A few weeks ago, I met an individual (let’s call him Gary) at a conference where I was speaking. Gary wanted to learn more about the topic on which I spoke and we and committed to being in touch. We traded voicemails a number of times before actually connecting. One of his voicemails came in at 7:00 pm on a Friday evening. When my phone rang at that hour, I assumed it was an accidental dial – a butt dial, if you will. I let it go to voicemail since it was after hours and I was not working.
Imagine my surprise when I listened to that voicemail on Monday morning: Indeed it was a butt-dial and the message in my voicemail lasted a full two and a half minutes (the limit before my voicemail hangs up). In those two and a half minutes, I learned that Gary had at least two children, I learned how he spoke to his children when he thought no one was listening and generally what he’s like away from the office.
Most of what I heard was Gary interacting with one of his children in a gruff voice: “Put your sister down.” Pause. “Do not pick up your sister.” Pause. Now, loudly: “How many times do I have to tell you to NOT pick up your sister? It’s against the rules. Stop it!”
Although much of what I heard Gary say has been said in my house, too, hearing it from a new connection in my network permanently shaped my impression of him. I listened with equal parts empathy and horror. Empathy because I know that parenting situation and others like it all too well. Horror because his communication behavior was shocking in comparison to the positive first impression he’d made on me at the conference.
All was not lost in this inadvertent peek in on his parenting. I gained more compassion for him. Gary now shows up to me as a multi-dimensional person, one who is at once balancing the demands of his career while raising a family – not unlike myself.
Usually such intimate knowledge is disclosed intentionally and slowly over time as trust grows in a relationship. In this case, the disclosure was unintentional, unknown to the sender, and undoable. I cannot unhear what I heard on that voicemail. It left an indelible impression on me.
July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month, and while its intended purpose is to raise awareness around being courteous in public while using mobile phones, we can take that one step further and be courteous about butt dials, mis-dials and texts sent to the wrong people.
The next time you are about to put your phone in your purse or your pocket, lock it down – it could save your butt – from making a butt dial.