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Phone tag

What is the meaning of a phone tag?

It’s safe to say that all of us have experienced some confusion, even possible annoyance when trying to get hold of a person via phone. You’re trying to contact somebody for a period of time and you’re just unable to get through to them. And when they finally get your messages and discover unsuccessful calls, they, in turn, aren’t able to call you back.

This situation, or rather a phenomenon is referred to as phone tag. It is a common occurrence when two people are unable to get hold of one another on the phone.

This term was coined back in the 1980s when answering machines used to be all the hype. People tried to call each other’s landlines only to receive a prerecorded message from the machine.

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Today, not many people use this slightly outdated technology, but the game of phone tag is still very much a thing.

Why does a game of phone tag occur?

Participating in phone tag can come about both unintentionally and intentionally. In the first case, it can be written off as a simple misunderstanding, a scheduling issue, a time difference, or just two busy people not being able to get hold of each other.

However, you can be a part of the phone tag intentionally as well. Sometimes, people avoid calls with certain individuals. After all, it is easier to leave a message on an answering machine or a voice mail than to have a real-time conversation.

No matter the reasons, if you play phone tag for an extended period of time, it is considered bad phone etiquette.

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How to avoid playing phone tag?

Generally, if a phone tag is a result of some kind of conflict when one party refuses to talk to the other one, there is very little you can do.

However, when you find yourself not being able to reach a person based on outside factors, there are a few things you can do to stop the phone tag:

  • adhere to the phone etiquette – if both parties received two voice messages, the person that received the latest message can stop the phone tag by simply not calling back
  • schedule your calls – treat the phone calls like appointment times that you must attend
  • leave a detailed message – inform the other party when exactly you will be available if they still want to talk to you
  • use other means of communication – some brief conversations can be held via email or instant messaging instead of direct phone calls

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Frequently asked questions

What's the definition of a phone tag?

A phone tag is an occurrence when two parties can’t reach each other on the phone. They keep trying to call but it results in a number of missed calls or voice messages.

How do you play a phone tag?

You can participate in a phone tag by continually missing calls and then calling back only to have your calls missed. Both parties can do this deliberately or by accident.

How do I stop playing phone tags?

You can make sure you are complying with common phone etiquette. Furthermore, you can better schedule and organize your calls or you can simply write an email or an instant message if a direct conversation is not necessary.

How to avoid phone tag and actually talk to the person?

Schedule your phone calls and then be careful to answer when you agreed to do so. Be specific about the time when you’re going to speak to one another.

How to win a phone tag game?

You can win games of phone tag by getting through to the person you are trying to contact. Find some helpful tips on how to do this in the article above or in the FAQ under “How do I stop playing phone tags?”.

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