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Voicemail Etiquette: When Not To Leave The Dreaded VM

Voicemail Etiquette

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 02/ 6/2012 10:17 am Updated: 02/ 6/2012 10:17 am

Everything about cellphones is designed to make communication and information retrieval fast and easy. Everything except voicemail, that is.

Listening to voicemails is a pain because it's time consuming and labor intensive compared to something like texting. You've got to call a number, enter a password, listen to an oddly emphasizing robot voice say "You have ONE NEW message," and then listen to someone tell you that they called, which, yeah, you already know! Their name shows up right on the thing!

It's totally unnecessary and ridiculous to leave a message that says, "I called," or "Call me back." This is especially true because a lot of people don't even listen to voicemails before they call the person back, since it's actually easier and more pleasant to talk to someone on the phone than it is to go through the whole rigamarole that is retrieving a message.

There are times when it might seem like it makes sense to leave a message, such as if you need to be called back urgently; if the content of the message will save the person from having to call you back, such as "Be at the theater at 8"; or, if the person is on a plane or out of service range and they won't see your missed call. Unfortunately for voicemails, the message you should be leaving in all of these situations is a text.

Unless the message is too long and complex to fit in a text message (and most voicemails should not be long and complex), text is generally a far superior way to relay bits of info, because it's quick, easy and you know the receiver will actually see it instead of not listening to it for three days and being mad at you every time they see the little voicemail symbol marring their otherwise pristine screen.

There are only three legitimate times to leave a VM on a cellphone. The first is when the person you're calling doesn't have your number in their phone. People have a huge aversion to answering calls from unknown numbers, and why wouldn't they? It could be the small town cops who finally discovered what happened last summer.

Only people with completely clear consciences will answer or return a call from a strange number, so unknown numbers must leave a message if they want a callback. Texting also doesn't work in this situation, because for some reason texting is more intimate than calling, and texting someone who doesn't have your number reads as stalker.

The second time it's okay to leave a voicemail is if you don't know if you're calling a landline or a cellphone. Obviously missed calls are not registered on most landline phones unless they are accompanied by a message.

Finally, when you're calling to wish someone a happy birthday and they don't answer, it is not only acceptable but preferable to leave a voicemail. It just feels better to hear a birthday message spoken in a human voice than to get it in a text. Texts are just too similar to Facebook Wall birthday posts, which are too similar to doing nothing at all.

For those who are extremely voicemail averse, there's a simple solution that we've seen people use. Simply turn your voicemail greeting into a greeting that asks people to please not do what they are about to do. For example, you could say, "Hi, you've reached Bess. No need to leave a voicemail, unless I don't have your number. If it's urgent please text me at this number. Have a wonderful day. I know I will. I'm in Mustique. Ciao!"

What are your tech etiquette questions? Let us know! Email technology [at] huffingtonpost.com.

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