All of us have experienced the frustration of what is generally referred to as a ‘game of phone tag’. You call someone and leave a message. They call back when you’re busy and leave you a message. Sometimes this can go through several cycles before the two parties connect. This doesn’t have to be the case. There are several ways to either prevent or put an end to the game of phone tag.
- Pay attention to the time of day. Make sure that you are calling at a time that you can expect them to be available. If you’re calling someone at work, avoid times that may around their lunch hour. Don’t call during the dinner hour when calling someone at home.
- Leave a detailed message. If you reach a person’s voice mail, leave as detailed a message as possible. If you can, make your message one that can be easily answered by leaving a message on your voice mail in return.
- Set up phone call appointments. Rather than saying “I’ll call you tomorrow,” set a specific time for the call so the other person will know when to expect your call and make themselves available for it. This is also a way to be assured that the other person truly does want you to call and isn’t simply agreeing to the phone call out of politeness.
- Make it clear when you will be available. When leaving a message asking for a return call, be careful to let the other party know times that you will or will not be available if possible. Letting them know that you a meeting scheduled later in the day or that you will be out of the office at a certain time can be very helpful.
- Write down what you need to say. Occasionally the reason that phone tag happens is due to one party or the other forgetting to discuss an item of importance and then needing to make a second call to finish the conversation. Listing out the items needed to be included in the conversation can help prevent this from happening.
- Let your voice mail message work for you. Make sure your voice mail message includes times of day that you are generally not available such as lunch hours and regularly scheduled meetings. If you can record custom messages which play when you are gone to lunch or out of the office, these can be very beneficial as well.
- Delegate. If someone else can handle the phone call for you when you are not available, be certain to communicate that in your message on the other person’s voice mail. Simply including the name of a co-worker that can be an alternate contact, should you not be available, can prevent the phone tag from continuing.
- Make use of email. Ask for an email address in addition to phone numbers. Emails will communicate large amounts of information very clearly. They can be received and read whenever it is convenient for the recipient and then responded to just as conveniently.
- Get cell phone numbers. If someone will provide their cell phone number, your chance of reaching the person will greatly increase versus having an office or home number. Most individuals will carry their cellphone with them wherever they go and be able to receive and respond to your calls much quicker.
- Instant Messaging. Instant messaging is another option that current technology provides to put an end to phone tag. With instant messaging you have the ability to see on your screen whether or not the other party is available to chat or not. Instant messaging has benefits over both phone calls and emails. You have the benefit of the clarity provided by a typed message but have the added benefit of the immediate two-way conversation that you would get in a phone call.
As you can see, with a little planning, or use of other communication tools, it is possible to eliminate much of the phone tag we experience today.