Leave a Message

Photo by Stefanie Johnson

Leave a message. Or else.

“Hi. You’ve reached Stefanie. Please leave a message, and I’ll get back to you. Thanks.”

This is the gist of the voice mail message on my phone. I think it’s probably a fairly accurate paraphrase of a lot of people’s voice mail messages (except that not everyone is cool enough to be named Stefanie, of course). Nothing showy. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated.


Maybe I missed a memo about voice mail etiquette. I guess I’ve always assumed that if someone asks me to leave a message, they actually want me to leave a message. When I recorded my voice mail tidings, I certainly meant it when I requested that a message be left by the caller. But my experience with voice mail through the years has left me a bit confused and even crazier than I was before. Allow me to elaborate. I give you:

Exhibit A: I leave detailed and specific messages, even when calling close friends or family members. I say my name, when I called, my number, and the reason I rang. There is no guess-work involved when someone receives a voice mail from me.

Result: I get everything from friendly ribbing to downright rude harassment about these specific communications. I am somewhat notorious in my close circle of family and friends for being the crazy voice mail lady. I admit that these messages can, at times, be lengthy. “Next time, don’t leave a book on my voice mail!” Really? Then don’t ask me to leave my name, number, and a message. Just ask me to call back another time instead.

Exhibit B: When I call someone, I leave a message and then wait for a return call. I am totally OK with this scenario. You’re busy right now, I get it. That’s why God invented answering machines and voice mail services in the first place. If it’s an urgent enough matter that I need to try calling again, I wait at least an hour between calls and messages. These cases are extremely rare.

Result: People get frustrated with me when I don’t call again. Um, I left a message. That means it’s your turn. I don’t appreciate when someone calls multiple times within a 20-minute period expecting a different result and never leaving a message. Listen to directions: Leave a message and give me a chance to return the call before calling again. Especially if it’s an emergency. Leave a message.

Exhibit C: I don’t call people back unless they leave a message. I assume that if it isn’t important enough to leave a message, then it probably isn’t urgent that I call back. If someone does leave a message but doesn’t give me a time frame to return the call, I will return it at my leisure. Sometimes that means later the same day, and sometimes it’s next week.

Result: Apparently, this is VERY wrong. Like, the cardinal sin of having a cell phone. Admitting that I do this is practically tantamount to admitting that I screen my calls (which I also do, by the way). I have been informed on multiple occasions by multiple people that they are very offended when I don’t call back, or that I don’t call back soon enough. So, seeing that I missed a call should equate to returning that call immediately. OK. But here’s the problem with that …

Exhibit D: I used to call missed callers back as soon as possible, regardless of messages left (or lack thereof).

Result: The person on the other end of the line treats me like an idiot. “I can’t believe you called in the middle of my meeting.” “Um, no I didn’t call you.” “You totally ruined the moment by not picking up.” And my personal favorite, “Oh yeah, nevermind.”


And so, in response to this very maddening string of evidence, I give you my personal rules when dealing with voice mail messages. Simple. Concise. Common sense. I think these could really catch on …

  • Ask me to leave a message, and I will. Either change your request, or change your attitude toward the people who honor it.
  • When you call me and I don’t pick up, leave a message. Don’t hang up and try again 50 times in a row. No message equals (*doing my best soup Nazi impression*) no return call for you, and I will not be amused the next time I see you and get the “you never call me back” routine. In fact, that’s the quickest way to land yourself on the “I will ignore your calls until you learn to leave a message” list.

Until these new, simple rules have the desired effect, I think I will add a ring back tone to my phone. Yes. (*Now rubbing my hands together like a mad scientist.*) Brilliant. It has to be something really awful, to discourage callers in general but especially to annoy the repeat offenders. “It’s a Small World” would work. Or the Barney theme song. Maybe a Bieber “hit” or two. Yes, that’s it … MUAHAHAHA!

See what people do by not leaving a message? I’ve gone from sweet and content to sarcastic mad scientist. So insane, in fact, that in searching for a silver lining, I found that my sometimes literary tormentor Ambrose Bierce (not to be confused with Bieber) makes a valid point …

“Telephone, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.” –Ambrose Bierce, from “The Devil’s Dictionary”


9 thoughts on “Leave a Message

  1. There is always another option for dealing with those repeat offenders….


    Even lets you record and share. If it weren’t for your screening habits, I probably would have educated you about this site previously. 8-]

  2. lol! i love this post–it’s so funny because it’s true. in the last few years, i’ve gotten away from the phone and prefer to just text if i have something to say. we don’t have tv or a land line. we’re almost amish and i love it. 🙂

  3. What a great topic to write a post on! And I totally agree with your Exhibit C. No message means no call back. At our house, we have all the ringers on the phones turned off except one, in the kitchen. Which is the likeliest place I’ll pick up. Playing with the kids? Not going to answer. In the potty? Not going to answer. It’s so nice. I think the people in your examples sound way off base. You’ve got it right! Trust your phone etiquette instincts. Thanks for the laugh.

  4. ::APPLAUSE::

    thank you. 102% agree.

    AND YES to no bathroom phone chat. unless in the privacy of your own home, after saying no the phone to the person, “okay, I really have to go to the bathroom. Either you’re coming in there with me, or I’ll call you back in 2 minutes”

  5. So true…I hate that people get mad when you don’t answer…as if having a cell phone means that you need to answer no matter what! I’m sorry! I refuse to take my phone to the bathroom with me! I refuse to leave it on voice activated speaker phone so that I can pick up hands free while doing dishes. And yes…I refuse to be intimidated by you when you call back 5 minutes later and question why I didn’t return the missed call (no message left) that occurred while I was shoveling snow!!!

    Oops–I think I joined your rant!

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