Return the Call
Maybe it's time to get rid of your answering machine.
I try to be understanding. We all have busy lives, and they seem to only get busier. I try to be compassionate. I'm shy and I don't like to make phone calls myself. I try to be thoughtful, imagining the many burdens and claims on their time. I try to judge favorably. I know that sometimes my computer is down or the phone line is not working.
But sometimes I just run out of excuses. Especially when it's the same people over and over again. You know who I mean? The ones who never return phone calls, who never answer emails.
We all make mistakes. We all forget. I walk into shul on Shabbos morning and have an "oh no" moment. Standing in front of me is someone who left me a message earlier in the week, whose call I forgot to return. But I really try.
As I said earlier, I'm not a big phone person myself. So I understand the reluctance to return a call. I can relate to it. But there's an easy solution that does away with rudeness on the recipient's part and frustration on the initial caller's side. It's revolutionary and practical.
Get rid of your answering machine.
Answering machines provide the illusion that you plan to return the call. They make you seem lacking in common decency when you don't.
But if you find it difficult, if you really don't have an extra minute, just unplug the machine. People who need to reach you will continue to try, and you'll no longer be responsible for the gnashed teeth.
The same is true with email. "Get rid of email? You must be kidding!" I know it's next to impossible to give it up, but if you don't plan to answer your emails, at the very least, don't give out your address. Or make it clear it's for work-related issues only (I assume you answer those but maybe I'm wrong).
It's true that the burden is on us -- the unanswered callers and emailers -- to judge you favorably. But why put us in a position where we have to scramble to do so?
In our culture, the societal expectation is that we will return phone calls and respond to emails, even though it makes our lives more hectic. It's what most of us consider the appropriate behavior (without actually consulting Miss Manners, I feel confident of her position) of responsible adults.
At first I thought it was just a Hollywood kind of behavior, the old "let's do lunch and never call" routine. But it seems pervasive. And among people who have nothing to do with the entertainment industry!
Whew! I think I've finished venting now. I think some people just don't realize the expectations they've created. I'm moving on. I'm letting go. I'm focusing only on the positive. Besides I'd better get back to work. I have phone calls to make and emails to send...and if you don't respond, I guess I'll just smile and try again.