The Only Time I Answer My Phone. Ever.

Once upon a time in the west, if you wanted to reach someone on the other side of the country you would send a message via Pony Express. Ten days later (or more) your message would be received.

Today, we can instantly communicate with others on the other side of the world in mere seconds. The channels for reaching each other have not only become lightning fast, but they are also varied.

Today, we receive messages via text, apps, Skype, Google +, Facebook Messenger and email.

And oh yeah, there are still those of us who use a telephone to (gasp) make a phone call.

I use, and embrace, all the technologies. But I’ve recently been thinking about how I not only use them, but how I prefer others to engage with me.

I feel there is a pecking order for each of these. So allow me to propose a “chain-of-command,” if you will, for when to use each type of tech for reaching out. I’m going to intentionally speak in first person as you may approach things differently.

#1 — Email

Email is most accessible, and I believe, the lowest rung on the ladder for reaching out to me. This is especially true if we’ve not met.

I’ve set up a contact form on my website and it invites anyone to send a message, whether it be for a speaking inquiry, joint venture proposal, question, comment or anything else. Since I receive these directly, it allows me to sift through and prioritize the most important messages and contact as needed.

The fact that I can search email and easily find what I am looking for makes it tops in my charts for both initiating contact and continuing conversation which can be documented and referenced.

#2 — Social Media

Next up the ladder is social media. Whether it be via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or any other place where I have a public profile, this is a great way for someone to reach out.

One of the problems with LinkedIn is all the spammy messages that end up in my inbox. There’s a whole lot of unsolicited proposals for search engine optimization, network marketing opportunities and job prospecting. I even get the occasional firm that wishes to help with my social media presence. Apparently, someone isn’t doing their homework.

Still, I’m fine with people reaching out by sending a direct message on Facebook or Twitter. In fact, Messenger is a great way to ping me with a quick question, a hello or a useful link. I don’t mind keeping my Facebook chat turned on because there are some happy interruptions throughout my day.

However, please don’t send any information that I need to keep track of via one of these services. Social media moves very quickly, and unless specifically requested, it’s likely that your request will get buried way beneath the fold. Phone numbers, addresses, emails and other important info are always best recalled if sent to email.

This, however, does not apply to Skype or other messenger services where you must be “added” as a friend in order to make contact. Unsolicited inquiries via these means can feel intrusive. I am selective in accepting friend requests, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to keep Skype on. Messages would come throughout the day and render the service annoyingly unusable.

#3 — Apps

And likewise, as we move into apps, we are entering the acquaintance zone. Whether What’s App (which I don’t use), GroupMe or any other chat app for my phone, these are to be used only by people I have a relationship with. I keep all notifications turned off on my phone so as to not be constantly having to look at what’s going on. It’s best if only family, friends and business associates who I am directly connected with contact using an app.

#4 — Text Messaging

As we climb towards the very top of the ladder, we encounter texting.

This is a highly personal method of reaching out, and not for a first time contact. There must be an established relationship with an intentional sharing of numbers in order for a text message to be okay. If you text and we don’t have an existing relationship, you have chosen poorly. If you are a family member (obviously), a friend (duh) or a close business associate (hi out there!), I am more than happy to get a text from you. Go ahead… say hello. I’ll probably respond with an emoji.

However, and I refer back to my comments on messaging in general, I don’t like to end up in long conversations on text… except when I do. In general, if it isn’t pressing I find that email is the best place to have longer conversations. That, or actually speaking.

#5 — The Phone

Which leads me to the top rung. The phone itself.

I put my cell number on the do-not-call registry a few years back. As a result, I don’t get too many telemarketers calling.

My phone number is a very personal thing. Again, family, friends and business associates who I have given my number to are free to call anytime.

I only answer my phone under three circumstances:

1) I see who it is because they are in my contact list. If it’s one of my kids, I’ll pick up unless I am speaking on stage. Even then, I’ve picked up the phone before in front of an audience just to let them know I’m here and will call them back when I am done talking. If it’s someone else, I’ll pick up if I am able. If I can’t, I figure if it’s important they will leave a voicemail.

2) I am expecting a call from someone in an area code but I don’t have them in my address book. For example, if I list something on Craigslist and I give someone my number to call so we can discuss the item.

3) I’m bored and want someone to talk to. If I get to this point and I pick up the phone, I may answer with a foreign accent and confuse the crud out of you. I’ll be entertained and you’ll wonder how you got the wrong number.

Under no circumstances will I pick up my phone if the display says “Blocked” or “Unknown.” This automatically weeds out most bots and telemarketers. It also gets rid of most fundraisers and political action committees.

Those who really need to get a hold of me will leave a message at the beep. I always listen to my messages and return calls as time, need and/or interest allows.

Confused? It’s okay. I’ve gotten a little dizzy just trying to sort this out.

Essentially, what this amounts to is a set of healthy boundaries. They are boundaries that allow me to enjoy and embrace technology while not becoming a slave to it.

What boundaries do you have in place for contacting you? Do you agree with mine or would you have minor or major modifications? Please share your thoughts with me below! That would be a very appropriate form of communication.


Originally published at joelcomm.com.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Joel Comm’s story.