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Call me back! A CEO laments unanswered phone messages

Maynard Webb urges patience, politeness, and persistence in dealing with unanswered calls.

Call me back! A CEO laments unanswered phone messages
[Photo: DragonImages/iStock]
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Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and former COO of eBay, offers candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. I’m having an issue with people not returning my calls. I don’t want to be a pest but I’m also not sure that they received the message. People don’t seem to communicate the same way anymore! 

—CEO on hold

Dear CEO,

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I understand your frustration. People are dealing with so much incoming communication and it’s hard to know if you are getting through. I appreciate that I can see that a text was delivered or even read, as opposed to an email that I’ll never know whether it was opened or a voice mail that I can’t tell if someone listened to. 

This is a fine line to walk. As you said, you don’t want to be a pest, but you also want to make sure that someone saw your message. 

I’ve learned to wait a bit and then politely ask if my message was seen. In that follow-up, I try a different way of communicating. So, if I emailed the first time around, I might text or try a phone call the next time.

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I recently had an important meeting that I needed to cancel. I left a voice mail but didn’t hear back. I didn’t want the person to head out expecting to meet me, so I tried again. This time I texted, and it got resolved right away. (The person had not checked voice mail, so it was good that I followed up!) In another instance, I called and left a voice mail on an urgent manner. I didn’t hear back, which was very out of character for the person I was attempting to contact. This time, I emailed a follow-up and got an immediate response. It turns out the person I called didn’t recognize my cell phone number and thought it was spam so didn’t even check the message! 

My advice to you is to try again using another mode of communication. That makes more sense than trying the same thing over again and expecting a different result.