Where Has Telephone Etiquette Gone?

Part of my job description at the newspaper is answering the telephone calls that come in after hours. This includes fielding calls about classified ads, subscriptions, missing newspapers and taking messages for people I've only spoken to a handful of times. You know, things that I know nothing about and have no information to provide to these people.

But the worst is when the person calling is frustrated, put-out or even angry with whatever situation they're in. I understand the frustration of not receiving your paper this morning, especially when you've already called twice today. I have empathy for someone who has already left half a dozen messages and just wants to talk to a real person. And I feel for the people who work all day and can't call in until they get home - after the time our front office has already closed.

But the biggest difference between having an issue treated with respect and being given the run-around can be your own attitude. Telephone ettiquette and old-fashioned politeness go a long way to having someone deal with your questions and problems effectively and efficiently.

* Identify yourself at the beginning of the call. This week a man called and asked me who called him. I had no idea who he was, where he was calling from or why someone had called him to begin with. He was truly offended that I was in the dark about everything and ended up hanging up on me. I would have handled his need immediately if I had know who he was and who he needed.

* Please understand that the first person you talk to may have no control of your particular situation. When people call after hours at our newspaper, the only people still there are reporters, editors and pressmen. But many, many people they can call at all hours of the day and night and place an ad ... or have their paper stopped ... or submit items for the calendar. Just because I transfer someone to another person or voicemail doesn't mean that I don't care. It means that I have no power over this particular situation.

* Your attitude and tone of voice deeply affect the person you're talking to. I could be having the best day ever, but one phone call from someone rude can wreck it completely. Or if I'm already having a bad day, that impatient, angry caller can make it even worse. While it may be a complicated, frustrating situation, the way you handle it as the caller can make all the difference in someone else's day.

* It's true that you can catch more flies with honey - if what you really want are flies. While I'm not proud to admit it, I am much more apt to be as quick and curteous as I can be when someone calls and treats me with kindness and respect. I try to be that way with everyone, but it's easier when it's a two-way street.

When I go to work each day, I get myself prayed up about being exactly what the people who call our place of business need at that moment. I also pray that they'll be warm and receptive to whatever I need to do to handle their needs. If that person happens to be you, I hope I can help.

I'm not just answering phones at night, I'm also writing stories, laying out pages, editing photos and proofing copy. I'm happy to stop talk with you and hel

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