Are You a Work “Protectionist”?

Admittedly I’m being very liberal in my use of the word “protectionist”, which means “someone who upholds the economic policy of restraining trade between states”. But for the past few years, a similar philosophy has surfaced in our daily business lives. In an effort to protect our time, we are limiting our connection with customers, colleagues and those with new opportunities. This is not only occurring in large organizations, but in all businesses, revealed in a recent tweet from Menna Riley, of Ignite Event Management.

Here’s Menna’s tweet:

Do you have any tips for ‘horrible’ people like me & my business friends who hate checking voicemail? I’d like to ask people to just text or email but the PR practitioner in me just can’t bring myself to do it 😬 11:09 AM – 8 Jan 2018

This “hate” of voicemail is widespread. Why? Because: listening to messages takes time; people often ramble; they don’t provide a return phone number; we have to transcribe the information; the call’s subject is not on our priority list; anyone who’s important knows we prefer email/text; etc. etc. etc.

Checking voicemail is something we are abandoning because we are all overwhelmed; we are all experiencing decision fatigue. We are scrambling to stay focused on our priorities and, well … we are becoming protectionists, building borders around our time and activities, saying “no”.

I get it – I really do – but voicemail remains a valid way for our clients, potential clients and those with valuable new ideas to reach us. Some of them prefer to pick up the phone. Some of them want you to hear the sound of their voice. In fact, their tone of voice can be essential to clear communication.

Choosing to abandon voicemail is about us, not about the client who prefers the phone, or the salesperson with the amazing idea. And if there is one thing I know to be true about owning and running a business … it’s not about me! I must be open to the needs and preferences of my target market. Voicemail, email, text, social media, Google Docs, Dropbox, messaging systems like Slack … if our clients are using these mediums,  then we have to include them in our business activities.

There are new alternatives surfacing almost daily to help us manage all these options, to support us in not becoming protectionist.  Those who are struggling with voicemail can choose one of the numerous “voicemail to email” or “voicemail to text” options and still retain the ability to listen to the message when tone of voice is essential.

Think of it this way: When you are the customer or the salesperson with a worthy opportunity and a company limits your ability to connect and have a conversation, how does it make you feel? What is your perception of that company and its brand?

I believe that in order to grow and uncover new options in our rapidly changing world, we have to be open. Limiting the ways people can reach us will ultimately limit our ability to thrive.

What do you think?



11 thoughts on “Are You a Work “Protectionist”?”

  1. I find text and email inconvenient for making appointments. Instead of going back and forth, possibly over the course of several hours (“How about Monday at 3?” “I work until 6 on Mondays. Tuesday?” “This Tuesday or next Tuesday?” etc.), the task can be completed in a 2- or 3-minute phone call, with each person looking at their calendar and talking about options, challenges, questions (e.g., should I bring xxx? will we need yyy? did you invite zzz?). In other cases, tone of voice is everything! Case in point for both: On Friday, I was given the name of a contractor. I knew from the prefix is was a cellphone, but I called—to introduce myself, to describe what I’m looking for very briefly, and to ask if we could make an appointment for the contractor to see the space. He asked me for a few details, we settled on a date and time, and he asked me to text him the exact address since he didn’t have pencil and paper handy. Task completed. Also, the change in his voice and language when he found out who I was and what I wanted were promising. He made a good impression!

    • These are great examples of why a phone call is more efficient, Dimitra. Thank you. And I do appreciate how you’ve talked about tone of voice, particularly with the contractor. We learn so much about people during a phone conversation, especially when there’s a change in their tone of voice. It allows us to know how the relationship is growing. As always, my thanks for contributing to this conversation.

  2. Great post and really good points to consider. I really don’t like getting a voice message on my cell phone as it is challenging to retrieve – I usually put it on speaker as I press the necessary keys. Voicemail to text would be great but I think it doesn’t work with all carriers – will investigate.

    • Yes, I do think it is something you need to investigate but there may even be an app that can help with this option. Not sure. If you think of it, do share what you discover. Thanks, Peggy.

  3. Voice mail is definitely staying with me because unlike most people I DO NOT give any of my clients my cell number. I do this to “protect my time”. I do check voice mail on my landline which is my business number and the only business number people get. My clients know that I do not use a cell phone – not for them anyhow. 🙂 I use Calendly ($10 a month) to book appointments and that totally saves the back and forth. When I travel I forward my calls to my cell number and then determine when I respond or not, since my clients will always know when I am away and that I am not available. They have a backup to reach out to if needed. None have ever seen or commented on this – probably because I simply explain it as how I work. They do not see it as mean or not good customer service, instead it creates a respect for each other’s time.

    • Thanks for all these details, Kathy. You and I operate in much the same way. Very few people know my cellphone number and Calendly is an important part of how I maximize my time and make it easier for clients and prospects to connect. After all, as you say, it isn’t only about our time, but their valuable time as well.

      • Mick, they are probably very similar but calendly does not offer the group choice that doodle does. It also offers me to setup different types of appointments – so i have ones fro consults, strategy/ coaching sessions etc etc.

        For my clients the look and feel of calendly seems to work better with them and I can customize it for questions I want answered to book an appt etc. This is the URL below I have to share with clients for booking consults. I have a other one for strategy sessions etc

      • You can use Calendly to book a “group” date, similar to Doodle, but we love it here because it allows us to communicate with multiple people at the same time about when I’m available. As each person books their time slot for a conversation or workshop, another person will then see I am busy at that time. It has eliminated the dreaded “double booking” situation that we started to experience a few years ago.

  4. There is a demographic who thinks that all communication can and should be done by text. As sort-of pointed out by Dimitra, not all phone numbers are mobile – in other words, it is typically impossible to recognise a phone number as being mobile or landline, unless the person tells you so. So – expecting people to naturally text you is not reasonable.

    If people don’t want to receive voicemail, they should turn off the VM feature (in other words, the phone will ring and ring off the hook) OR change their VM voice prompt to say “Please do not leave any voicemail in this box – it will not be heard. Instead, please text me at this number. Thanks.”

    Other than that, I agree with Mary Jane. Voice is still the true natural form of communication. Text or email should only be used for:

    – sending specific data (i.e. lists, etc.)
    – broadcasting a message to many people
    – request for information where you know the recipient won’t know the answer off the tip of their tongue.

    Thanks again.

    • Thanks, Mick for this contribution. I love the idea of the phone ringing and ringing and no one answering – very retro! When that happened in the “old” days, we simply called again until we reached the person. Maybe that will work again?


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