Buckle Down and Follow Up: Struggling to be Heard in a Voice-Mail World

Buckle DownArticle and photos from Association(Journal of the Canadian Society of Association Executives), by Colleen Clarke April-May 2000 Colleen Clarke is founder and Executive Director of E.A.R.N. , the most recognized networking self-help group for unemployed business professionals.

“You need to talk to Parker Edmon,” said this ray of sunshine on a cold February afternoon.

“I’ll get you his phone number along with everyone else I mentioned to you today by the end of the week.”

Wow, thought Bob, this person sure knew a lot of people. Maybe, just maybe, this Parker would be able to help him.

A new consulting opportunity

It is two weeks before Christmas, usually a slow time for work. An independent consultant has a very fortuitous meeting with a potential client who shows an unusual amount of eagerness towards the consultant’s services. Meagan* leaves the meeting hopeful, with the final words of the client ringing in her ears, “I’ll call you next week; I don’t want to wait until after Christmas to at least talk about the next step.
Colleen Clarke
Meagan thinks, wow, what a great meeting, what a great contract this will be, and she said she would call me. This is music to a consultant’s ear.

Hope shattered

Two months later, Bob still had not received the information the presenter promised him and the room full of other job seekers that February day. Many messages had been left, but no callbacks and no information were forthcoming.

Christmas came and went. Meagan finally telephoned her unheard-from client to wish her Happy New Year. She left two messages over two weeks but never did hear from her once anxious client.

What’s happening here? What’s this all about?

It’s about people who don’t follow through and who don’t do what they say they will do.

If you are too busy, don’t offer.

Achiever or Nurturer?

In our professional life, we play the role of Achiever or Nurturer or both. Those who offer to give out information are Nurturers. We trust these people, we rely on them, and we have built up expectations. They ask questions about “You.” When they don’t follow through, distrust and annoyance or resentment replaces those warm, appreciative nurturing thoughts.

Achievers are those who are seeking information. They collect business cards before they even know who you are or what you can do for them. They are ambitious and have a goal. They are seeking contacts and information and are driven to get them. You will hear the “I” word a lot when you speak with them.

How do you want people to view you?

So, take a moment and be a fly on the wall. Listen to yourself as you go through your day. The ultimate question is, would you like to do business with you?

Man RunningYou can change

Some people, rather than promise others that they will return the call “this afternoon,” give themselves some leeway and say, “by tomorrow afternoon.”

For others it is just the opposite. Do it right now, get it out of the way and move on. Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup books, says on his tapes, “How To Build High Self-Esteem,” that if a task takes less than 10 minutes, do it right away.

However, you tell me you are just the forgetful type. After all, aren’t we all on information overload? Simply write down what you say you are going to do. Phone it into your voice mail from your cell phone if you have to. Or, write a note on the person’s business card, and do what you say as soon as you return to the office. Being forgetful and too busy is no excuse for nonprofessional behaviour. Randall Scott Echlin, a senior partner in the Toronto office of Borden, Ladner, and Gervais, receives about 50 – 60 voice mails a day. His voice mail tells you, “It is as important to me as it is to you that I return your call quickly. Please repeat your number once and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you very much for calling.”

His daughter thinks he has a whoozy message; I think he is right on the mark, and genuine to boot.

And…if you are too busy, don’t offer.

Unreturned phone messages and empty promises of calls and meetings abound in the workplace today. It is so rampant that unemployed senior executives, often seeing it for the first time from the other side of the desk, swear that when they are re-employed they will return every phone call made to them, thinking…but for the grace of God go I. And by my account, they do.

You may be doing yourself a personal disservice by not returning phone calls from others, and not doing what you say you’ll do. It is not just about etiquette and manners. You may be missing out on a star performer, or someone that can make your life easier or make you look better.

Recently I attended an association meeting and met someone who knew someone whose services I needed. Before I had returned to my office, the contact’s telephone number and e-mail address were on my voice mail. I expressed my gratitude to my nurturer and they were surprised I was so grateful. “It’s what I do,” they said. That can be you too, with practice and dedication.

There will always be people who do not follow through on what they say they will do. Sometimes they finally return your call, days later than promised, with a sincere apology, “Oh, I’m so sorry for not getting back to you, I’ve been so busy.”

My immediate thought is “thanks a lot, but, why can’t you be busy with me?”

(Fictional names were used in this article for example.)