A Game-Changing Conversation: Why You Really Need to Return That Call

I heard from XXXX last week. Yes, I talked to him last week also, and he told me you did not return his call.”

Like a lot of you, I have friends who are still clawing back from the near economic collapse. During that era, I was in the publishing business which was (and still is) being decimated by the digital era.

Business disruptors have this effect on industry. A lot of people get thrown overboard as companies try to find the rudder to steady the ship.

And those people are our friends, families and co-workers. Some of us, on the other hand, were a bit more nimble and able to hang on, and like an acrobat, landed at the right spot at the right time. We could also have been among the ones that faltered, but we were able to brush ourselves off and get back on track.

Life is a two-way street

This post is dedicated to both. Last week was a tough one for me. One of my dear friends from my days at Martha Stewart died.

We toiled there for years and we rode the roller coaster to career success, both of us getting to the vice presidential level. He was a fellow executive who was there when I got there, and he was still there when I decided to leap off that fast-moving train.

After years of layoffs, he was finally shown the door.

He was like of lot of workers. You see the turmoil around you and you never give thought that one day you could arrive and be “ambushed” too. Just like that, you are out of a job.

My friend had never updated his resume, never gave a thought to next step, never had a career plan. The problem with this approach is that searching for a job today is 180 degrees different than it used to be “back in the day.”

When he lost his job, we did lunch, we did breakfast, we talked, I mentored, I coached, and we stayed connected. I always took his calls at any time of the day or night, and I made sure that I always called back.

This was not special treatment for him; it is the way I try to live my life. Someone mentioned to me last week that “you are HR 100 percent of the time.” I took that as a badge of honor.

Are you an ignorer?

My problem is that right now, and probably over the last few years, some of you have also received calls, emails, and request from people like my friend. I have even reached out to people on behalf of other professionals and not gotten a response. My question is, what happened to us?

We hear it in their voices, we read the body language and the confidence they wore like a suit of armor that is now in shreds, and yet we ignore the calls, we duck, we do not respond, we don’t even say “there is nothing I can do.” We get a call for help and we keep life on cruise control, mindlessly headed to our next destination. Some of us just do not want to get involved.

 123RF Stock Photo
123RF Stock Photo

My friend committed suicide because he could not find a job despite being immensely qualified, like so many others.

He had reached out to so many people, but the difference of a few years was such that now, no one would return his calls. He was longer the VP. He had always been there for people, and he just could not understand why now they were not there for him.

When you are hot, everyone will return your call. When you are on top, emails are returned and are at the top of the pile. You think nothing of it because you are on top of the world.

But the problem is that when that crumbles, all the dynamics change. The people that would gladly collaborate with you are now so busy that can’t return the phone call or respond to the message. That complete change in dynamics is hard for the fallen to understand.

By your choice or no choice

My issue is that regardless of your career height, you can also be brought down at the snap of a finger. Think of it this way:  you job and level is only temporary. You will probably not retire there, and you will not be there forever. Those are the NEW career dynamics.

This is why it behooves all of us to help wherever we can: coffee, lunch, email, phone call, or whatever you can do. That friend who always calls would be uplifted if you would just take the time to call them once in a while rather than having them call you all the time.

Better still, why not just acknowledge the messages they have left for you rather than making them having to keep on calling until they get an answer?

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We all have friends who are like this. We know they are very busy, and we know they are on our side. We also know that they’re very busy and are not ignoring us for some negative reason. They are being uncommunicative simply because they’re pressed for time, which is why it’s not necessary to take it too personally.

Are you really that busy?

However, sometimes it’s a little hard not to get a little frustrated. We all have busy lives. I am constantly running from one place to another, stressed out over trying to get everything done, with very little time left for myself. We can all be somewhat guilty of this, and we can all fail to return phone calls at times due to being in a harried state of mind.

But even in those cases, when we get a message from someone asking us to call them, we can’t even find five minutes to do so?

There are multiple platforms to get back to them: text, email, Facebook, LinkedIn, or others for acknowledging that you did actually receive the message and will schedule a time to follow up. That is what you would do with a customer or some other “important” individual. You would never leave them hanging.

Whether you admit it or not, we are all in this together. We have to stay in touch. We have to follow-up with our friends

My good friend George committed suicide. He was profoundly depressed. One of the things that he would always bring up was that the peers he knew as he climbed the ladder, the ones that had him on speed dial, would not return his calls and emails when he most needed it. He just could not understand that.

Nobody is THAT busy

I knew what my late friend George spoke of because I have heard the same story from numerous people in the same situation. But, I always want to believe that we, as humans, are better than this. We need to rethink our lives and our connections to the people in it.

Regardless of your current station in life, nobody is too busy to NOT return a phone call. Nobody is too busy to NOT pick up the phone to brighten someone’s day.

It is not like we do not know who needs us. We know them, we have their number, and we have all of their contact information.

Have you ever called someone out of the blue and noticed how happy they were to hear from you? Well that shows that connecting is a two-way street. When we give, we get back.

So next time that number pops up and you are tempted to ignore it, or that email comes in and you glance at it and move on, DON’T.

This could be a game-changing conversation that would not only help the person on the other end, but also makes us better human beings.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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2 Comments on “A Game-Changing Conversation: Why You Really Need to Return That Call

  1. Wow. I’m very glad I read this post. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I’m sorry for your loss, and I thank you for sharing your thoughts about it. It’s sad, the way we sometimes treat each other. I wrote a post about the same idea, which wasn’t prompted by somber events so much as my own mystification about what I perceive as a marked lack of professional courtesy. You’re absolutely correct to point out that job titles and responsibilities are passing. And while you would never wish for someone to experience a dramatic “fall from grace,” on the other hand sometimes you have to experience it to develop compassion for others who later find themselves in the same boat. May your friend rest in peace. http://crystalspraggins.blogspot.com/2013/06/may-i-help-you-oh-screw-it.html

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for reminding all of us to be there for one another – this is so important no matter how busy we think we are.

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