk them, I want to talk to them, not their machine. Since everyone has caller ID these days, you don't really need to leave a message saying "Hey it's me, call me back".
posted by octothorpe 01 November | 12:22
I hate listening to messages. I don't know why but for some reason they scare me and send me into a tizzy. I think I assume that they're all going to be accusatory, like, You Have Missed This Important Thing You Idiot and so sometimes I just can't bring myself to hear them. I have been known to get my daughter to listen to them and write down the important stuff, that's how bad it is. So if I see somebody I actually want to talk to has called, I just call them back. I used to have a long semi lie on my outgoing message saying that my voicemail was broken (what? Sometimes it is. Well, it was in 2007 for a while.) and please just call me back but then I decided that in my jobseeking world that was unprofessional. Might go back to it, though.

There are 4 messages in my voice mail right now that I don't want to hear. I'm pretty sure they're all bad. I am too chicken to listen to them. I recognize that this is neurotic as hell but hey, everyone gets to have at least one ridiculous phobia, right? Right?
posted by mygothlaundry 01 November | 12:50
I always dutifully listen to my voicemail. Except those infuriating robot calls, which I delete at once no matter who they are from. I wonder if this is because I remember when we didn't have voicemail, so it still seems cool to me. Also, I always avoid talking on the phone whenever possible, even to my sweetie.
posted by bearwife 01 November | 13:30
This is one of those great technological divides. I hate it when people A.) don't listen to my voice mail before calling me back and B.) assume I'm going to call them back if they don't leave a voice mail. (Here's a hint - I won't.)

I'm not a phone person. Anything that reduces the amount of time I'm speaking with people on the phone is a good thing. If I have to get a voice mail, the ideal one to me would be one that said "here's my question, email me your answer."

One of the great things about the iPhone is the visual voice mail so I can see who each voice mail is from and decide what order I want to listen to them. But the truth is I rarely get enough calls that it matters. My friends and family are no chattier than I am, thankfully.

The ones that drive me crazy are the people on public transit that call one person after another just to chat, as if they can't stand the idea of being alone with their thoughts for even a second. (I don't mind the people calling to get something done, like schedule an appointment or whatever, but you overhear an awful lot of them that are "hey! what's up? oh nothing, just saying hi.")
posted by misskaz 01 November | 14:05
I've had a mobile, no land line, since 1999.

I tend not to listen to a) long rambling voice mails full of obscure details, or b) VMs that don't contain useful information. I delete them out of hand. Where a) is complex enough to just please for the love of jeebus send me an email, and b) is a waste of time.

I am absolutely guilty of doing the call-hang-up-without-leaving-a-VM thing to colleagues and/or friends with whom it's understood that I'm going to have to leave either a) too complex or b) too banal a conversation for voicemail.

I only do this with people I am both familiar enough with, and who are technologically savvy enough to understand that a friend's/colleague's caller ID on their recent missed calls list is shorthand for "call me, I have something to discuss that's too convoluted to get into on voice mail".

In general, I much prefer SMS for conveying anything short and to the point; however I loathe, and refuse, to engage in a long convoluted text conversation when the decision cannot be made within 1 or 2 relays. Soon as the third relay occurs without resolution, I abandon SMS and ring the culprit instead, or ask them to switch to IM.

speaking of IM, my colleagues know that I vastly prefer it to email for things like serial discussions of actively evolving situations / projects / discussions, and simple quick requests.

Email is ideal for things that need to be tracked, and/or have a set due date, contain hard facts, complex details, and just in general should be written down and kept.

I'm perfectly willing and capable of solving simple issues with a phone call. However I'm also perfectly willing and empowered to tell people on the phone who are about to engage me in some long rambling convoluted explanation: "hey, look, do you mind sending me the details via email so I don't miss anything or get confused? Thanks".

I've just about broken my mom of the habit of calling me on the phone entirely, in favour of chat, which is great for both of us. She gets to talk to me, and I get to not be driven insane by her for the hour and a half she wants to go on about some one of her cats who did $CUTE_THING last Friday, and the neighbour up the street who's getting new shutters. She rambles incessantly and it's much less maddening to engage with her via IM so that I can work on projects / read a book / surf the internet between chat relays.

when I send out wedding invites, I will do them via snail mail, despite that I have not physically posted mail for the past 3 or 4 years, maybe more. I don't even send out bills by mail anymore.

In sum: Horses for courses. Every form of communication has its own strengths and weaknesses, and should be used for that which it is most appropriate.
posted by lonefrontranger 01 November | 14:48
I can honestly say that I have never in my life gotten enough phone calls, even in a business setting, for any of this to be a problem.

posted by Eideteker 01 November | 14:53
"hey! what's up? oh nothing, just saying hi."

ARGH OMG YES I agree 100%. Please for the love of god don't do this in public, or if you do, this is exactly what text messaging was invented for.

When you ring someone on the phone, you are effectively rearranging their priorities with the insistence that Your Conversation Is Vastly More Important Than Everything Else They Are Doing Right Now.

