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Tech. and Info. Management

10 Ways to Avoid Telephone Tag

For many people email has become the preferred communication vehicle but the phone is not yet obsolete. The opposite is true; we now check both our work and our cell phone messages regularly. Some industries still rely heavily on the phones but given the fast pace of most organizations, telephone tag has actually increased over the years. These easy steps will reduce the time spent missing each other and increase your productivity.

  1. Know your target. To increase the likelihood of catching the person at his or her desk, note the times they have placed calls to you, that is the best time to return them. You can often determine availability times by the industry in which they work. You are more likely to catch an editor midmorning or late afternoon, but the best time to catch a salesperson is the first thing in the morning or the last thing in the evening. In general, calls made on Friday afternoons at the tail end of the month are likely to fail.
  2. Get to know the admin or assistant. Rejoice when you get a human on the phone. The person who screens calls and sets priorities can be your friend. Make sure you get to know this person by name and become allies. This person knows much about the inner workings and processes that is helpful to you.
  3. Timing is everything. One of the things you can learn from an assistant is what the callee has been faced with over the last week and whether it is a good time to try to connect. Persistence is important but there is a thin line between determined caller, say three or four calls, and a pest.
  4. Seek an alternative contact. While you conduct your research, whether formal or informal, develop a second or third contact who can handle your call if your first choice is unavailable.
  5. Provide your schedule. Whenever you leave a message, always let the recipient know when you will be available for a return call. Offer two or three choices. This increases the likelihood of that person catching you.
  6. Ease the way. Leave enough information on your outgoing message so callers can know what to expect. A two-day delay in your response will not be misconstrued if they know you are traveling. Similarly, a person who recognizes the caller and indicates your desire to talk can go a long way to soothing any ruffled feathers.
  7. Schedule your accessibility. If you have told a number of people you will be available Thursday afternoon while you are in your office, do not choose that time to work on projects requiring intense focus or schedule a meeting. Unless you are on another line, take calls as they come in. If you happen to be on another call when your voice mail picks up, call back as soon as you finish. The caller will most likely still be in his or her office.
  8. Points for cleverness. To pique the callee's interest, use light humor that inspires a smile and a return call but don't overdo it. Leaving a clever message can work well, but be cautious of times when it can backfire. For a person in the middle of a busy day, being too cute or too long can irritate. They could be retrieving messages in the short times between flights. I remember a colleague who filled a letter with confetti. Opening the envelope produced an explosion of multicolored stars that fell over a broad area of my desktop. This required cleaning the desk and floor area right before an important client meeting.
  9. Be prepared. These days, it is rare to catch a person at his or her desk. Be prepared with a clear, succinct message. Leaving a message with your name and phone number is nowhere near as helpful as a message which explains the desired action, a timeframe, and the best time to get back with you.
  10. Other options. Consider whether the phone is the best way to make contact. Some people prefer email.


Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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