Hiltmon

On walkabout in life and technology

Phone Etiquette

We all spend a lot of time talking on the phone, and have been doing so for many years. It’s far beyond the right time to learn basic voice call etiquette, but here are some of the best practices I have come across.

See other articles in Etiquette, including Email Etiquette and US Dining Etiquette Failures.

Caller Etiquette

The caller should:

  • Enable their Caller ID. It lets the receiver know who is calling so they can choose to take a call or not. It is only fair to offer this choice as they are the one’s being interrupted. It also adds the call to the missed call list if not picked up, so the receiver knows you called and can choose to call back. If you disable Caller ID, it comes up as blocked or unknown caller, so expect most receivers to ignore your call and let it go to voicemail.
  • Only leave voicemails with strangers. The caller’s friends and colleagues will see the call in their missed calls list, and will know to call back. Leaving the awkward “Er, Hi, It’s Hilton, please call me back when you get this” is redundant and a waste of time to both leave and pick up. Callers should also not stay on the line long enough for the Voice Mail message to come up, the blank hangup voicemails are awful. There are many who say you should leave a voicemail when calling a landline, but do not do this. Modern landline phones have missed call lists too.
  • Send a text if the caller has a one line message for the recipient. Short calls are intrusive and an unnecessary interruption. And a voicemail with a “Hi, its Hilton, yes, please purchase 1000 widgets” is best sent via text.
  • Call if the text conversation gets longer than a few messages. This is known universally as the Hongo Rule. It takes more time to plan something or have a core conversation via text, best to go to voice and resolve it.
  • Start with a greeting. The caller should keep the greeting short enough to give the recipient time to establish who is on the other end and should never just jump into the conversation.
  • Introduce themselves unless they are friends or known colleagues. It is the caller’s responsibility to ensure the recipient knows exactly who is calling before jumping in to the conversation.
  • Establish the context for the call at the beginning. The receiver cannot read the caller’s mind as to why they are calling, so let the receiver know early. After greeting go with a “This is about getting together”, or “This call is about Project X”.
  • Get to the point of the call quickly. The “how are you”, weather and other rapport builders apply in only face to face conversations, and should never chew up time on direct or conference calls.
  • Keep calls brief as the receiver has other things to do. If the caller needs to a have longer conversation, then they should schedule a meeting or a coffee and have the conversation face to face. Or plan a conference call.
  • Let the phone ring at least 6 times (or until the jump to voicemail occurs). This gives the receiver time to put down what they are doing and come to the phone. Nothing is worse than to pick a call just as the caller hangs up. The caller should, however, hang up when the ringing tone changes to indicate a switch to voicemail so not leave a hangup voicemail.
  • If a mobile call is dropped, the caller should dial back again. It does not matter whose phone dropped the call or even if the caller thinks the conversation has ended when it dropped. The caller should always call back. As per below, a phone conversation only ends when the receiver ends it.
  • No matter the emotions, the caller should never ever hang up on the receiver. However, the receiver may hang up on the caller if being abused or scammed.
  • Follow the gremlins rule and never call after midnight or before 6 AM. Calls during the last watch are usually perceived to be bad news and freak the person out when they are awakened by the phone ringing.
  • If the call is urgent and the receiver does not pick up, call back a second time. Receivers assume that if the same call is made within a minute, it must be urgent and will excuse themselves and take the call. Do not attack dial a person unless it is urgent. Do not call more than twice, it’s enough and something else is probably preventing the receiver from answering.

Receiver Etiquette

The receiver of the call should:

  • Have the right to choose whether to take the call or not. The pavlovian response from the 1970’s and 1980’s that caused generally normal well balanced humans to jump up mid activity and rush to answer the phone is no longer applicable or acceptable.
  • Identify themselves on the phone if the caller is unknown or not personal friend. I was taught to say “Noverse, this is Hilton” as an answer for business calls, or “Hello, Hilton here” for personal. Even though the caller called you, it’s still best to let them know who they got through to, especially when taking calls from unrecognized caller id’s. For personal calls or recognized caller id’s, a “Hello Jeff” or “Hello mate” is a fine greeting.
  • Never leave a mobile phone to ring out. Hit the red cancel button or the mute button if the receiver cannot take the call. The ringing annoys those around you.
  • The receiver should always hang up first, never the caller. The caller called the receiver, and should to stay on the line until the receiver is satisfied that the call is complete.
  • Never take call in a meeting, theatre, conference, group conversation or other group activity where they are with real people. The flesh-and-blood folks in close proximity should have the receiver’s focus, not the phone.
  • Go to vibrate mode before meetings or movies, and should not have to be asked.
  • And never ever answer another person’s mobile phone. A receiver may take another call on a different office line. In that case, the receiver should identify themselves clearly and take a message. A mobile is personal and should remain inviolate.

