Do I really mean what I say?

I called up a business acquaintance and he said ‘Can I call you in an hour’s time?’. After many days and weeks, I am still waiting to hear from him. Perhaps the appointed hour has not come up so far. This is not an isolated event at all. Far from it, it has become so common that when one hears this phrase, he can automatically conclude that he has to follow-up after some time if he wants any useful response.

Why do people do this so routinely ? Are they so preoccupied all the time that it slips their memory ? Or is that an expression of saying ‘I do not want to call you but I can’t say so’ ? Or is it a manifestation of that major epidemic popularly known as Procrastination ? Or was it a phrase used without any intention ? or are they testing the persistence of the caller ?

The more I think about it, I am more inclined to favour the second reason which is ‘I do not want to say No’. Many books have been written on the subject of not being able to say No. But in such cases, the persons who are unable to say No are doing a great disservice to those who are calling them. Because they do not say No, the ones calling them assume that they are going to say Yes and intensify their contact even further. Had they first said No, then the callers would have focused their efforts on finding those who might say Yes. Thus everyone is a loser. Those called feel harassed while those who call opine, rightly so, that their time is being wasted.

But then why do these people refuse to say No and keep telling ‘I will call you next week or call me tomorrow’ ? There is perhaps a small minority which likes being chased and even feel important but the vast majority dislikes saying No because they have no real reason to say No. They have not examined the proposition seriously enough to understand its merit (or the lack of it) and so if they say No, the caller might ask them ‘Why not?’ and they would have no real answer. By saying ‘I will call you’, they think they have accomplished two feats one of keeping the other person away temporarily and also give the impression that while they are busy and important they are very polite and secretly hope that the caller will give up the attempt.

How to handle such ‘busy’ people ? By asking them straight ‘Is there is going to be some major development within the next one hour’ or ‘What do you expect to tell me when you call me after one hour?’ or ‘If I do not hear from you within the next 2 hours, can I call you?’ or make it easier for the person by asking ‘Are you serious about the proposal?’ or any variant of the above. But this is easier said than done because all callers hang on (no pun intended) to a very slender hope that they will get a positive response and do not want to antagonize the person at any cost.

There are some, who run out of such excuses, do not take the call or cut the call without speaking. Modern devices like caller id identification makes it easier for this purpose but then some persistent callers call from a different phone and try to catch the persons unawares. Even the attitude of let us give the other person a long rope does not yield the desired results. I am reminded of the story where a person found an old laundry receipt while cleaning his house and took it to claim the clothes. Although the bill was a few years old, the laundry man took one look at it and said ‘please come next Tuesday and you can check’. Likewise, even if one tries after giving sufficient time, there is a high possibility that the caller will say ‘Look! I am now in a meeting. Can I call you at this number within an hour’ and the story is back to square one.

The best way in my opinion to handle this is to give the benefit of doubt to the person a couple of times at best and then either confront with a direct question or leave the person to seek better pastures. That is a more intelligent way of using one’s own time and resources. Persistence is not a virtue and one has no chance of converting a person’s mind merely by a rigorous follow-up.


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