When Is It Acceptable To Leave A Voicemail?

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? Should you ever leave one?

Photo by photomak/Shutterstock

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 behaviour, 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.

That's my take. What's yours?


Comments

    I hate texting. Never text, always call.

      I agree. Text is fine when trying to get/send a small amount of information but having a conversation over text is a huge waste of time, I'd rather just make a call and get it done. I rarely leave voicemail though, if I can't get through I will text the person to call me back.

        Dinosaurs.

        If you want to have a conversation with me, meet me in person. I'm not going to have a friendly chat with you over a cold piece of plastic. If it's information, it can easily be sent via text or email (which most phone calls usually are; "meet me there", "lets go here", "i need you to get some milk & eggs.")

        Calling someone is intrusive and requires the two parties to be free at the same time, sending a text message is not intrusive and can be read at the receiver's leisure.

        If meeting isn't possible, sure over the phone is acceptable but this generally isn't the case.

    I hate calling. Way too expensive and always takes too long with "Oh and by the way"s or "So... [some other unrelated crap]".

    That, and retrieving voicemail costs me money. Receiving texts doesn't. Just text me.

      Oh, and the whole "A businessman always calls, never texts" thing is a load of crap. By the time the (usually long) conversation is over, I have forgotten things from the start, and have no transcript of the call. In these cases, email me or what you want wont happen.

        Wow, that's just poor. If I couldnt remember the details of a phone call, I'd be out of a job.

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            Stupid comment is stupid Mr Bigot. Pretty sure Jess is male btw.

            So...you're saying she works at a hotel?

            *Shrug* You're entitled to your opinion the same as I am.

            BTW, I'm male.

      Take notes?

    Just check your voice mails... how much effort is it to do that once a day. Five minutes out of your precious schedule? Or is it a "I'm too cool for voice mail" thing we're dealing with.

      And yes Jess... I agree that businessmen won't want to text if they've already left a voice mail. If they are then forced to text by a non-reply, it pisses them off. (me at least)

        In that case (where it's pre-supposed that a voicemail is the form of contact), then I agree that would be very annoying.

        Personally, I dislike voicemail fullstop. So, when I ask someone to get in contact with me, I prefer email, or a very specific call schedule (usually via Skype) if absolutely necessary so I can take notes / transcribe while chatting.

      It's ridiculous though. 5 minutes is a long time when it's completely inefficient.

      "You have......1.......new message....press 1 for......new messages.......*1*.............first message.....message received............at........nine....oh...two......A.M...message from phone number......0...2..3...4..5..6....7..8.6..4...."
      "Hi Jim, call me back. Thanks."
      ARRRGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

    Text. Or call, but if I don't answer, don't leave me a voice mail. I never check those. Sure, it doesn't take that long, but I'm not too eager to pay for a service when it can be done through texting.

    Sorry, but this article is back to front... If you're prompted to leave a message, then leave one. The real question is: when should you listen to you voicemail? Answer: if you have it set up, then always, otherwise get rid of it.

    The only time you shouldn't leave a message is when you're my mother, and I can see I missed your call and I will call you back. Your voicemails are always inane.

      Agreed! If you have voicemail set up, there's an expectation that you will listen to it and respond.

        Is voicemail not enabled automatically when you open an account? I seem to remember having to deactivate mine with 3. I could be wrong, though.

    BTW, for those of you on Vodafone - set up your voicemail to call you back - it's free that way.

      How do I do that?

        I think you can do it on the myvodafone website

      I found that feature to be extremely annoying, in practice.

      Or use Telstra's Voice2Text and get exactly what you want. Just disable all diverts (including divert to voicemail) by dialling ##002# and it defaults to the Voice2Text service instead.

        Yeah Bob, this is what I have perfect solution - when dealing with tradies fairly often the older guys prefer to call.

    There's only a few numbers that I will return calls to unless a voicemail is left. If someone calls and doesn't leave a message I assume it wasn't that important, and they will either call me back / email me / speak to me about it when they see me.

    I thought I would NEVER text clients and sent one an MMS the other day showing the arrival of a package that had gone walk about - much more effective than a call/voicemail to say, "Oh Hi, I got your mail." Plus she loved it and thanked me, for sending a MMS.
    Really depends on the relationship and type of client.

    For the most part though, text is a big no no for me to clients. If email doesn't work, text won't, hence the call/voicemail.

    My work number: I always check, and always respond.

    My personal number: I never check, but if I know your number, I will call you back, or if I'm too busy, I'll send a "You rang? What's up?" text.

    Interestingly quite often people view the telephone as an impatient medium which is why email/text is favoured by lots of people as you get to it when you want. Plus "it's in writing".

