Experience is the best instructor, and she teaches her lessons the easy way — through other people’s experience; or she teaches her lessons the hard way — through our own experience. Experience being defined as something we really needed moments before we got it.

The other day I learned several lessons the hard way. I was advising a student when the telephone rang and demanded with its vociferous noise that I stop paying attention to my face-to-face student and listen to the person at the other end of the phone. Now I’ve been taught to always answer the phone within four rings so, like a well-trained dog who salivates when the bell rings, I reached toward my phone and insincerely asked if my student would mind if I answered it. Imagine my surprise when she said yes! Like a deer caught in headlights I froze.

The teacher became the student. The student became the teacher and taught me a valuable lesson the hard way. After I stammered out a pitiful “OK” and “I’m sorry,” she pointed out that my answering the phone was essentially saying to her “I do not have a clue who this is, but they are obviously more important than you!” To make matters worse I had call waiting which allows the interruption to be interrupted. The student was right, this teacher was wrong, and now calls go to voicemail if I’m talking to a human face-to-face. Call waiting, isn’t, anymore.

Lesson #2 which I also learned the hard way was from a voicemail caller that told me my message was too long. This student turned teacher, reminded the teacher turned student that most people have talked to voicemail before and that I could shorten my message to within 10 seconds and preferably five seconds if I didn’t waste time explaining how voicemail worked … Lesson learned. If anyone hits my voicemail now, they have just enough time to gulp some air before my greeting is done and they get to talk. Now that I no longer answer the phone when I am with a person in my office more messages are ending up on my voicemail.

I am getting old and feeble and I can no longer write as fast as most people can talk. We old guys would be most grateful if callers would slow down when they get to the return phone number part of the message and repeat name and phone number twice slowly. Someday they will invent a skip back button for voicemail, but for now, if we miss a name or number the first time, we get to listen to the whole message again… especially painful if the missing name or number is at the end of the message.

Lesson #3 was the most painful experience. I returned a call and must have jabbered on for five or six minutes before my friend said “Charlie, this really is not a good time to talk!” Oh, brother. He taught me to always ask right up front “Am I calling at an OK time?” Modern communications tools are wonderful, but this teacher is ready to experience life’s lessons on using them — the easy way.

Charlie Dexter is a professor of applied business emeritus at the UAF Community and Technical College. He can be reached at cndexter@alaska.edu. This column is brought to you as a public service by the UAF Department of Applied Business.

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