Out-of-Office Dissuasion in Action: Please Don’t Leave a Message

I’m encountering an increasing number of auto-respond emails from intended recipients who are out of the office, claiming they will delete all emails sent to them while on vacation. This approach employs a warning system and is a less-than-subtle effort to persuade senders to hold that email until later — or maybe even reconsider whether the message needs to be sent in the first place.

It’s also an effective, if unconventional and arguably offensive, way to let people know you don’t want to be bothered. Which makes it a perfect example of dissuasion — the act or process of trying to persuade someone not to take a particular course of action.

I once worked with a woman who would leave out-of-office messages that sounded like an emergency drill had been activated: “This is a voicemail alert! This is a voicemail alert! I am out of the office and will not be returning calls or answering email until I return on August 1. This has been a voicemail alert.”

Let’s just say the first time you hear that it gets your attention.

Again, unconventional and arguably obnoxious. But it sure was effective at dissuading callers from leaving a message.

A third approach to out-of-office dissuasion is to be brutally honest with whoever deigns to call you when you’re not available: “Hey, this is Kim. If I don’t call you back, you’re the reason I screen my calls.”

Will you bother to be bothered this week?

Want Your Voicemail Messages Returned? Follow These 7 Tips

If you are currently engaged in the profession of selling and grasp even the basics of solid communication skills, you can stand out like a pro. Here are seven ways to receive a stronger response from your voicemails:

1. Be interesting, fast.

You literally have nanoseconds to get someone’s attention. Rather than leave a message that says this: “I’m just calling to follow up on our conversation,” try something like this: “Steve, Mark Rodgers, ABC Motorcycles. I received a status report on your special order, and I think you’re going to like the news. Give me a call and I’ll fill you in.”

2. Don’t rush the phone number.

One of the most frustrating things for me when retrieving voice messages is making sure I catch the callback number. You can’t always trust a cellphone’s callback option, which might register as a general number and not a direct line. When leaving your phone number in a voicemail, say the numbers singularly and slowly, and then on the second go-round, deliver the final four digits in pairs: “That’s 2-6-2, 7-5-4, ninety-six, thirty-seven.”

3. Use a cliffhanger.

You know how reality TV shows always go to commercial right before a big reveal? That device is known as a “cliffhanger” — which leads to an “I gotta know!” moment. In the previous example, the caller is teasing Steve by not revealing the good news until Steve calls him back.

4. Choose your words carefully.

Let’s go back to the example above for what not to say when leaving a message: “I’m just calling to follow up on our conversation.” Use of the word “just” diminishes the importance of your call and could make the recipient feel as if you’re calling out of obligation. Why should he or she bother to return the call if you don’t really care?

5. Ask for a specific commitment.

Think about how you can weave active and voluntary commitment into you message: “Steve, would it be OK if I follow up with you next week to see what you think about some of the options we discussed?” Asking for permission to follow up helps ensure your message will be well received and not considered an intrusion, and being specific helps the recipient focus on one thing.

6. After three, let it be.

If you’re working on an immediate objective and have left three messages for your intended target, it’s time to move on. In your final voice message, say something like this: “I’m surprised I didn’t hear back from you, as you seemed quite interested during our initial conversation. I don’t want to hound you, but know that I’m here if you need anything or want to pick up our discussion where we left it.” Then be sure to touch base with that person once a year.

7. Believe in communication karma.

Promptly return messages, and others will be more prompt when returning yours. In my consulting practice, I respond to all phone messages within one day, and usually sooner. And people return my calls, too.