When Is It Acceptable to Leave a Voicemail?

I am going to start a new tag for Etiquette. I think manners are important, even in the digital age!

Etiquette

From Lifehacker:

It’s become a mantra of tech-involved 20- and 30-somethings (and even teenagers) that you should only call when it’s an emergency, otherwise texting is preferred. But what about voicemails? Even with Google Voice transcribing them, and iPhones making them terribly easy to find and listen to, should you ever leave one?

The truth is, no matter what kind of message you leave, some people will just never listen to their voicemails, period. Even if you call them five times and leave three voicemails, they’re just not going to do it, and they’re not going to change for you. The expectation is that if it’s important, you’ll either text, so they’ll read it when they get back to their phone, or call again and catch them when they’re available. For these people, you should never leave a voicemail. (It’s nearly impossible to change someone else’s behavior, so let’s focus on you.)

For everyone else that’s not VM-phobic, it depends on your message. Can it be contained within a text message or email? By that, I don’t mean can the message be physically presented within 160 characters, I mean can the tone of your voice be conveyed in pure text. If you’re distraught, can you correctly impart that feeling on the listener? If you’re giving an urgent message, or a wistful goodbye, or a lonely “just seeing how you’re doing”, does that come across in written form? If not, use voicemail. It might take longer for the recipient to get to your message, but the emotional content makes it worth the wait.

But if you can, stick to texts. It saves time for both parties and does the job adequately well for a good chunk of the time. The only caveat I would give is that if it’s a person you haven’t physically spoken to for a while, that you should find the time and connect, even if it’s just by leaving a voice message. There’s no sense letting a relationship die just because you were too lazy to actually open your mouth and speak.

Second Chance for a Last Impression

Hmmm – this debate has been around since, well I am sure even email! What do you use? Depending on my audience I have used: Cheers, Best wishes, Thanks and Love.

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From Bobulate:

Forget what you’ve heard about first impressions; it’s the last impressions that count. Last impressions — whether they’re with customer service, an online shopping experience, or a blind date — are the ones we remember. They’re the ones that keep us coming back. But there’s one kind of final impression that people seem to forget.

The closing line of email — that line that you write before you type your name — has been all but forgotten. Go take a look at your inbox: you might be astonished at how little attention people pay to the closing lines when writing email. This underrated rhetorical device is so frequently disregarded that many people have the gall to use an automatic closing line attached to their email signature file.

Closing lines vary from the highly self-conscious (“My warmest regards,”) to the impersonal sig file to the charmless (“Best,”).

A scientific study of my email inbox.

Closing lines, at least in my inbox, revealed the following:

Tnx
Best
Word
Later
Laters
Thanks
Cheers
Cheery
Take care
Feel better
All the best
Safe travels
Love you all
Super great
Best regards
Get well soon
With gratitude
Thanks family
Your weary friend
Thanks in advance
Thanks, all the best
Don’t work too hard
Hope to see you Thursday
Hope to hear from you soon
Warm regards right back at ya

It seems that there are patterns in the type of closing lines I receive. If ordered another way, they look like this:

Ordered By Intention
Expressing gratitude
Tnx
Thanks
Thanks family
Thanks in advance
Thanks, all the best

Expressing general sentiment
Best
All the best
Best regards
Word
Later
Laters
Cheers
Cheery
Super great

Expressing affection
Love
Love you
Love you all

Expressing state
Your weary friend
With gratitude

Imperatives
Feel better
Take care
Safe travels
Get well soon
Don’t work too hard

Wishes
Hope to see you Thursday
Hope to hear from you soon!
Warm regards right back at ya

With all of these, the intensity and, dare I say, sincerity varies depending on punctuation. A warm “Thanks!” has quite a different sentiment than a flat “Thanks,”.

I must point out that there is most definitely a correlation between intimacy and length. The better you know someone, the shorter the closing lines tend to me. My closest friends sign their emails with a single letter (“-k”) or no closer at all — the ultimate signifier of a friendship. But those are the exception. Those are for unique cases. Not carefully considering a closing for other kinds of relationships is as thoughtless as hanging up without a goodbye.

If a closing line can be so meaningful, so important, why are emailers squandering the opportunity, putting no thought in the closing? Time, perhaps, iPhone-finger exhaustion, multi-tasking—they’re all possible excuses. And many times, acceptable ones. We can’t be expected to neatly tie up every email every time. But once in a while, it would be delightful if people applied the same sincerity to the last impressions that we do to first ones.