Q: I often hear people say on their outgoing work voicemail messages, “I will call you back at my earliest convenience.” It rubs me the wrong way. I think the intention is to convey “as soon as I can.” But with the word choice “convenience,” it conveys more of “When I’m ready without regard to your needs.” Am I being persnickety? I would really appreciate knowing your thoughts.
A. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines persnickety this way: a) fussy about small details. b) having the characteristics of a snob. While I don’t think your reaction is snobbish, it could be characterized as focused on small details.
Many of the questions I receive are either issues in which one person is frustrated by another’s idiosyncrasies, or misunderstandings that mushroom into big issues because the meaning of people’s words is unclear.
“At my earliest convenience” probably isn’t the best word choice. You are right that it conveys a message of, “When I’m ready regardless of your needs.”
But I doubt the writer meant it in an intentionally demeaning, or selfish way. It was probably just the automatic obverse to “Please call me back at your earliest convenience.” So I recommend assigning it the meaning “I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” It will become one less small detail to distract you.
In business it becomes very important to decide which issues you are going to bring up and which ones you are going to let slide. Certainly, taking everyone to task for every small thing they do that you don’t like isn’t the way to build good work relationships. If we did hold people accountable for all those small annoyances, we would quickly become known as “The Complainer.”
The workplace is a perfect environment for letting small details escalate into big problems. After all, you probably spend more waking time at work than you do with your significant other, family, or friends. You’re meant to get along with people you really might not want to associate with and who do lots of little things that annoy you, like leaving a voicemail message saying “at my convenience.”
When it happens next, and it will, it’s OK to be frustrated. Just remember it’s also OK to let it go.