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Are you busy?

In a recent meeting, I attended, during the personal check-in, nearly everyone’s update included an “I have been so busy” component. I think it is now a mantra among the corporates and the “hustlers” of our time. If you haven’t felt it yourself, you have probably overheard the discussion amongst your colleagues or friends. In this ‘busy-ness’ though, we also get unending phone calls that demand our attention, and sometimes, that is the last thing you want to deal with.

When you are chasing some deadline or working on a critical report or running a high-stakes meeting, it is easy to see and treat a work phone call or any call as an interruption.

In the same breath though, when you are chasing a deadline, dealing with a perceived emergency, or needing that critical input before you execute a decision, someone not picking up your call can cause your anxiety levels to rise so high you want to shake someone or break into a frantic rant to those around you. You know what you do in that state 😊.

How then, should we as professionals who are sometimes given these phones, given the airtime and whose roles require that we attend to people manage the constant calls in ways that can allow us to still be productive with other work duties?

There’s a quote by Seth Godin that I love. He says, “Nobody cares how hard you worked…. As customers, we care about ourselves, about how we feel, about whether a product or service or play or interaction changed us for the better. Where it’s made or how it’s made or how difficult it was to make is sort of irrelevant.”

That’s the vibe I sometimes get from the calls that come to me. People want their calls answered. It seems like it doesn’t matter what I am doing or how busy or stressed out I am. In fact, I could be having an existential crisis, and someone will still expect me to pick up a call cheerfully. You get it. I am sure you’ve experienced the vibe or have been at the giving end of it 😉😉.

We panic when we can’t find the people we want on the phone and we throw tantrums like the world will collapse if the person we are trying to reach doesn’t answer. No dear. The world won’t collapse. Breathe and say, I can handle this ‘emergency’ without so and so. There are many reasons calls aren’t answered. You know the reasons.

This is a reminder that you have other options when your call isn’t answered.

Let us explore them;

  • Wait for the person to return the call or call your next option. If you must talk and it can wait, trust that the person will return your call. If it can’t wait, call your next best option. If you are in a team, chances are, there’s more than one person who can support you. Even in an emergency, you can call more than one person. It is just that sometimes we fixate on the person we are calling and block out any other person or all other things we could do instead.

Calling someone several times on all their lines is going overboard.

  • Please leave a message: When you leave me a message, the person you want to reach has control over when they have the capacity and margin to respond to you. And also, it takes less time to address the issue at hand because they can think through it or find the answer you are looking for before responding to you. Texts are usually brief, and it can be easier for the person to respond in between tasks or meetings which is way easier than returning a call. Ps, ensure the message you leave entails your message, do not say "it is urgent, call me back😂"

Leaving a message is a thoughtful thing to do

  • Consider other channels of communication: We love instant things, including instant responses to our concerns or questions, but we must discipline ourselves and consider other communication channels that may not be so instant but have the potential to be the most effective. Before you pick up the phone to call, ask if you must really call over that issue. If you call and the person doesn’t pick up, ask if there’s another way to handle what you were requesting of them. Perhaps you’ll need to write a letter. Okay, I am kidding, but an e-mail could serve you better, or you could address it the next time you bump into the person in the corridors or during the coffee break, or during the weekly debrief.

Do not give in to the urge to call every time you experience it.

  • Visit them at their office: We’re in an era where prioritizing is key. If you really have something important to settle with a person, and you know where their office is, take your chances and visit or schedule a meeting. By requesting for meeting time, you are giving the person an opportunity to decide when they can meet you and give you valuable time, which might in turn save you 5 phone calls- because you planned better and clarified expectations. A lot can be closed off in an office.

Effective planning meetings save you time
  • Let it go: Sometimes, the people we are trying to reach don’t want to talk to us or are simply too hard to get. There comes a point when you must accept that your call won’t be picked up. Get the message and graciously move on. If your calls are not being answered or taken, take the cue and stop calling or use other means to work out whatever needs addressing.

Multiple unanswered calls have a message for you. Listen
  • Finally, if your call is picked or returned, simply greet and get to the point as concisely as possible. You don’t want to spend valuable minutes berating someone for not taking your call earlier or giving a long background to your call. Simply say, “Hello James, How are you? I’m calling to find out if you have a window to represent me at event Y this Friday at Hotel Africana.” Instead of, "Hello James, I haven’t seen you in the office all week. Where are you working from? How was your week? How are the children? You know, I was invited by organization Y to do ABC but my mother’s auntie has to go to hospital and I have to drive them so I cannot make it and I could have asked so and so and they are not available so I have been thinking and thinking and consulting ….." and on and on. Imagine what James is thinking….. “what is it?”. If James is also engaged on Friday, see the waste of time, and if you have to call 3 other people, imagine your time loss. Background information could be necessary and helpful but do not lead with it. Only provide it when asked or where it is absolutely necessary.

Keep phone calls brief and to the point unless it is a scheduled phone meeting

Remember, people have whole lives and obligations outside their phones, and they aren’t seated by their phones waiting for us to call them. Unless they work at a call center- in which case, there’s a whole plan to support that.

We have options. Nonetheless, if the issue of not picking up calls is persistent and is hindering your staff’s effectiveness in supporting others, set up a meeting and handle it appropriately.

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