SMS alerts may be glanced at, then easily prioritised as $DEAL_WITH_NOW, or put aside for the time being in favour of $MORE_IMPORTANT_TASK, like the meeting you're currently in.
posted by lonefrontranger 01 November | 14:56
Flip side answer: some people leave messages that consist only of "This is so-and-so; call me back" or (and this makes me CRAZY, in a way I wish I could switch off) "This is so-and-so; I have a question for you, so call me back."
Yeah, this. I have a paging service on my phone, meaning that my phone is answered by a human who takes a message and sends me an SMS with the message. I hate it when the message is 'please call x'. If you are sending a message, tell me what you are calling about so I can be prepared to answer your question and/or prioritise the call-back. Otherwise, I will assume it's not important.

If you call and I don't answer, then you don't leave a message, I won't call you back - if it's not worth you investing 15 seconds in leaving a message, it obviously wasn't that important.

Basically, I hate talking on the phone anyway, so send me an SMS ;-)
posted by dg 01 November | 17:15
I also have a really awful fear of voicemails (also of checking the snail mailbox), especially when it's from an unfamiliar number. I just know that it's going to be something terrible, and I can hardly bring myself to listen to it at all. I also hate my dad's voicemails, where he is so plaintive and upset that I wasn't available to talk right when he called. I love love love Google Voice for my Droid, because now I just get an email/text with a transcript of the voicemail (usually a bit garbled, but good enough to get the gist of it). Now, it's basically just like sending me a text or an email when you leave me a voicemail, so I hate it much less. Before I got the Droid, I had seriously contemplated disabling my voicemail all together.
posted by Twiggy 01 November | 20:13
All that to say that before Google Voice, I would often just call back first so I could hear the terrible awful thing from the person directly, and not have to listen to a voicemail telling me the terrible awful thing and then also have to call the person back and hear it again.
posted by Twiggy 01 November | 20:16
The voicemail setup on my phone is crap. I hate using it, so if I see that someone has called, I prefer to call them back. I prefer texting, but there are people in my life who don't want/like to text.
posted by initapplette 01 November | 20:26
This thread makes me feel happy and less crazy. I have a cell I rarely use and a house phone. Lately, folks calling the house phone have been either robocalls or telemarketers (schools, politicians, state police wanting donations, surveys, etc) or acquaintances that want my time when I have precious little left to give right now. So, I've been letting the answering machine catch all calls for the past few weeks. I figure I'm the one paying for the phone, I can choose to answer it or not.

I told my friends to leave a message, and I can call them back or not as time and energy permit. They do, and I do. Seems to be a good way to keep going with the drama reduction plan.
posted by lilywing13 02 November | 01:14
Most of the time, your call to me will require a call back. If I'm going to call you back anyway, then why waste the time listening to the message?

This, exactly. Most voicemails I get are like "hey, so let me know when you want to meet for $EVENT" or whatever, so listening to them is totally pointless. I wish people would just never leave me voicemails. Text me if you have something to convey. If I see a missed call, I'll probably call or text you at my convenience to find out why you called.
posted by unsurprising 02 November | 02:06
I believe this comic is relevant to this discussion.

To further complicate matters, my boss works from home in the mornings, sometimes comes into work, sometimes goes on appointments all day, and leaves the office sometime around 5:30 pm to either be with her kids or do dinner meetings. The fastest way to get a hold of her is by email, which goes to her Blackberry. However, she also gets so much email and uses her cell/BB so much that when I attempt to call her, I don't leave a voicemail message at all and I will have to re-send her messages which I sent her or CC'd her in on a few hours ago.
posted by TrishaLynn 02 November | 05:54
"Oh, hi, this is ____, I'm waiting in the return line at target. call me later, maybe we can see a movie this weekend. Did you see that movie with ummm, is it Sandra Bullock, yet? anyway, talk to you later. "

"This is Dr. X's office. please call us at 777-7777, ext. 42, regarding your appt tomorrow. We have to reschedule. "

Guess which call gets returned.

I hate, hate, hate voicemail. For actual information, send me a text or email. I can't wait till my doc gets that enabled. I have crappy hearing, so I pretty much hate the phone in general, and your cheapass phone is cutting out, so it's awful to try to decipher.

I have not returned your last umpty-seven VMs. This may be a pattern.

And, please, please, please, leave your number. Yes, it might be on the phone, but there may be other numbers, and you may have a work phone, work mobile, personal mobile and land line.

I hate the phone.
posted by theora55 02 November | 12:18
I'm not a fan of chatting on the phone, but I never bother listening to voicemail messages unless I'm expecting an important call from someone. I'll call you back if I feel like it, have time, and remember. If you haven't reached me, send me an SMS, or preferably an email. IM has never worked for me, requiring too much attention and typing, and it always feels an awkward medium for real time communication. It is often handy for working through tech issues with people though, thanks to cut'n'paste.

I am kind of baffled by the folks who take such offense at people who ring their friends to chat while on public transport. While I don't do it myself, I really don't see how it is any different from someone chatting to a friend who is sitting next to them. Are the ones reading books or surfing the internet on their iGadgets also afraid to be alone with their thoughts for a few seconds? Public transport is often long and pretty boring...

Having said that, nobody wants to be subjected to a noisy twit loudly talking crap whether it be into a phone or the ear of a companion. And I've had to suppress murderous urges when stuck on an hour-long tram ride with some kid who wanted to test out every. single. ring tone. in his new phone at top volume.
posted by Rembrandt Q. Einstein 03 November | 21:57
So I did a (lesbian burlesque) Twlight party || "I am trying to draw every person in New York."