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I’ll call you back!

A LIGHTHEARTED LOOK AT AN ELEMENT OF OFFICE ETIQUETTE BY ANGUS KEILLER

How many times in the average working week do we find ourselves either saying or being on the receiving end of the following telephone commitment… “I’ll call you back” but how often does it actually happen?

As a transmitter of this line, it is an easy way to end a call which perhaps you genuinely can’t take or may be you need more time to prepare for what you anticipate being a difficult discussion. Alternatively, it’s an attempt to get rid of the call for now or possibly much longer.

In the case of the latter, perhaps you harbour a subconscious hope or expectation that the caller will pick up on the hidden message:- “don’t bother calling me again, I have no intention of calling you back”.

For the person receiving the message, there is the hope that a return call will actually emerge and if indeed it does, the recipient can bask briefly in the knowledge that he/she is indeed important enough to justify the call back.

Having worked in busy office environments for more years than I care to remember, I certainly detect that the commitment to “call back” is failing to be delivered more often now than used to be the case. I well remember in the late 1980s, having a new boss who we will call “Mr C”. He had just returned to the UK after several years working in the US. He talked enthusiastically about how in the States, a failure to return a person’s call was considered to be very poor behaviour and rarely happened.

Extolling the virtues of this excellent approach, he made it clear to us that he expected everyone to adhere to this professional conduct. The impact was great, calling back became the norm and the habit proved contagious with all parts of the business becoming much better at keeping to this commitment.

However, there’s a sad end to this tale. Many years later, I left the company and found myself as a supplier to “Mr C”. Our transaction had been coming to an end but hadn’t actually reached a conclusion. I well remember calling him at this point in order to close the deal….. “oh sorry” he said, “difficult to talk right now, can I call you back”? That was 20 years ago and I am still waiting!

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