The death of voicemail?

By Nikki Wright

There’s a certain reluctance to leave voicemail messages these days, which is probably due to everyone being aware of how long it takes fellow professionals to clear the messages off their phone. There’s an etiquette emerging about texting being more responsive and time sensitive. Is it time to pronounce the death of voicemail?

Not that long ago it would have been seen as a little brazen to text a professional contact. Back then, foregoing voicemail, and leaving a text, was the communications equivalent of not bothering to knock on the door, and instead simply going around the side of the house and peering through the curtains.

Now, it’s generally preferred, as it’s perceived to save time. The implication seems to be that, if it is a genuine proposition, or pressing matter, then flicking a text is OK, provided there is at least some pre-existing professional connection.

The corporate dress code has relaxed in recent years, as has the notion of working full time in the office. In this environment of relaxing standards, are people’s social and familial texting habits subsisting into their professional lives too? Are we lapsing more and more into interactions that are functional and transactional? Or is the new etiquette sensible and practical, and basically an admission of how people prefer to interact much of the time? 

If we’re honest, no one is at their best when leaving voicemail. The respondent’s salutation and apology for being away from their phone, followed by the generic instructions from the phone itself, are just enough of a prelude to make some of us self-conscious, second-guess the worth of the message we’re about to leave, and falter slightly with feigned spontaneity when we begin speaking.

Without any voice on the other end, and the natural rhythms and affirmations of conversation, we usually end what is intended to be a crisp professional request or update with an unassertive, meandering coda, followed by a querulous and hasty effort to hang up without leaving too many breathing or rustling sounds after the final ‘bye.’

Some conventions ought to remain. When first approaching someone professionally, a text might seem presumptuous. A message bristling with GIFS and emojis may likely, and rightly, have the opposite effect to the one intended.

If some kind of relationship exists with a fellow professional, then a text might be appropriate. It is about using your instincts, knowing when the intonation, emphases and personal touch of a voice message is likely to be more valuable and considerate, in contrast to when something more perfunctory might be better suited to a text, a matter that might more easily be attended to without a back and forth over the phone.

It might really come down to the simple exercise of seeing how many calls are backed up on your own phone, and asking yourself: what kind of balance would you prefer?

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