Communication and Telephone Etiquette

A few days back I was trying to have a telephone conversation over cell phone which just could not be completed mainly due to call drops and passing through low network area. Finally, with a great degree of difficulty I managed to communicate that I will call later from landline.

My thought went back to a similar unfinished conversation over landline more than 2 decades ago. That had led me to write a short article on telephone etiquette in a local newspaper. I started thinking about my old article and how most of it is still pertinent. Hence, why not pen down a few thoughts on telephone etiquette. For instance, there are certain golden rules which should always be followed. Some of these are:

Ask “Is it a good time to talk? This may sound formal but is actually very helpful when you are calling someone. If the other person is busy then the chances of his/her listening is negligible. Hence it’s better to call up later when he/she is free. Ask clearly what time you should call up. If a time is given, call up at that time.

How to respond when a call comes. While receiving a call, Greet with a Hello, Good morning/afternoon/evening, this is….. speaking. The effect on the other person will be nice.

Pick up the telephone as early as possible. Here too the effect is nice. It will help to start the conversation on a good note. The iconic ITC Maurya in Delhi which among other things markets itself as the preferred destination of Global leaders has an interesting incentive policy. It pays its telephone receptionists an extra incentive for picking up calls on 1st ring. I am sure they must have done research while doing so that it will result in some degree of not only customer satisfaction, but also customer surprise and maybe even customer delight.

Speak clearly and in normal tone. Never shout. Nothing for instance is more irritating than someone speaking loudly in a public place. If you are in a restaurant or somewhere where many people are there, go out of the room to speak. Inform the people with whom you are there politely that the call is important and you have to take it. And yes, in public place, keep cell phone on silent or vibrator mode

Don’t talk while eating. If you are eating something while talking on a phone, its poor manners. Say politely that you will call back in some time. And please do.

Don’t keep on ringing continuously. Nowadays Cell phones give “missed calls data”. If you are not getting someone, ring 2 or 3 times and then leave a message. The other person obviously is in a situation where he/she can’t take your call. Nothing will be more vexing to him to see, say 24 missed calls. Why make someone worried?

How to talk to Answering Machine? This is something inevitable which we have to deal with nowadays. Answering to an answering machine is not that easy as it sounds. Prepare for it. Have an idea of what to say. Give the message clearly .Don’t make it a long winded message. Be short and crisp.

What to keep as your Answering Machine message . Don’t get tempted to keep something so called interesting like “The name is Bond, James Bond “or “Don ko pakadna mushkil nahin namumkin hai (it is impossible to get Don) Don is not there now, Call back later”. Have something simple like Ï am not there now, please leave your name and message, i will get back to you.”

Listen. Don’t hear. No elaboration is required; I am sure on what is listening and what is hearing.

Think and Plan in advance. For important telephone talks, visualise in advance what you are going to speak. If the other person is important you may get hardly any time to speak. Hence marshal your thoughts properly and say what you have to in a logical, coherent manner. Don’t rush, at the same time get your thoughts across.

Have patience. Treat the person with whom you are talking with courtesy and respect by giving him attention. Do not interrupt. Allow him/her to present his views.

Choose Ring tone/caller tune carefully.  Have u been in a restaurant and someone’s ring tone blares some raucous filmi song. How do u feel? Irritated, I am sure. Therefore don’t do that yourself. Accordingly choose both caller tune and ring tone carefully.

Call back. Maintain a list of people who have called and you could not take the call as you were busy. Then call them back. Same is with SMS. Please respond. The effect will be magical. Check missed calls and call back.

Use Texting/SMS before talking to a working professional. It may so happen that he/she is busy and not in a position to talk. You may get a pleasant surprise. A return SMS saying which is the convenient time to talk. Isn’t it convenient. Please do the same thing too.

It is also important to choose the time when to talk carefully. If you have a fair idea of the work schedule of the other person, avoid busy times. One should also avoid early mornings, late nights and say sunday afternoons as the other person may be inconvenienced and we are eating into his precious private time. If still important, SMS, then talk

Many of us have desk jobs. Yet we use the cell phone. Why not we use the land line ? In fact, for longer conversations we should use a land line with a corded phone, not a cordless line, which uses electromagnetic emitting technology similar to cell phones.

These are a few golden rules which i thought even though everyone knows it will be helpful to pen down in one place. Regarding calling back/responding, I have two interesting real life instances which I hope will not only be of interest, but will also have tremendous learning points.

The first instance is of a friend’s father who was Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister of India. He was obviously a very busy person (what an understatement), free after 11 pm every night. Still he made it a point to spend 30 minutes every night from 1130 pm to midnight returning calls he could not receive throughout the day.

The second instance is of an Uncle of mine in IRS whose philosophy in life is “”always reply to a communication, always return a telephone call, always reply to an SMS”. He was in charge of  Bhubaneswar and one day he was suddenly asked to take over charge of Puri too. He saw that letters of several months were unanswered. The 1st 2 days he gave a 1 line reply to all, “Your letter has been received, I have just joined, I will get back to you at the earliest.”. He actually did, and within a month he responded to all.

The scene now shifts 20 years later. Uncle was a Director in CBDT. Restructuring proposal was pending for long with the Secretary DOPT, a much feared officer. Finally, Chairman CBDT told my Uncle to go and seek an appointment for him. In trepidation, Uncle went and sent a slip inside with his name. To his surprise, he was called in within seconds. The Secretary said, “Are you the same Mr Misra who was posted in Puri 20 years back?” When Uncle said yes and how he guessed, the Secreatary replied, how can I forget. So many of my letters had gone unanswered, but you responded, something rare and unusual, hence it got stuck in my memory.” Thereafter he asked “what brings you here?”Uncle replied “I want an appointment for my Chairman who will request you to clear our restructuring proposal. The Secretary replied “will it benefit you? Uncle said “yes I will become Commissioner Income Tax. Hearing this the Secretary said “Your Chairman does not need to meet me. Since it is going to benefit you I am calling for the file and clearing it right now.” What an amazing real life incident.

These are my random thoughts on communication/ telephone etiquette. Why don’t you share yours?



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