    Stephen fry on QI sums up the whole impatient nature of a phone here quite well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xXSw07zrio&feature=player_detailpage#t=213s

    I have Message2text setup on my phone (Telstra). I never liked people leaving messages when I had voicemail, but Message2text works great in that the person is asked to leave a shot message, which is converted into a text message and sent to me. It's not perfect, but it lets me get the gist of what they were wanting and whether I need to call them back or text. And its discreet because I can check them like other text messages.

    I think this mostly depends on the industry you are working in and the type of people you have to deal with.
    In my experience in a work environment (focused around engineering, manufacturing and construction), dealing with Baby Boomers and early Generation X usually require direct phone calls and leaving voice mail if the call is not answered, unless they are extremely busy senior executives (at this point you're more likely to get an answer if you send your request via sms).
    Late Generation X as well as Generation are usually more flexible and don't mind getting either sms or voice mail.

    I don't mind voicemail.

    What I dislike is friends calling and leaving a message that just says call me back, that would have been done regardless, but I just spent a minute futzing around on my phone to retreive, listen and delete your message.

      +1 to that.

      "Call me when you get this." - most useless voicemail message ever.

      Unless there are 007-levels of secrecy involved, (e.g, you just found the iPhone 6 in a bar somewhere...) what's the harm in giving specifics?

      Oh, and I agree with Emmanuel there - I too work in an environment where direct phone calls work best...

      Not everyone has smartphone-type access to emails and sms - one notable example is a colleague who only got a mobile phone 12 months ago.

      I remember calling people a lot more when I had to live with a loaner-dumbphone for a few weeks in phones. My ability to operate a T9 keypad has diminished since I got my iPhone 2 years ago...

    i hate voicemail, visual voicemail would be a compromise but i think the days of listening to prompts and responding with buttons should be behind us.

    Personally i probably make and receive about 30 calls on an average day and 100 on a busy day i use the free telstra 10 second voice to text, i can't leave a dedicated greeting but i get the messages as translated text and it sends it from their called ID so it looks like a text from them (with a note saying its voice to text).

    The VAST majority of messages left are hello its blah blah please call me back. My last job which wasn't as much direct phone contact i would only check my voicemail once a day or if i didn't recognised the number.

    Being of the 20 something age group most of my friends just text; but for me that is where it ends. If I need to talk to a colleague or someone higher up the food chain (or even a family member); I find it is generally faster to call and get an immediate answer or explanation.

    I was a constant hater on using voicemail "IVR" to receive messages, but a few months ago I bit the bullet and subscribed for Visual Voicemail (yes I pay for it via Telstra); Say what you want about paying for the service, but it pays for itself in terms of productivity.

    My god, never leave voicemail. It's the most inefficient and costly verbal ping pong that benefits no one.

    People keep spouting bullshit like "texting needs to die". There are two things that need to die urgently, in this order:

    1. Fax machines
    2. Voicemail

      God, fax machines. bane of my life.

      "No i dont have a fax machine, nor a phone line. but i have an amazing colour scanner or i can take a photo and email it. cant i just.. no? oh.. you say the post office has fax services available". ffs

      Large corporations are the main culprits. One day maybe!...

        Many times have I been tempted to get rid of the damn fax machinbe... but then you get those big old companies that say "send us a fax" and you do it because you need their business.

    I work as a manager so communication is key to effectiveness.
    I prefer to phone as many of my conversations involve persuasion, research, or troubleshooting.
    If an important decision was made, I'll follow up with a short e-mail to have a record, and this is also a check in case there was a misunderstanding.
    If an conversation is really important, I will make sure to have it in person. Face to face is most effective for persuasion or giving bad news.
    Voicemail is often ineffective, but because I phone often, I also encounter voicemail regularly. If it is non-urgent I leave a detailed message to make it easier for the recipient to get back to me with an answer.
    I also write up to 40 e-mails per day but e-mail can be a trap. How many times have you had a ping-pong e-mail conversation spread out over hours? A phone call is far more efficient.
    I often can't check my voicemail as there are multiple demands on my time, plus I have two phones to check.
    And I use instant messaging and SMS where appropriate.

    If I make a call and it goes to Voicemail, I leave one because I've already paid for a 30 second phone call because the call has connected, so I my as well use it. There loss if I have something important to say and they don't check their voicemail.

    When I was with Virgin, the voicemail pickup was free, so I was happy to use it. Switched to Woolies mobile and have to pay so less happy with voicemails there.
    Text messages are better for precise details (eg an address)

    Who still uses voicemail? First thing that gets disabled any time a new service is set up.

    Can't text while driving... can leave voicemail. Hands-free call of course.

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