Etiquette for Both Caller and Receiver

Both call participants should:

  • Focus on the call while it is happening. Multi-tasking is rude as hell, and quite dangerous if the other task is something like driving.
  • Remember that the call is voice only, so be sure to grunt acknowledgement or breathe so the other party knows you are still there. They cannot see you nodding or rolling your eyes so sub-vocalizations are recommended.
  • End calls with a goodbye greeting, not just hangup at the end of a sentence. They do this in the movies to shave seconds, do not do this in real life.
  • Be polite on the phone and remain civil, you are talking to real people with real emotions.
  • If you don’t get a response from the other party (either the call dropped, the call quality dropped or the other party hung up), a single polite “are you still there” is enough. Yelling “hello, hello, hello‚Ķ” or “Can you hear me now” is rude and unproductive. If you cannot hear the other party, ask once, then hang up. The caller should try again from better reception or to a different line. Or text an apology and reschedule the call.

Neither party should ever:

  • While on a call with someone, never take another call. That is insanely rude and disrespectful. Let the phone capture the caller’s id and call them back after finishing your current conversation. The only viable exception is if the interrupting caller calls back a second time within a minute. That usually indicates an emergency, and it’s acceptable to close the current call and take the new one.
  • Do not yell or even raise your voice on a call. Modern phone microphones are very sensitive and will pass on the tiniest nuances of your voice. Even if the background is loud, modern handsets have noise canceling features in which they eliminate most background noise (that your ears do not). And the rest of us don’t want to hear your call from 15m away, ever!
  • Do not hold the microphone on your earbuds to your mouth, or do the shuffle where you move phone from ear to mouth. More often than not, moving the microphone closer makes no difference to the voice quality, and increases the explosive pop sounds that make listening harder.
  • Do not use speaker mode. Not in public, not in private, and never without permission. Use a headset or earbuds if you need to go hands free. On the rare occasion that several people will crowd around your handset, ask permission first.
  • Never record a call without asking permission, it is both rude and technically illegal.
  • Do not mute your phone while on a call. Muting means that you are not paying attention and are more interested in chatting with someone else or amongst yourselves. The other end of the call relies on the breathing, acknowledgement grunts and other non-word sounds we make when listening to get feedback on what they are saying. Remember that they cannot see you nodding or snoozing or paying attention, muting makes them think the line has dropped. This rule does not apply in conference calls where the number of attendees is greater than 10 (then all should mute while the presenter speaks).
  • Never put people on hold unless you are transferring them. The call centers do this to encourage callers to hang up in disgust (they are measured by how many calls they get and kill, not on how many problems they solve). If you have to walk way, bring your mobile with you, or if it is a desk phone, leave the handset on the table. The added benefit is that the phone will sound a tone if not returned to quickly enough.
  • Don’t make or take calls in inappropriate places like bathrooms, elevators, on public transport or in hospital rooms. Just don’t. Wait until you can walk away from the crowd and then make the call.
  • Do not discuss personal matters on a phone call, mostly because the people around you do not want to hear it. That includes domestic yelling matches, no matter how important it feels to you at the time.
  • Do not play phone tag. If neither party can reach the other after two or three tries, give up, and send an email.

Both parties should always:

  • Walk away from a group to answer or make a call. Do not stay at the table or in front of others. Walk away, find somewhere quiet where you will not bother others and then call.
  • Wave off people walking in while they are on a call. Do not interrupt the call to answer a walk-in or real person nearby. You can use hand signals to people close bye to wave them off or respond to their interruptions.
  • Be on-time for scheduled calls, personal or conference. That’s just good manners.

In short

Callers should give the receiver the choice to take the call, establish the context, get to the point, and remain focussed on the call. Receivers should only take calls they can, when they do, focus on the call and end it promptly. Both should speak quietly, walk away from others when taking calls and provide vocal feedback when listening.

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