When you pick up a ringing telephone, you assume an important obligation—the obligation of communication. It doesn’t matter whether your title is receptionist or CEO, fulfilling that obligation means taking a message. Perhaps it will be a message for yourself, so that you can return the call at a more convenient time or when you have more complete information. More likely, it will be a message for someone else. When that is the case, both the caller and the intended recipient depend on you to gather correct and complete information.

A good friend recently had a medical emergency that put him in intensive care. More than a bit “out of it,” Tommy Polk couldn’t stop worrying that he would lose his job for missing ...

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