How to Avoid Phone Tag and Actually Talk to the Person

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

Phone tag: it’s a game we’ve all played more times than we want to count! It’s odd, but with more ways than ever to get a hold of each other, we’re all getting harder to reach. Contacting someone on the first try seems never to happen!

There’s a good reason for it. When you’re busy at your desk or with something at home, a phone call is often seen as an intrusion. It breaks up the flow of the moment. Because of this, some people prefer to let the phone go to voice mail and call back later or answer the message with a text or email instead.

Are You a Phone Person or an Email Person? What About the Person You’re Trying to Reach?

Also, there are phone people and there are email people. One isn’t better than the other, they’re just different.

Me, I’m a phone person. I’d rather handle something with a 15-minute phone call than ten back-and-forth emails which will take me 15 minutes each to write. Plus, if it’s someone I’m working with, I want to establish and build a relationship, and hearing each other’s voice does that much better than reading each other’s email.  If it’s a friend, then of course I also want to hear their voice!

But, again, I’m a phone person.

For those who favor email or text, they see phone conversations as almost a waste of oxygen. They really would like just the facts from you, and they’d like to answer them with time to think, something that the immediacy of phone conversations doesn’t allow. It’s the reason that, although I’m a phone person, when I’m doing magazine, blog, or newspaper interviews, I prefer to have reporters send me their questions in advance. I give a more succinct and yet information-filled answer when I have time to think through and write everything.

The more adept a person is with technology, the more likely it is that it’s an email person. That’s why only 39 percent of Millennials even check personal voice mail. Of that 39 percent, only about nine percent return voice mail messages with a phone call. Instead, they’ll answer with a text or email.

This means we have to keep in mind that the best way to avoid phone tag might be to understand that we’re not going to get a return call. Maybe the best way to get the answers or information we need is with an email, in a traditional business setting, or an email or text in a solo office or more relaxed business environment.

Taking all that into account, there are still some things we can do to increase the likelihood of receiving a return call, and if not a return call, then the information we need in a timely manner via a text or email. The information might not come to us in the way we want, but at least we get the information, and at the end of the day, that’s the most important part.

How to Avoid Phone Tag and Actually Talk to the Person

Yes! Yes, I am this happy that the person answered the phone, and my call didn’t go to voice mail!!!

How to Avoid Phone Tag and Actually Talk to the Person

1. Short and sweet gets more attention. Voice mails should last between 30 and 60 seconds. Attention spans are short when you’re looking at a desk full of work or four loads of laundry that needs folding.

Also, kindness works wonders. Sound like someone they’ll enjoy talking with, and you’re more likely that they’ll return your call in record time. This post on The Top 7 Manners of Leaving a Voice Mail Message shares great tips for crafting the perfect message, whether it’s for a personal or business call.

2. Be concise and clear on what you want. Leaving a voice mail that says, “Give me a call about a couple of things,” sounds friendly and chatty, but it will almost guarantee you won’t get a return call anytime soon. The person doesn’t know what information to have ready to make good use of your phone time, and has no idea how long the conversation may take, which makes it hard to know when to schedule it during the person’s day.

Also, when you tell people in your message what information you want, if they call back and get your voice mail, it’s not a wasted call. They can share everything you asked for!

3. Give a compelling reason why you need people to call you back. Don’t butter them up with compliments for the sake of compliments, but there is a reason why you’re calling them; what is it that they can do for you that no one else can? People actually like being a hero. Let them know they can be yours, and you’ll more than likely hear from them soon.

4. Let people know when you need to hear back from them and why. Sometimes, people think you have all the time in the world. Let them know that you don’t by stating the time you need the information by and the consequences if you don’t hear from them by then. “Zak, our team made the decision this morning that we’re moving ahead with signing a contract within 48 hours. Your firm is one of our three choices. If I receive all the information I’ve mentioned in this voice message by 3:30 PM today, I’ll have time to share it with my superiors. If I don’t, your company will be removed from the selection process by default.”

5. In your message let the other person know how long you expect the phone call to last. The shorter the amount of time, the better, but letting the person know in advance whether you’ll need three minutes, 15 minutes, or 45 minutes will enable the person to schedule accordingly.

How to Avoid Phone Tag and Actually Talk to the Person

6. Email or text them to set up a time for a phone call. Again, let them know what you need and how long you expect the phone call to take. But remember that an email person is more likely to telephone you back if you send an email between now and then to set up expectations.

7. In your voice mail, let people know the best time(s) to reach you. There’s nothing worse than returning a voice mail message only for your call to land in the voice mailbox. Let them know the best time they can reach you. “You can reach me today before noon, and from 3:30-5:00 Eastern Time. Tomorrow, I’ll be by my phone only from 1:00-3:00 Eastern. I’ll be looking out for your call, so please feel free to call during any of these times. If something else works better for you, let me know via text or email and we’ll arrange something.”

In your message, you could also leave a time when you’ll try to call them back. If they don’t answer when you call back, then leave times when you can be reached. “I’ll give you a call this afternoon at 4:45 PM in the hope I can catch you before you leave for the day. Since our call about the Lopez account first-quarter net figures will only take about ten minutes, I hope we’ll be able to touch base before tomorrow and get this off both our plates! Until then, have a great afternoon!”

If you ever wonder whether you should call back someone who calls you but doesn’t leave a message, your answer is here in Caller ID Etiquette: Should You Call Back Missed Calls. 

8. When people aren’t local to you, always refer to time in THEIR time zone. Do the thinking for them so there is no mix-up in what time you’ll be expecting or returning their phone call. A call from a cell phone can show any area code. Don’t assume that because their calls show up with an Atlanta area code, they’re calling you from metro Atlanta.

9. If the person doesn’t know you, spell your name (first and last), because names are often hard to be sure we heard correctly on the phone. Stacey can sound like Lacey. Mike can sound like Mick. Plus, there are multiple ways to spell first names; is it Stephen or Steven? And last names? Well, some of those are nearly impossible. You’ll want to make sure they know your name, because people are uncomfortable thinking they might be calling you by the wrong name and will tend to avoid you. Plus, if they send you an email, they’ll want and need the correct spelling of your name.

10. Leave your phone number two times, once at the start of the message and once at the end. Do this and you’ll be everyone’s voice mail hero. How many times have you had to listen to a voice message three times to make sure you wrote the phone number down correctly because the person spouted it out so quickly!

Leaving your phone number at the first of the message lets people not have to listen to your whole message again to get to your phone number. Leaving it at the end of the message gives them time to have grabbed a pen and paper while you were speaking and means they only need to rewind your message a moment or two to get your number.

You don’t want to simply dial back the number they called you from. That might not be the number they’re usually at, or it might only be an outgoing line.

On the other hand, if the number you’re calling from is the number they can reach you on, mention that as you leave your number. “You can reach me on the number I’m calling from, which is 844.894.1214.” That way, they can simply press redial from their mobile and most land lines, but at least now, thanks to your gracious ways, they know they’ll reach you and not a random person!

Wishing You Many Happy Returns! 

All of these tips show you how to avoid phone tag and actually talk to the person, or at least via text or email get the information you need! Put these tips to use and let me know via the comments how they work for you.

In the meantime, I wish you many happy returns! Both returns of the day and return phone calls!

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Thank you for reading! Until next time, keep doing what only YOU can do, bless the world by being authentically you at your best!

Blessings galore,

Maralee McKee's Signature




How to Avoid Phone Tag and Actually Talk to the Person

Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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