We could all stand to be more polite over the phone

By Bailey Brammer | Broadcast Managing Editor

In our generation of texting, Snapchat and Twitter, the art of phone etiquette is often overlooked. Not many people know how to engage in a phone conversation to begin with, but even fewer people also realize how far a polite exchange can go in the professional world.

I was recently in a car accident where my car was ruled a total loss. After the crash, I was thrown into a chaotic mess of emotional trauma, physical pain and endless phone calls.

In the first week after the accident, I felt like I spent every spare moment on the phone. I spoke with my insurance company, the other driver’s insurance company, the towing company, the rental car company, my chiropractor, Baylor Parking Services, Waco police officers and their records department, food delivery services (because I didn’t have a car) and, of course, my parents.

Throughout these many phone calls, I experienced various levels of phone etiquette. Some of the people I spoke with were kind, understanding and helpful, going above and beyond to make sure I felt like I was being taken care of, just as one arguably should if they work in customer service. However, other people I spoke with were cold, impolite and inconsiderate, failing to acknowledge what I was going through or that I was a capable young adult who could handle a difficult conversation without becoming emotional.

In many cases, I was shocked that some of the adults who worked in these fields could be so ignorant as to how to have a polite, productive phone conversation. Maybe they recognized the youth in my voice and wrote me off right away, maybe they were just having a bad day or maybe they never learned how to properly speak to someone over the phone.

If you think about it, are most of us ever really taught how to hold a conversation over the phone? Sure, some of us grew up answering our home phone with a personalized iteration of the phrase, “Brammer residence, Bailey speaking,” but it’s not as if there’s a required class in high school or even college that focuses on this form of communication. Maybe there should be, but the premise of phone etiquette really boils down to common politeness and consideration for others.

Ideally, if you’re civil and friendly over the phone, you would assume that the person you’re speaking with will act the same way. However, this isn’t always the case.

In the weeks following my car accident, I felt that I did my best to show appreciation to the people I was speaking with, using “please” and “thank you” almost in excess, and yet I still received harsh tones, irritated sighs and condescending comments. Perhaps it’s because, as I said earlier, young adults have a reputation for not knowing how to communicate. I disagree with this –– it’s not just young adults that don’t know how to communicate, it’s most adults!

While I don’t consider myself an expert in communication by any means, I think there’s a few ways we can all stand to be a bit more polite and professional over the phone.

Initially, I always ask the person on the other end of the phone how they’re doing. This may not seem like a big deal, but if they are indeed having a bad day, it may help them to know someone else genuinely wants to know how they’re doing. Similarly, manners are a must. A well-placed “thank you for your time” or “thank you for speaking with me today” can go a long way, especially if the other person is helping you in some way.

Speaking slowly and clearly can also have an impact on your phone conversation. Also, it’s important to keep your tone level and avoid letting emotion into your voice. If you’re rushing through your words, the person on the phone with you may feel like you don’t value or appreciate their time. Maybe you’re someone who gets nervous when you’re on the phone, in which case rehearsing what you’re going to say before you make a call can also help.

If you need the other person to do something for you, you have to ask specifically for what you want. It’s not their job to guess what you’re thinking, unless, of course, you’re speaking with a telephone psychic.

Finally, if you’re doing all of these things and the person on the other end still isn’t being helpful or considerate toward you, say something. There’s no reason why you can’t say something about how you feel you deserve to be treated. If you politely say something like, “I would appreciate your patience and cooperation with me,” or “I’m not sure you understand where I’m coming from. Can I offer you any clarification?” you might just be able to sway their attitude in your favor.

Ultimately, though, the only person you can control is yourself, and the first and only step in practicing better phone etiquette is to just do it.