Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Return Phone Call: When Did It Die?

Why don’t people call each other back anymore? What is the psychology behind not returning phone calls? Do you have a group of friends in your life who will NEVER call you back no matter what? The sad fact is that most of us do.

Not returning phone calls has become an integral part of our society – a trademark of our times. And with all of the new technologies out there -- like VOIP, e-mail and text messaging -- people have more ways than ever to not get back to you. And I believe that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

In an attempt to analyze this phenomenon, I have talked to a wide range of people about the subject. I have discussed it with those individuals who make a point of returning phone calls religiously, and I have talked at length (not on the phone, of course) to folks who have made the activity of not returning calls into an art form.

This is what I have learned. Most people tell me that the anonymous nature of a phone call or phone message makes it very easy to disregard. Their attitude is, “If the caller wants to speak to me that badly, they’ll call back.”

Many other individuals think that they are on the phone too much as it is and will only return those calls that they believe are absolutely necessary to reply to.

“I spend an inordinate amount of time on the telephone and I just don’t have time to call everyone back,” one person explained.

“A lot of people call me for no reason,” another person stated. “They’re bored and like to blab on the phone. I hate it when people say that they’re calling just to see how I’m doing. I’m doing fine, thank you. When I die, someone will contact you. That’s why they have obituaries in the newspaper.”

Other people say that they fall into a mode of not calling certain people back, while at the same time looking forward to responding quickly to others people’s calls.

“Some of my friends are easy to talk to on the phone, while others are boring and waste my time,” one source said. “If you can’t keep the conversation interesting and upbeat, don’t call me.”

I have a group of friends who call me all the time to complain about every little thing,” one source exclaimed. “They want to talk about how their wife or husband or kids or boss is making their lives miserable. Hey, I have my own problems, okay? If I want to be depressed, I’ll watch soap operas. Spare me!”

With these individuals, it has to do with the quality and substance of the conversation. So, if you give “bad phone”, so to speak, you can be sure that these people will not be calling you back anytime soon.

When it comes to business, people have an entirely different theory about returning phone calls. If a salesman calls them, for instance, they will almost never call them back.

“It’s their job to get a hold of me,” one source said. “If they’re selling something, they had better adapt to my schedule.”

Other people disagree with that theory. One very successful business owner told me that he returns every single phone call he receives, as a rule. It’s very unprofessional to do otherwise, he said.
“I have made some awesome contacts and profited greatly by returning every phone call I get. If someone takes the time to call me, no matter who it is, I feel getting back to them is the right thing to do. So many people in the business world do not return calls that you can stand out by returning them. The caller will appreciate it and try to reciprocate any way they can. If nothing else, you have made a friend in the business world. And we can all use more friends.”

After looking at this topic from several different angles, I have come to the conclusion that you should not take it personally if someone does not return your phone calls. It does not mean they don’t want to talk to you, at least not in all cases. And if you work on your phone skills and become more pleasurable to talk to, you’ll find that more of your friends will call you back.

I wish I could have done a more thorough study of this subject, but most of the people I called to interview never got back to me.

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