Telephone Etiquette in a Smart Phone Age

472653365Once upon a time we were shown a vision of the future in popular culture that featured amazing gadgetry which would revolutionize the way we communicated. The visionaries portrayed a world where the wrist watch would be transformed into the ultimate tool of modern life. Of course, this did not come to pass (although Apple did its best to try to kick start an on-wrist revolution).

Instead, it is the phone that has become the conduit for taking communication and technological innovation to the next level. Who saw that coming?

Go back to a time before the smart phone (or even before the cordless phone became a de rigeur household item) and the telephone represented something else entirely. It was an extension of the household or the business, an essential and revered portal into the outside world that commanded a clearly defined protocol of use.

For anyone who was born in Britain before the 1990s, telephone etiquette was drummed into them along with essential skills like table manners and respectfully talking to your elders! Nobody just answered the phone and said ‘hello’. There was an elaborate dance that would begin with picking up the receiver and announcing yourself with your own telephone number (household) or a description of the institution (work) and a polite enquiry as to how the caller may be helped. Everyone had a ‘telephone voice’ (which often meant playing a ‘posher’ version of yourself).

Yes it seems antiquated, the peculiarities of a bygone era, but is there such a thing as telephone etiquette now? The older generations, from baby boomers to Generation X and Y’ers, retain at least a notion of how they should use a phone, but for Millenials and the generations that have followed there appears to be an extreme etiquette gap. The following tips may seem like common sense but are far too frequently neglected in this smart phone age.

3 Tips for Basic Phone Etiquette

1) Be polite: Ok, so if your screen flashes up with Footy Dazza as your caller ID, feel free to launch into a stream of unfettered banter. However, if the number is new, treat with caution and answer with casual politeness. Adopt a neutral tone and answer with a measured ‘hello?’ and refrain from sounding as if the call is an inconvenience. Sounding interested will endear you to your caller.

2) Give your full attention: The problem with a smart phone is that it is always by your side and just a brush of the fingertips away from being answered. This means that compulsively we will reach for it, even if the time may not be appropriate. Ever had a slightly echoey conversation and come off the phone wondering if you’ve just been talking to someone sat on a porcelain throne? More frustrating is having a phone call with someone who is clearly distracted by an Excel spreadsheet or an email. However, by far the worst sin is having your caller continue with an off-phone conversation (often causing extreme confusion by not even bothering to tell you that they’re having another conversation). In short, stop what you’re doing and give your full attention to the phone call!

3) Be a good listener: If someone is calling you then treat them like a guest. Indulge them, hear what they have to say and resist the temptation to interrupt. It is not only impolite but downright rude.

The Importance of Working the Phone

On the flipside, working the phone is a great skill. While business is increasingly dominated by email communiqué, picking up the phone and talking to a person brings great advantages. Confusion can be cleared up very quickly (the same cannot be said for cc’d email chains), conversations will throw up more points and personal interaction builds bonds – many successful working partnerships are built up with people you’ve never met but have a telephone relationship with.
That lump of shiny tech you hold in your hand may be a very many things to you, but don’t forget that for everything ‘smart’ about it, it remains a telephone and its power as just that should never be underestimated…

Luan de Burgh

October 2016

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.