The Paradoxical Efficiency of the Voice Mailbox

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By Kirk McCarley,

“The voice mailbox is full and cannot accept any more messages.  Good-bye.”

How does that response from someone else’s phone make you feel?  Admittedly for me there are several initial reactions:  denial, unworthiness, and rejection are a few that come to mind.  After a moment of reframing comes acceptance and a smile or chuckle to go along with, “well, that’s just the way they are.”   No big deal.

Or is it?

What is yours or my level of availability?  Are you so focused on the punch list of life and work that any interruption to your schedule and expectations represent a severe jolt to the psyche?  Conversely, are you so accessible that check marks are a rarity on your calendar?  Further might you notice that requests for valued work assignments have diminished in frequency?  Or that invitations for social events have waned?  Have you maybe thought you overheard, “you can’t always count on Susan?”

Where is the ideal balance?

First, is yours an “inviting” spirit?  Do you present yourself as warm and approachable or more distant and standoffish, not necessarily broken down along the lines of intro- or extraversion.  If you’ve had similar experiences as me it’s likely that your circles have included those of a quiet ilk.  Yet about them they may have possessed a certain indefinable something that permeated kindness and invitation.  On the other hand, there can be some that are loud and boisterous, the veritable life of the party.  When it comes to a true depth of relationship, however, critical pieces are missing.

And the opposite of these examples can and do apply as well.

Second, are you busy?  Sure, we all are.  But what does that say to others?  Don’t bother me, acknowledge me and what I contribute, or “I’m feeling some guilt because I’m really not that busy.”  Might “busy” be an overused term and an excuse?  What about some alternatives:  active, engaged, occupied, are a few that come to mind?  Different terms, meaning relatively the same thing, and more “inviting.”

Third, what is your etiquette?  Is there a rhythm?  Is there some consistency so that others understand what to expect?

As an example, there are some who are almost immediately responsive to communication.  For instance, how promptly do you answer phone calls, text messages, or emails.  I’ve witnessed some who will respond in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.  For others, it could be a couple of hours or by the end of a day.  Those prone to more thorough mental processing may acknowledge the next day after a time of “marination.”  There is not a right, wrong, or best formula.  What matters is that there is in fact a timely reply and one that measures up to expectation.

Fourth, are you what you claim to be?  I was in correspondence with, I hate to admit, a representative of one of my professional associations.  She had passed along some information and closed the email with “let me know if you have further questions.”  I did in fact want to clarify a couple of things, so I emailed back a couple of days after the response.  By the next week, having still not heard anything, I emailed again requesting a follow up.

That was several weeks ago and still not an answer.  The email did not include phone contact information, insinuating to me that their original invitation for me to touch base was not genuine.  Not only did that make me feel unwelcomed as a member of my group, but also embarrassed that that exchange might be representative of the profession to others.

Finally, are you fair to yourself?  Are your self-expectations for being responsive exceeding your capabilities?  Are your efforts encroaching upon personal time?  Or are there opportunities for efficiency improvement to work smarter and not more?

In closing, respond timely to your family, friends, clients, and business associates, and for goodness sakes keep your voice mailboxes clear!

A graduate of the University of North Texas, Kirk McCarley is a Certified Professional Coach as well as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and SHRM-CP Certified. He also is a Production Assistant for both college football and basketball for ESPN and leads group cycling classes as a Certified Spinning instructor. Contact,, or call  314-677-8779.

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