A New World of Phone Etiquette

When, exactly, did we stop knowing how to use the telephone in the workplace?

I find myself freezing when I feel the need to call someone. I ask myself, “Should I just call this person out of the blue? Wouldn’t that be rude?”

Keep in mind I ask myself these questions even when it’s someone with whom I have been corresponding by e-mail. I just get this sense that the person on the other end of the line won’t appreciate a phone call without fair warning.

And so I e-mail the person first and ask when it might be a good time to speak by phone. It’s no surprise that people always appreciate this courtesy. Which is really, really strange. It wasn’t so long ago—or was it?—that we picked up the phone when it rang and called people when we damn well pleased. We don’t have phone conversations anymore—we have one-on-one, scheduled phone meetings.

The reality is so much more information gets exchanged in a phone conversation and, not incidentally, emotional nuances are more easily comprehended. If we must schedule our phone conversations now, so be it. But professional communicators are missing out on a powerful medium if they restrict themselves to the tapping of keyboards and mobile devices. Just remember to e-mail that blogger, journalist or client before placing your call.

—Steve Goldstein



  • http://www.spectrumscience.com/blog Kelly Barrett

    Hahaha – so true! There are very few people I actually feel comfortable calling on the fly, without an email warning or 15 minutes blocked off on the calendar. Internally, it’s usually fine to call “unannounced,” depending on the person, but sometimes I’ll even shoot an IM to the person to really make sure it’s OK.

    But this is also the world I have always lived in, and it’s not just in a professional setting. Even friends who I don’t don’t talk to every day, I will text the day before and ask, “Free for a chat tomorrow night at 9?” It’s really the best way to make sure I don’t end up missing them or calling at a bad time and then playing phone tag for a week. Perhaps it’s a side effect of our over-packed schedules?

  • Tom Bebbington

    I’m actually a big fan of calling reporters (or anyone else) out of the blue–I think it’s a lot harder to ignore a ringing phone that it is to ignore one of hundreds of e-mailed pitches.

    Of course, I always start my conversations with the same phrase: “Did I catch you at a bad time?” and if I have, I immediately ask what would be a better time and end the call. Being respectful of a reporter’s time goes a long way toward getting a favorable hearing when you do call back.

  • http://www.inhousepr.biz Doug Fenichel, APR

    I loved your column and I’ve thought about that as I’ve sat and stared at the phone doing the should I or shouldn’t I. I also try to tell myself that if something has gone three emails and isn’t squared away, we should talk…but then we go through six more emails setting the time and agenda.

  • http://www.resultspr.net Elyse Familant

    So true how times have changed. It used to be you could find people at their desks sitting by the phone. I now find that 9 times out of 10 I get voice mail, so emailing to arrange a time to talk seems to be the best way. But every once in a while, you get lucky if you just call and surprise the person!

  • http://www.pubfish.com pubfish, inc

    Could it be a case of telephonophobia?