19 Jul 2023

Sorry I missed your call

We’ve all got used to notifications of missed calls on our phones. At a basic level, they alert us to the fact that someone is trying to reach us, but they also pose a number of etiquette challenges. While on the one hand they may be seen as merely informative, they also can make us feel hounded, under an obligation to reply, or rattled because we fear that we’re missing out on important news.

Many of us use this facility to screen our calls, ensuring that we are always in control of who we speak to and when. However, our refusal to ever just answer a call may well be frustrating to our callers, who come to resent the fact that they never get through and may feel disrespected or overlooked.

Making Missed Calls

Sometimes friends and family use the missed call as a way of jogging the memory, of sending a reminder that they’d like to be in contact. They know each other well and don’t need to elaborate further.

But in most cases, it is always polite and helpful to follow up a missed call with a text or voicemail, and this is particularly useful if you’re aware that your number may well not be in the recipient’s contacts. Don’t leave a redundant voice mail or text saying “It’s xxxxxxx. Call me back.” This simply repeats the information that the recipient has got from the missed call notification. Use your message to give a short hint about the nature of your call, even if all you’re saying is “I just wanted to catch up”. Giving a very brief indication of the purpose of your call will help the recipient to understand the importance/urgency of calling back.

While a voicemail would have been the conventional way of sending the message, there is an increasing reluctance, especially amongst younger people, to use this method, which is seen as cumbersome. The recipient will probably have to negotiate the menu options of their phone provider before accessing the message, whereas a text is more instantaneous. In addition, some people find leaving voicemails challenging – they experience a kind of performance anxiety when they hear the words “record your message after the beep” and end up tongue-tied, incoherent or rambling.

If you have any reservations about using voicemail, then a quick text is probably the best choice. Just say something along the lines of: ‘Sorry I missed you. Can you call me back to discuss arrangements for Saturday 21st. Thanks, Richard’ (you only need add your name – and surname, depending on the level of your acquaintanceship – if you think you might not be in the recipient’s contacts).

If you are trying to reach someone and they don’t pick up, don’t keep re-dialling. There’s probably a perfectly good reason for them not answering and you should be aware that repeatedly pressing re-dial and leaving a large number of missed call notifications will ring alarm bells, probably unnecessarily. It is much better to send a text, which will allay any anxieties.

If you realise that you’ve made a pocket call, it’s a good idea to text and apologise. Just say ‘sorry, pocket call!’ and the recipient won’t feel under any obligation to call you back.

If you’ve made a missed call and the recipient calls you back within a short time (a couple of minutes), do your best to pick up – it can get very frustrating to get caught in an endless loop of unanswered calls.

Receiving Missed Calls

If you receive a missed call that you wanted to answer, call back immediately, and there is a good chance that the caller will pick up. If it seems relevant, you can give a brief explanation about why you didn’t pick up in the first place.

If you have not been able to pick up your call, but you would have liked to speak – perhaps you were in the cinema, a meeting, the quiet carriage of a train, or some other circumstance where speaking was impossible – it is a good idea to send a quick text, explaining your temporary non-availability and reassuring the caller that you will ring back (try and give an approximate time).

If you receive a missed call from an unknown number and you receive no follow-up text message or voicemail, you do not need to call back. Just remind yourself that if the call is urgent or important, the caller will send you a message. In fact, the call from an unknown number may well be a scam (and scammers may even go as far as leaving a voicemail, so you will need to exercise caution). Many scammers repeatedly call random numbers and, when the calls are picked up or returned, try to extract personal information, such as credit card details, by talking to you. Scammers will frequently pretend to be from your bank, or internet provider etc so it is always a good idea to google these companies and check their phone numbers against the missed call numbers on your phone, before even contemplating calling back. In this instance, being polite and conscientious may make you vulnerable to fraud.

In general, if you receive a missed call, followed up by a genuine text or voicemail, it is only polite to respond. There may be circumstances when you have no desire whatsoever to speak to the caller, but on the whole, you should accept that your mobile is your primary means of communication with the outside world, and you have an obligation to respond. You may want to control the circumstances in which you engage with people on the phone, but never calling back does not give you an elusive mystique, it just makes you look rude.


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