There is a Silver Lining

It happened to me this week at about 9:30 am. I was sitting at my desk finishing a proposal I wanted to deliver before I had to leave at 11 am for a presentation. I was focused, searching my brain for some perfect language, muttering to myself to ensure flow and then … the phone rang.


Now, being The Phone Lady I do pride myself on answering my phone as often as possible, most especially when I’m right beside it! This call was from someone I had called, someone I know and wanted to speak with … 


But I was focused. I had a deadline. And I had to leave soon for my presentation.


I knew it wasn’t possible for me to have the conversation – to listen, answer questions, engage. And I knew my focus on the proposal would be shattered, that I’d need more time to get back “in” the writing.


I chose not to answer. That caller and I are still playing phone tag. Not because I don’t want to talk to them … but because I do!

I really wanted to talk to them and their call came at exactly the wrong moment.

I’m sharing this with you because I get asked most often, even at social events: Why don’t people answer their phone? Why don’t they return calls? 

And the answer, a lot of the time, is not that they don’t want to talk to you, but that they do. 

How does this apply to returning messages? Simple. Returning a call also requires the time to speak, have the conversation. Someone who’s professional life is back-to-back meetings, or constant traveling, or frontline work with customers is not returning your call because they haven’t found the time to speak with you.

I was reminded of this during the past week when one of my calls to someone I don’t know was returned. He apologized for taking a week to call me back (I smiled and told him that no apology was necessary – people can take months) but this was the first opportunity he had to have a conversation. And we did have a conversation – over 13 minutes worth. It was enjoyable and productive.

But 13 minutes …that’s a lot of time in the business day of many, many people. And this is why they are not calling you back promptly.

I know, I know, this is sounding a bit grim isn’t it. Like, what’s the point then? Why pick up the phone at all?

Well, here’s the silver lining …

Because today, more than any other time in the 25 years I’ve steadily been talking on the phone, when someone answers their phone they want to talk to you. They’ve made the decision to take time for the conversation.

And when they do return your call, well, that’s when they’ve set aside time for you. They’ve called you ready to listen, ask questions and engage. (Of course, you need to be ready. If you’re prospecting, this is where “perfect pitch” applies.)

Now, I realize that this “silver lining” isn’t foolproof – it doesn’t apply 100% of the time. But my world is filled to brimming with phone calls and I believe this now applies 75% of the time. So, a reminder of something I’ve said before – when they don’t answer or they don’t return your call promptly, please remember …

It’s not about you!


One Last Thought

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.  George Washington Carver

0 thoughts on “There is a Silver Lining”

  1. Excellent piece Mary Jane. Now if I could just fit all that into my voicemail message! Seriously, I can at least incorporate the essence of your message into what people hear when I’m not here or can’t pick up. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Eileen. I think you’ve given me the seeds of next week’s blog as well. Always great to “hear” the reaction from readers. It is much appreciated!

  2. I’m so glad I set aside the time to read this. It inspired and educated me MJ.

    Much of what you write about applies in both business and personal life situations.

    ’bout time you turned your blog into a book.


    • Well put Peter! I’ll be one of the first in line to purchase a copy once it is available! MJ I have to keep reminding myself of this everyday…. I find it hard not to get frustrated when poeple don’t answer and/or return my calls (even though I know everyone including me is SO busy), so thank you for putting it into perspective for me again.

      • Thanks, Shelley, for the comment. When you are in sales the increased difficulty in reaching people is frustrating – no doubt about it. I think we have to accept it as part of the job today and … make another call!

    • Thank you so much, Peter. A book, yes, must get to that. Did you recognize that it was your return phone call I didn’t take? See you soon. mj

  3. You hit the nail on the head with this topic, this is exactly why I tell callers that I won’t pick up, in my business i am often with people in my home deep in conversation or during an initial meeting when my business line rings,often i get prompted by my clients ” its okay are you going to answer that” i explain that i don’t want to put my attention elsewhere. As you know i often teach cross cultural differences to newcomers and this is another great topic for new arrivals from different cultures who complain that no one picks up the phone and I often explain that voice mail gives them the option to give you their full attention..
    As usual you have taken my guilt away as I have often left calls to continue talking or thinking..great piece…June

    • This is a great response June – exactly what I want people to “see” in their mind’s eye when their calls do not get answered. The professional you are trying to reach is indeed busy – and that’s okay. You do need to focus on the customers you have in front of you.

  4. I would buy that book, Mary Jane! As it is, your morsels of Phone Lady wisdom are floating around my head on a daily basis. It would be wonderful to also have you sitting (in a way!) on my bookshelf as a trusted reference – full of encouragement, as you always are in person.


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