When I pick up my voice mail at work, certain messages always leave me mildly annoyed. Interestingly, these messages aren’t rude or obnoxious; in fact, they’re very often left quite genially and with the best of intentions. They usually go something like this:

Hi, Tammy. This is Joe Colleague. I need to talk to you about something. Please call me when you get this message.

In case my negative reaction to messages like this has left you perplexed, I’ll tell you why. I have no idea what Joe Colleague wants to discuss. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I don’t know if he needs more information or wants to tell me something. I don’t know if he needs a solution to a problem or a reality check. Without knowing any of these things, I can’t do my homework. In a world where demands for my (and everyone’s) time seem to pile up ruthlessly, I want to make every minute count.

More often than not, I’ll return Joe Colleague’s call, only to find that he needs information about a particular topic. Chances are, that information doesn’t live in my head and I’ll have to find it for Joe. That necessitates a return call. If Joe had included his question–or even a hint as to the subject at hand–in his original message, I could have been better prepared and my return call probably would have been built on answers rather than more questions.

It’s not that I don’t want to talk to people; in fact, I think we all need more personal contact in our electronic age. However, if we can keep the simple things simple and not drag them out, we’ll have more time left for real conversations. Think about this the next time you reach someone’s voice mail. When you leave a message at the tone, make it count.

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