Integrity Matters
October 18, 2006

No excuses: Return phone calls

Question: (E-254)

Dear Jim:

How can responsible adults not return phone calls in a timely way? Arrogant and rude, such insensitive people irk me. Any suggestions?


No, because they upset me too! "Closing the loop" via phone, where possible, is courteous and professional, whether with family, friends, customers, suppliers, competitors or investors. It makes good sense, personally and professionally, to handle issues - positive or negative - thoughtfully, efficiently and graciously. Dial the number!

Excuses of those who procrastinate:

  • Too busy.
  • Unable to reach consensus with colleagues and refuse to complicate follow-up communication with partial or incomplete responses
  • Afraid of hurting feelings by delivering bad news.
  • Intimidated by potential for confrontation.
  • Problem just might go away if ignored a little longer.
  • Want to demonstrate that personal timetable will not be altered by the intrusive impatience of another.
  • Not very concerned by what upsets others unless it causes personal problems.
  • Believe no news is good news and others ought to feel the same.

These explanations are seldom adequate for those who have not heard back. Silence or feelings of being ignored can generate powerful and negative emotional reactions, few of which are constructive or productive. When the "loop" is not closed appropriately, in a timely way, and deafening silence fills the empty space, then Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt will Guarantee Exasperation.

We call this the FUDGE factor. There can be legitimate reasons for delays in follow up. But periodic updates, reassurances, even apologies for taking so long to resolve an issue can reduce stress. Connecting via phone often reduces the risks for demoralizing and destructive misunderstandings; helping to avoid costly conflict.

Dr. Donald C. Kleckner, a retired Navy officer, reminded me of wisdom he learned from his superiors. To prevent him from getting sideways with his colleagues, he was told to communicate, constantly or risk falling victim to: "When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout." Having never captained a large Navy ship, but only a sailboat that was less than 40 feet in length, the ocean (and life) can make it is easy to want to share fears, loudly.

But, smart-money says clarity in communication, along with calm, is most effective.

E-mail and voice messages resolve many communications issues. But, except for face-to-face meetings, there is no better technique for demonstrating responsiveness and genuine concern for others than with the telephone. Connecting can be cumbersome and time-consuming, but persistence at "closing the loop" builds confidence, confirms relationship integrity, re-establishes trust and increases productivity (and probably profits as well).

Returning phone calls promptly is integrity in action.

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