When I was in third grade, we had a class in school on phone etiquette. It was part of our social studies class: you know, the class that taught us how to function in an every day world without angering those around us? Yes, social studies. The study of a society. And in that class I learned how to answer a phone properly, how to take a phone message properly, how to dial a phone, and how to communicate with someone on the phone.
Almost 40 years later, I have a job because I can do what, apparently, fewer and fewer people are able to do: Operate a telephone.
In this day of texting, email, and other forms of non telephone communication, I don't have to look too far to see that future generations are going to not know how to use a phone. And I don't have to look too far back to find a generation...still living...that has always been clueless "about them new- fangled telephone voice machines."
Every day I dial a phone, and let it ring, and I either leave a message with the voicemail/answering machine on the other end or I talk to the person who answers the phone. What shocks me, and what the source of my rant is today, is how few people know how to manage a telephone or a telephone conversation.
I've managed to narrow the categories of people who answer the phone to five. All five are annoying, all five are clueless, and everyone in each of these five categories needs to go take Mrs. Carol Zimmerman's "phone etiquette" class.
1) Can't be bothered because "Maury" is on. But then again, Caller ID is just too hard to deal with because that involves reading and whatnot.
I'm shocked...SHOCKED at how many phone calls I make land into this category. Seriously, if the phone rings, now that we have a little thing called CALLER ID, if you don't want to take a call from someone, you don't have to. Your voicemail can pick it up. So there's really no need, if you're deep into a multi-layered plot twist of a paternity test on Maury Povich, for you to answer the phone. Really. No need. In fact, we as telephone professionals would PREFER you NOT pick up the phone, and then drop it on the floor, and leave it there while your television blares for three minutes which is about the length of patience most telephone professionals have with this nonsense.
This category also includes the people who will answer then immediately hang up the phone without bothering to say anything. I realize I've been guilty of this in the past, but now I have to think: Are we really that busy or that anti social that we can't possibly be bothered to say, "No Thank you?" (I guess "No Thank you" falls into the same category as "Thank you."
2) Two ears, one mouth...can't shut the one and won't open the two.
I love it when people call me to ask questions and then simply will not SHUT UP to let me answer them and then get angry at ME because I'm not answering their questions. The flip side of that fun coin is that when I do start talking, they immediately start talking again, making any attempt at answering questions impossible. If you want answers, SHUT UP. And if you can't shut your yap long enough to take a breath, then don't get bent out of shape when the person on the other end of the line doesn't start talking immediately...leaving a bit of dead air where your voice has been for the last ten minutes.
3) Doesn't understand how to conduct a phone conversation from stage one.
Okay, let's review: Your phone rings. You push a button or whatever, opening the line to the person who is calling you. What next? Well, obviously you say, "hello?" acknowledging that you're ready to speak to the person on the other end of the line. Obvious, right? Wrong! Many of the people I call simply open the line... and say nothing. And then I have to say, "Hello?" And sometimes I get a live person, but more often I get nothing. More dead air. So I say "Hello" again and then something will finally click in the person's brain and get the ball moving. Now, what I'd like to say is this: I say hello and then you say hello and we can start." But I don't dare. I have to go through this little dance because the person who picked up the phone maybe has some sort of social phobia and can't speak into the phone. I can sympathize, if that's the case, but I have to think there just aren't that many people with that specialized a phobia.
4) Sure you can take a phone message. Sure you can...
I leave a lot of phone messages. A LOT of phone messages. I will listen to a recording and leave a voice mail message a hundred times if I don't have to talk to some dimwit who picks up the phone but isn't the person I am calling and can't answer the one question I'm asking. I'll say, "Can I leave a message with you?"
Before you correct me, remember, I'm an English major. Yes, I fully know I probably should say, "MAY I leave a message," but I've done this job long enough to know the problem isn't a matter of manners. It's a matter of skill. And rarely does the person on the other end have the skill it takes to write down a name, a phone number, and a four word message. I say, "Can I leave a message?" They always say yes. I say, "This is Sarah from Stuff,Installed, and my number is..." and that's when 99 out of 100 times, the person on the other end will say, "Just a minute."
What follows is a multi minute search for a writing tool. During this time I want to shout all sorts of colorful things into the phone about how telling a person they can leave a message is a verbal contract and by making said person wait and then repeat 2/3 of the message because you didn't have a pen is clearly a breach of that contract. But then I realize that a person who agrees to take a phone message without having clear view of a writing tool is probably not going to know what I'm talking about when I talk about contracts.
5) Drunk, angry, stoned, asleep, and driving.
