“Please leave a message after the tone” is the familiar greeting for many callers readying themselves to leave an often rambling voicemail.
It may be a thing of the past, however, as etiquette bible Debrett’s has advised people to hang up and send a text message instead of leaving a voicemail because of their tendency to meander and become incoherent.
In its “10 commandments of mobile etiquette”, an update on a previous release, it says that if your call is unanswered, you should message rather than waiting for the beep.
The behavioural bible later caveats this rule by saying that older generations are likely to leave voicemails and that they should be “cut some slack” by younger people “because they find texting … hard work”.
The guidance comes amid a rise in popularity of leaving voice notes on WhatsApp. They offer the opportunity to leave a voicemail without having to sit through the preamble, and the perilous risk that the recipient might answer first. Debrett’s says that they, too, are “onerous”.
It says: “If you do make a call that is unanswered, send a brief, explanatory text. Many phone-users find voicemails and voice notes onerous (though of course, this is a matter of taste), but in general the insistence these days is on pithy, economical communications, and rambling voices messages, which are often only semi-audible and frequently incoherent, can cause a great deal of confusion.”
Other suggestions address the stress that may arise from making and receiving phone calls. The guide suggests texting before ringing to minimise intrusion and not to expect unannounced social calls to be answered, warning that people often fear unexpected calls may yield bad news.
They also caution that repeatedly hitting the redial button may “raise your recipient’s blood pressure” and that it is an “unjustified intrusion”.
In the event that you do get through, Debrett’s advises concentrating on the call and not to try multitasking at the same time. “This can be very alienating for the recipient, who feels marginalised and deprioritised.”
The guide begins with a reference to the changing nature of phone usage, how once a phone had “pride of place” in a hall or study, and everyone would rush to answer it when it rang.
“Not answering the phone was seen as deeply eccentric and everybody learnt to jump to its strident summons,” it says. “We’ve become increasingly wary of what was once considered to be their primary function. Answering the phone is entirely a matter of choice and much of the time is considered beyond the pale.”
It is an update on guidance issued in 2011, which also showed the changing nature of phone habits at the time. More than a decade ago, Debrett’s first piece of advice was to consider what a ringtone says about you and to be sparing with the vibrate function – something that has gone by the wayside as most mobile phones are now permanently set to silent.
The new guide says calls must be kept to yourself, with earphones used for video calls. It goes on to point out that in some situations, picking up the phone to hear someone’s voice is the only option, rather than tapping a few words into your mobile. “A message of condolence will be much more appreciated if you pick up the phone and allow your voice to transmit sympathy.
“Texts are an admirably economical way of communicating, but they are not good when it comes to nuance.”