Telephone Etiquette 101 - Back To Basics

When was the last time you actually used your phone to make a phone call? And no, texts and tweets don't count. Go back to the most recent time that you dialed numbers, waited for a "hello" and then had a voice-to-voice conversation with someone. How far back did you have to go? This week? Last week? Sometime in the 21st century?

Technology is an amazingly wonderful thing, but it's far removed from common courtesy. I will admit that I find it easier to send a text and go about my business while I wait for an answer. It might sound lazy, but it's a simple way to multitask. However, it also takes the better part of an hour to text a conversation that would take two minutes if I had called. So it's a trade-off.

The other problem with all these electronic forms of communication is that we've lost the unwritten rules about how to hold a polite phone conversation. In two of my jobs, I'm required to spend time on the phone. I can't begin to tell you about the variety of people I've spoken to over the years - some who welcomed my call and others who have responded with anger and vulgarity.

Here's a quick refresher course for the next time you are actually on the phone, talking to people, verbally, in real time, with the handset to your ear.

If you're the caller:

* Give your name immediately. There's nothing worse than being on a phone call with a complete stranger and not even knowing their name.

* Explain who you are, where you're from and why you're calling next. If you try to engage someone in small talk right off the bat, they're likely to be on edge because they don't understand what your ultimate purpose is for calling.

* Smile while you talk. If you sound like this is the most boring or most uncomfortable thing you've done all day, you're sure to get a grouchy response in return. But if you smile into the receiver, your voice changes. Suddenly you can make the person you're calling know that you're excited about your purpose, too.

* Take no for an answer. Whether you're selling something, passing on information or asking for a response, there's a limit to your pushiness. It's ok to repeat yourself in a different way, but understand that no really does mean no in a lot of cases. If you push, you're more likely to leave a bitter taste in their mouths after you hang up.

* Get to the point. Unless it's someone you know very well on the other end of the line, they probably don't want to hear about what's going on with you. Ask your questions, answer theirs and then wrap it up. I have to do a lot of cold-calling, so whoever answers the phone doesn't know me from Adam. If I launch into a soliloquy about my personal life, I'm probably going to get rejected and hung up on.

* Wrap up your phone conversation with gratitude. Even if they said no, had to share something bad with you or didn't want to hear your whole message, remain as calm and polite as when you started. Thank them for their time and wish them a nice day. After all, you called them in the middle of whatever they were doing. They didn't have to answer the phone, but they did, and they found you there.

If you're answering the phone:

* Even if they've interrupted you, don't bring frustration to the phone with you. That caller has no idea what you're up to, so don't take it out on them.

* Remember that this person is doing their job. They probably didn't beg the boss to let them make the phone calls for the day. They're just following through with their job description. And it's possible that they don't really want to barge into your life this way, so it's best to be calm and gentle with them.

* You can smile and be excited, too. Manners and common courtesy work two ways - if you start out politely, they will, too. You can be a huge influence in a stranger's life by just being kind in a phone conversation.

* Don't lie. This may seem simple, but so many people tell me they're just walking out the door or just sitting down to dinner at odd hours of the day. Everyone has their own schedule, but if you receive a call in the middle of the afternoon, it's best not to make up a story about going places or doing things. It's perfectly acceptable to just say no or you're not interested.

* Hear the caller out before you respond. It's very likely that what they're saying means very little to you - I'm thinking of telemarketers here - but many callers are calling simply because they have information to pass on. If you cut them off, you may miss out on a deal, a sale, and exciting experience or an opportunity to help someone. You'd miss out if you hung up or got angry.

* Don't answer the phone if you can't talk right now. It's frustrating to have someone answer the phone and immediately say they can't talk right now because they're in a meeting or just sitting down to dinner. If you're not available for a conversation, just don't answer the phone. Let them leave a message and you can call them back if necessary. Caller ID was invented for a reason.

There are so many different personalities in the world, and it's a little nerve-wracking to make phone calls and not know who's going to pick up at the other end. Common courtesy and politeness can make having an actual, real live phone conversation that much more pleasant for all involved.

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