I realize this seems like a repeat of the first category, but it's not because this includes those who dial me and get me, and then are furious because they got a live person on the other end of the phone. Or, and this is always my favorite, I dial the phone and get the person who is clearly in the middle of some sort of personal crisis, so they start screaming at me and demanding to know where I got their number. "Um, you gave it to me yesterday and told me to call you back today."
I love being called a liar. Because, see, I have nothing better to do with my day than to open the phone book...(what's a phone book, grandma?) and start dialing random numbers. Yes, that's exactly what I do.
This category also contains third shifters who need service calls, but refuse to answer their phones until they are dead asleep and therefore they get to rage at me about calling them when they are asleep. I worked third shift. If you don't want to answer the phone, you don't have to answer the phone. No one has a gun to your head.
As for those who are in an impaired state of mentality...stop. Stop using the phone. Stop filling my voicemail with incoherent mumbles and then stop complaining to my corporate office that I don't return phone calls. Stop calling my number and hanging up just as I answer. And if you're in a bad mood, how about if you sit down with an episode of Maury?
Stop yelling at me when you answer the phone when you're driving. You're breaking the law, not me.
And by the way...if you're in the middle of a domestic dispute, don't dial the phone, don't answer the phone, don't look at the phone. I don't want to hear you and your significant other scream at each other. Well, I do, because it's sort of entertaining, but really, it gets old when you decide you're going to treat me like some sort of free couples' therapy.
6) You might be old, but you have had a telephone in your house since you were a child. Stop pretending you don't know how to use it!
I've done the math. Every person alive today (and I'm talking about industrialized nations here, I'm sure there are people on an island someplace where this isn't true.) has had a telephone in their home at very the least their entire adult lives. My grandmother is 97 years old. She's almost blind, she care barely hear, and she knows how to use a phone. Ad if my grandma can manage it, everyone else can, too. That means you don't get to pretend you don't know what to do when someone calls you. You don't get to yell, "WHO? WHAT? HUH?" every time I try to say something. I'm not Alexander Graham Bell. Phone reception is pretty awesome these days. Stop pretending you can't hear me.
Also, stop pretending you don't know what a phone is for. Believe it or not, I'm not buying the idea that a darling little old lady is just randomly picking things up in her house until the ringing stops. Don't answer that phone and then start shouting at your house mate that you "don't know what the hell the call is about. It's some damn thing or another." Stop. You know how to listen. I know this because the minute I mention a big old discount you're able to focus in on what I'm saying.
And for the love of all that is holy, don't pretend you didn't get my 77 previous messages. If you have voice mail or an answering machine, you've probably had it for eons and therefore you know how to get the messages. The only person I've ever met who couldn't retrieve her voice mail message was Elsie W.
Do you really want to be in her category?
And finally, this isn't so much a category as it is a pet peeve of mine and since I'm giving you my pre-Christmas rant, I may as well throw this in:
Answering machines have been around for a long time now. And yes, we've all fallen victim to wanting our outgoing messages to be personalized, funny, cute, whatever. That said, let me just clue you in on how things are in 2013, now that we have voicemail, and digital everything. I can speak to this because I've made about 1600 phone calls this month and this is what I run across all the time:
A) Sound clips taped from the TV or your favorite radio station are terrible. No one can understand that garbled mess. Erase and start over, this time with your own voice in a normal volume level saying normal adult things. you might be the biggest Princess Bride fan (but you're not...because you're not me) but listening to some fuzzy, echo mess of you telling us you'll call us back and then Wesley saying "As you wish" from across the room is only a good idea in your head. In real life it's terrible. Stop it.
B) Your children/grandchildren might be the apple of your eye, but their goo-goo gaa-gaa mess on your outgoing message only annoys everyone. Yes, everyone. Yes, even your best friend. I'm the only one honest enough to tell you. They aren't cute, they aren't adorable, they make everyone who calls you want to poke their ears out. And oh yeah, unless your pets have developed opposable thumbs, stop putting their names on the outgoing message. I have four cats. Do you really want to listen to, "You've reached the home of Sarah, Hubby, Peaches, Skippy, Jasper, Tacocat, Belle, and Jude" every time you call me? Are you planning on leaving a message for the cats? Then STOP!
C) Only Dr. Suess is allowed to speak in rhyme. You are not Dr. Suess. Stop trying to come up with a cute rhyme on your outgoing message. It's terrible. Stop it.
D) The "press this number for this person" Really? Is your land line THAT busy that you have to have multiple lines for each child and each pet? (true story) I'm not pressing six to speak to Mr. Cuddles. And chances are, if I want to talk to your kids, I'm not calling them on the phone. So unless you are a business, stop it.
Well that's enough rant for this eve before Christmas Eve...I await your angry retorts or your comments of praise. Whichever you prefer!
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