Telephone Etiquette

Telephone etiquette has changed rapidly in the last two decades with the advent of cell phones. When I was a kid, I remember I wasn’t allowed to call friends after something like 9 or 10pm, and my parents got really mad if anyone called during “dinnertime.”

I was never specifically taught good telephone manners, I think, my house was pretty relaxed about it- we answered the phone with “hello” and I don’t recall ever asking “may I ask who is calling” or anything like that. But for the most part, I don’t think people really expect that. Though those kind of extra good manners do help out sometimes.

I have a great etiquette book from the 1950s called Etiquette for Young Moderns that lays out telephone manners as:

  1. Being conscious of your voice and tone.
  2. Answer in a brisk, cheerful manner.
  3. Identify yourself as soon as you pick up the receiver.
  4. Always ask who is calling if the person doesn’t identify themselves
  5. Give your complete attention to the phone call, don’t have side conversations with people in the room.
  6. Treat wrong numbers politely
  7. Make sure you dial the correct number.
  8. Plan the timing of your calls so you don’t interrupt meals.
  9. If the person who you are calling isn’t home, leave at least your name so they don’t have to wonder who called.
  10. If you can’t hear the person, state that to them so they can adjust their voice.

A lot of these rules are still actually pretty good! Even for cell phones!

I think some key things for telephone etiquette today are:

  1. Being conscious of where you are- don’t talk on your phone while a cashier is ringing you up. Especially don’t talk in quiet places like a house of worship, library, theater, or movie theater. And don’t text in most of those places either.
  2. Don’t speak loudly in public, no one wants to hear your conversation (and it has been proven that listening to a one sided conversation is more distracting than listening to two people talk in your presence.)
  3. Speak clearly.
  4. If you are picking up a call from say, a company where you are interviewing for a job or your doctor’s, identify yourself when you pick up the phone: “This is Theodore” so that they know right away they have the right person.
  5. Keep it on silent or vibrate when you are with others.
  6. Put it away when dining with others or in meetings and other times when you are with other people. Be focused on the people you are with.




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