Sage Advice: A "Catch-Up" Phone Call Goes Unreturned

By Amy Dickinson | October 23rd, 2019

Is the caller owed a follow-up call?


Phone call goes unreturned Image

Dear Amy: I like to reach out to former co-workers, former bosses, and former acquaintances from time to time to keep in touch so as not to lose a possible connection.

Sometimes the conversation is lovely and it’s nice to hear about a person’s life once or twice a year. I am genuinely happy when I get to hear about other people’s successes. However, about a third of the time, I never hear back.

It’s hard to know why some people don’t respond. I’ve been told in the past that I can rub people the wrong way, and I have reached out to a few people expressly to apologize for professional disagreements we had previously. I let go of past personal and professional problems very quickly because life is too short to hold grudges.

Amy, I don’t understand the satisfaction somebody gets over ignoring these quick “How’re you doing” messages.

If someone is angry or thinks I’m a terrible person, why can’t they just tell me?

It would take five seconds to say, “I don’t think we really got along, and I wasn’t very fond of you as a co-worker.” I would just respond, “I’m sorry you feel that way” and then remove that person permanently from my Rolodex. Piece of cake! Instead, I imagine they just delete my email or text without reading it just because my name is attached.

Do you have any suggestions? Should I be more persistent until I get some sort of a response?

– Dis-Connecting

Dear Dis-Connecting: You are making a choice to contact people, unsolicited. This does not obligate them to answer in any particular way.

Your insistence that people are obligated to respond honestly – even if they think you are a terrible person – is putting the burden on someone whose only crime is to be in your Rolodex. Maybe they don’t think you are a terrible person, but they just don’t feel like corresponding with you. Maybe they do think you are a terrible person, but are too polite (or intimidated) to say so.

You should not take this silence personally; you should accept it for what it is: a social cue.

Please, do NOT respond to silence with more persistence. In social interactions, most often you should try to mirror the behavior of the other person. If you know you have the correct contact information and reach out a couple of times and don’t get a response, then yes – you should remove the person from your contact list.


In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2019 by Amy Dickinson

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