Pause and reflect: Are you doing voice notes right?

There are probably some lurking in your inbox, waiting to be heard. Voice notes are suddenly everywhere. For Gen-Z, they’re the new text. They’re popular with seniors, because they’re so much easier than typing.

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They’re a time-saver, and a way to get a complex message across accurately. Paralinguistic cues such as intonation, tone and mood are far more effectively conveyed in voice than in text.

In a full-circle moment, most members of Gen-Z equate a ringing phone with an emergency. This is how it was when the telephone was first introduced in homes. Voice messages are considered an easy compromise, when something is too complicated for a text message, but not urgent enough for a call (and very little is considered urgent enough for a call today).

What the voice note is not — or shouldn’t be — is a personal podcast. What did you have for lunch? How did you make it? What does the rest of your day look like? These are the kinds of details that have recipients skipping forward, listening on 2x, or pausing the conversation altogether. Are you doing voice notes right? Here are some key dos and don’ts.

Always a trickle, never a flood: Try to limit your notes to one point of discussion, and one question or fewer per note. Avoid intricate details and long rants. The listener should not have to struggle to keep up, stay tuned, or respond.

Read the room: “Steer clear of having professional conversations over voice notes,” says soft-skills educator and etiquette consultant Seema Puri. “Written communication is still a more polite and widely accepted approach, by far.” Consider voice notes the new friends and family plan.

Pick the setting. Your convenience isn’t the only parameter. If there’s music blaring, a train announcer speaking, traffic and chaos, wait. The ideal voice note is brief and collaborative. What does the person listening really need to know right now? Why are you reaching out? What exactly do you need from them?

Keep it clean. Not everyone has the time or patience to fish out the earphones every time. Make sure your voice notes can be listened to in a public setting. Meanwhile, listeners, take the trouble to fish out the earplugs if it’s going to be more than 10 seconds. No one wants to hear about the new shoes, revised evening plan, or the argument you two are still in the midst of.

Respond. A voice-note exchange is meant to be quick. A voice or text message is expected in response. Avoid responding with a call, says Puri. If a person has sent a voice note, it indicates that they prefer anything over a call.

Don’t chatter on every platform. With the feature now built into apps that range from WhatsApp and iMessage to Telegram, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Bumble and Hinge, it can become exhausting to keep up. Use the platform favoured by the recipient; keep to one platform per person.

Join the crowd. “I don’t like voice notes” is the new “I don’t need a smartphone.” Don’t be that person.

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