Stop People from Interrupting

When people incessantly call or leave voicemail, stop answering.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #40

Peter, people leave rambling voicemail. That could be people in drunken stupors mistaking your voicemail for a sympathetic ear. Your outgoing message might be enabling them to stay in a destructive relationship or dead-end job. My goodness, man, you OWE it to them not to answer the phone! How else will they learn to get their life together?

Before you can help them, though, you must help yourself. You say you hate voicemail. Embrace those feelings and put them to good use. Call your own mailbox and rant to yourself about how much you despise those incoming messages. Really let it all out. Until, that is, you've filled your mailbox completely. Then have your outgoing message say "Please e-mail me." People will find your voicemailbox full, and will have no choice except to e-mail you. They can still reach you, but on your terms.

If you can't fill up your voicemailbox, find out if you can set it to give an outgoing message only. In the worst case, you can disable it entirely, or leave an outgoing message saying, "Please don't leave a message. This voicemail never gets checked." Use the passive voice for that last sentence and they'll casually overlook the fact that you are the one who decided not to do the checking.

Robin, you can do likewise. Take the phone off the hook. Only put it back on when you're ready to take calls. You can also use caller ID or "call intercept" to schedule the incoming call when you reach a break point. If your client decides not to leave a message, that's their business, not yours. In fact, give them Peter's phone number. He loves it when people don't leave a message.

Just cause they're a client doesn't mean they can interrupt! I charge my clients extra for interruption privileges and they're priced accordingly. No one's ever taken me up on it, and if they do, I'll be able to answer from my own private island.

Explanations are optional, and strongly discouraged.

"But," you cry, "how will I explain myself to people?" That's another myth. You don't actually have to explain anything; just tell the truth. "I'm not picking up the phone today. I'll check voicemail at a breaking point. Or, you can keep trying to call back." Or, "I'm not checking voicemail, though I am checking e-mail." Then smile honestly and sit quietly. Now, the ball's in their court.

If someone has the poor taste to insist on an explanation, say "because." You can say anything afterwards. It works for parents, and most people had parents, once. "I don't answer because I'm not picking up the phone right now." "I'm not taking voicemail because my mailbox is full." "Why? Because I was a bad boy and Santa Claus is punishing me."

If these don't work, blame me. "I don't answer because this podcast guy said not to, and I always do what the little voices tell me." If they persist, widen your eyes, frown slightly, and say, "Wait... The little voices are telling me something right now..."

They're probably suggesting you review the episode on saying "No."  It will serve you well. So challenge your myth and avoid years of therapy. Taking back your power—you can turn off your phone or voicemail. If they want to reach you, let them know your constraints—no interruptions, no voicemail—and work together to find a way that works for you both. You don't need to explain, just state your position firmly and courteously and get on with your day.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!


- http://tinyurl.com/2qg3mm, the Honest "No" episode

- http://tinyurl.com/6b5arf, the role plays and interview on Honest No with guest Byron Katie

Annoyed Man on Phone image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.