Answer the phone 

Abstract:  This article explores how doing something as simple as disrespecting people by not returning phone calls or answering email can be career limiting.

One of the lectures I vividly remember was when the boss called the group together to absolutely shellac all of us because one of us had a very bad habit of not returning phone calls.  During the course of the lecture, we were told to ALWAYS return EVERY phone call even if it is to tell the caller to never call again.  The fact that one of us was not returning calls was described as an embarrassment for all of us.  We were told that the next time such a complaint was received, there would be no more second chances.  The person that galvanized my thinking on this topic has passed away but the influence of his powerful speech continues to resonate into the future and guide my thinking and actions.

Why would someone refuse or fail to return phone calls or email communications?  All of us are very busy and as those of us who are decision makers know, a lot of the calls we receive are cold unsolicited sales pitches.  My assistants in several venues have been continually amused by all of my ‘long lost friends’ that drive everyone crazy with unsolicited calls that usually lead to some kind of sales pitch.  Most of these people I have never heard of.  Another reason that calls are not returned is that we are all extremely busy.  It is easy to procrastinate about returning a call until you have forgotten about it.  The next thing you know, you have disrespected someone.

I am used to not having my phone calls returned.  It is an all too common phenomenon that those of us who put any effort into networking are well familiar with.  I will usually call someone three or four times and get no response before I blacklist them.  I recently had a very frustrating experience.  You know, the one where the administrative assistant answers the phone and says, “let me see if he’s in” only to return to the phone a few seconds later to tell me that she needs to take a message.  The probability that an Administrative Assistant will not actually know whether their principal is in or not is infinitesimally small.  The last time this occurred, I told the assistant that the person I had called could use any of the last three messages I had left for him.  I am still waiting for one of those calls to be returned or better, an opportunity to return the disrespect I have been subjected to by this idiot; maybe in the form of a blind reference.  By the way, what kind of narcissist would put their assistant into the position of having to lie for them in the first place but I digress.

Not only is this behavior disrespectful and unprofessional, it can be career limiting.  The very people that refuse to return your calls are frequently among your callers when they need something from you.  I have had several people that refused to accept my calls call me when they were referred to me during a career transition or job search.  I return their calls and enjoy listening to their lame excuses about how embarrassed they are that they haven’t kept up.  I indulge them while I make their call as short as possible.   What kind of arrogance and narcism is at the root of a person that would not demonstrate a whit of professional courtesy to me when they do not need me then reach out to me asking for help when they think that I might be able to do something for them?  Obviously, these morons have never heard of the golden rule.  You know, the one that admonishes us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

One of the many problems that can arise from this behavior is a blind reference.  Occasionally, I will receive an inquiry from someone that wants to know if I know someone.  All too frequently, the target is being considered for some type of public relations or networking opportunity like opening doors.   I ask the person wanting a reference how successful they think that someone that did not return calls would be representing their firm?

On this note, have you received requests from people that refused to return your calls or engage with you come around later and ask you to meet with them so they can try to sell you something you did not ask for and do not need?   The arrogance of this behavior is impressive, to say the least.  I know people that will agree to these meetings.  They will let the idiot that disrespected them spend time and expense traveling only to limit their presentation to one hour or less.  At the end of these meetings, the hapless moron is bid adieu and sent off with no intention of ever spending a cent with them or the company they now represent.

What goes around comes around.

The point of this is that when you fail or refuse to return phone calls, in my opinion, you are intentionally damaging yourself.  There is an old one-liner that says, “Don’t burn any more bridges than you have to because one day, you might have to re-cross one of them.”  When you fail or refuse to return phone calls, you are proactively burning bridges.  The irony of not returning calls is that the behavior is a boomerang.  The disrespect will come back and whack you.  It is a whole lot easier to be arrogant toward those that call you when you have a gig than it is when you do not have a gig.  An acquaintance that had ignored me for years finally got his ass fired.  A few months later, I got the call.  He was desperate for a job and in his opinion, I held a key to him getting his next gig.  I told him that I would see what I could do and that was the last time we talked.  He never even bothered to follow up with me to see what if anything had transpired.  That conversation occurred several years ago and as far as I know, his run in the healthcare industry is over.


A lot of people have the memories of race car drivers.  They NEVER forget.

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