Saturday, July 4, 2015

Digital dilemmas: ‘Is it rude to return a phone call with a text?’

A phone call requires a return phone call. A text deserves a text.
A phone call requires a return phone call. A text deserves a text.

Dear Mr. Manners: Last week my boyfriend and I hit a rough spot in our relationship and I really wanted to talk with my closest friend, whom I’ll call “Louise.” I phoned but she didn’t pick up. And then she didn’t call back, even though I said in a voicemail that it was “important.” Instead, the next morning (the next morning!) Louise texted me: “Everything OK? Let’s talk.” My question is this: Isn’t it bad manners to return a phone call with a text? — Waitin’ on a Friend

Jeez, this is your best friend? I’m sorry, and I agree with you that she should have called back. Protocol suggests you return any message via the same medium in which it was sent. A phone call requires a return phone call. A text deserves a text.

That doesn’t mean that if your friend is indisposed, she can’t email or text a quick message to explain her delay. (By the way, I really like the “auto-respond” feature on the iPhone, which allows me to fake-answer an incoming call with a pre-set message like, “Can’t talk nowwill call you right back,” or one that you customize yourself.) But a phone call still needs to be returned, and in a prompt manner, which I would say is within 24 hours for non-911 situations.

What many people do nowadays is schedule a “phone date,” rather than expecting friends to be available on a dime, without notice. The days of telephone spontaneity are fading fast; I find myself texting friends ahead of time to see when they’re available to talk. As the old AT&T slogan goes, sometimes we actually need “to reach out and touch someone.” By reaching out in a time of need via telephone, you definitely deserved a proper reply, whether scheduled or not.

Do you agree or disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments!

Every Wednesday, Steven Petrow, the author of five etiquette books, and the forthcoming “Mind Your Digital Manners,” addresses questions about digital etiquette.

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Steven Petrow
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