At Your Earliest Convenience
In the spectrum of faux pas, pet peeve, and taboo, this grammatical goof may not qualify as a gross infraction, but it does deserve a quick glance to define what is - and what is not - acceptable in business language.
This particular voicemail mishap has been mistakenly employed, most likely in a completely benign manner, but with increasingly greater frequency, such that a closer examination of its use is valid.
There are, as we all know, general rules of phone and voicemail communication that are generally accepted and some that are generally not accepted. Some of these rules are oftentimes left to chance and personal definition. This particular one deserves a more clear definition of what is and is not acceptable.
Well-meaning business professionals – especially those that utilize voicemail and leave messages in volume – may want to examine this particular phrase with me:
At Your Earliest Convenience
It’s a phrase that seems to be completely harmless, but when used in a slightly different manner can imply a completely different meaning. And, yes, as always with certain points of language, it’s kind of hard to explain!
So, let’s have a look…
Leaving a voicemail MESSAGE to get back to me “at YOUR earliest convenience”
Rule: Very Acceptable…Good
Say I decide to call someone (someone named John let’s say), and I dial the number and get voicemail. John’s voicemail engages and I decide to leave him a message requesting that he call me back.
My message on John’s voicemail might sound like this:
“Hi, John, this is Perrin Peacock calling. I was calling to talk to you about our new $99/month pricing on Openreq, the first and only full-service job board catering to recruiter jobs, staffing jobs, and other jobs in recruiting for staffing firms and corporate recruiting departments. Please call me back at YOUR earliest convenience. You can reach me at 614-329-4722.”
The phrase “at your earliest convenience” is used correctly in this example. In essence, I’m requesting that John call me back at his earliest convenience. Specifically, I’m politely requesting a return phone call and I’m saying for him to do it when it’s convenient for him.
This is a polite, considerate, and respectful request. I’m asking for John to call me back and I’m adding that he do it whenever it’s convenient for him. Or, really, I’m saying for him call me back when he can make time for it.
No problem here. This is very acceptable.
Leaving a Voicemail GREETING utilizing “at MY earliest convenience”
Rule: NOT Acceptable…BAD
Let’s say John decides to change his voicemail GREETING. And the voicemail message he just heard me leave was stuck in his head. He figures he can just modify the phrase “at YOUR earliest convenience,” and change it ever so slightly to: “at MY earliest convenience.”
It is very acceptable for me to leave a voicemail MESSAGE for John asking him: “Hey John, please return my call at YOUR earliest convenience.”
However, it’s NOT ok for John to modify that phrase (most often in a voicemail GREETING) to “at MY earliest convenience.”
Here’s where the problems begin…
John proceeds to record this voicemail GREETING:
“Hello, you have reached John. I am unavailable to take your call. Please leave a message and I will get back to you at MY earliest convenience.”
WRONG!!! (Loud game-show buzzers should be going off in the background).
WRONG, WRONG, double WRONG!
John, buddy, you can’t do that!
By recording a greeting on voicemail that uses “at MY earliest convenience” John has unknowingly thumbed his nose at all of his callers that heard his recorded greeting.
Look at it closely. If you use the phrase “at MY earliest convenience,” on your voicemail GREETING, you are telling your callers that you will call them back “at MY earliest CONVENIENCE.” That means you’ve said to them in effect…
“I’ll call you back when it’s CONVENIENT for ME.”
“When I’m good and ready.”
“Whenever I feel like it.”
John may as well have recorded this voicemail GREETING:
“Hello, you have reached John. I am unavailable to take your call. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you whenever I feel like it…whenever it works for me…whenever it’s convenient for me. You know…at MY earliest CONVENIENCE.”
John, say it isn’t so! We thought you were such a good guy!
John would do better to keep it simple with regard to recorded voicemail greetings. He would do just fine with this very appropriate voicemail GREETING:
“Hello, you have reached John. I am unavailable to take your call, but your call is very important to me. Please leave a message and I will get back with you as soon as possible.”
In summary, we should clearly continue to employ the well-meaning and very acceptable “at YOUR earliest convenience” in business language, specifically messages that we leave on voicemails every day in large volume.
Conversely, we should just dump “at MY earliest convenience” altogether. As far as I can see, there is no good way to use that phrase in polite and respectful business conversation, messages, greetings, etc.
With that, we can bring this linguistic exploration to an end. Hopefully, some of you have enjoyed this little grammatical guide into the language of acceptable and not-so-acceptable business voicemail vernacular.
If you have comments or commentary, I would humbly entertain them all.
I hope to hear from you...at your earliest convenience.
800-231-4722 Ext 1
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