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Mastering Modern Telephone Etiquette in the 21st Century

The telephone was invented in 1876.

The iPhone was released in 2007 (just think, there are teenagers alive today who have never known a world without iPhone).

FaceTime video voice mails were released the last half of 2023.

Have you updated your telephone proficiency since the 19th century?

It’s true, phone usage and preferences are generationally different. But you want to effectively communicate to all generations, and reduce misunderstandings and frustration, right?

Here’s an overview of good communication etiquette for 2023. 

  1. Consider the nature of the relationship. Calling your best friend from high school? Go ahead and FaceTime in your PJ’s before you’ve run a comb through your hair. Calling an important business client? Make sure they’re expecting the call and you’ve prepared an outline and objectives.
  1. What is the communication preference of the person you’re calling? I have had clients who would only respond to a text. Another client only wanted to hear a voice. Don’t know their preference? Ask. Then use that channel as your primary communication.
  1. Exude friendliness when answering a call from someone you know. When receiving a call from someone saved in your phone, a mere ‘hello’ is mediocre. Smile before you pick up and give an enthusiastic ‘Hi Jim!’
  1. Only answer when it’s a good time to talk. Answering a call when you’re in a hurry, in a loud space, or worse yet, a public restroom, rarely turns out positive. If it’s a call you really want to take, text them back and let them know good times to reconnect.
  1. Don’t use speakerphone in public. In the privacy of your own home, with another close friend you both know – go ahead and speaker it up. At Walmart, a restaurant, or a movie theater, you are officially a public nuisance.
  1. Rarely put someone on hold. If your mother is calling and she never calls you on this day and at this time, put them on hold. If a child is away from home and calls you, better put them on hold. Almost all other cases, don’t put someone on hold. You’re saying ‘my time is more important than yours and I don’t mind wasting a little of your time for that reason.’
  1. Voice mails are so 20th century. You’re not still leaving voicemails are you? You do know how to text don’t you? Then do that instead of leaving a voicemail. The only exceptions here are your parents, children and other close friends you haven’t heard from in awhile and they’d like to hear your voice.
  1. Know the difference between emotional and factual calls. Anything requiring emotional interpretation – an argument, personal issues – is best done over the phone, so the other person can hear the tone and pitch of your voice. Texts are almost impossible to read emotion. If it’s a factual update, texts work just fine. If it involves numbers, texts are your best choice. If you have to go back and forth more than a couple times in a text, it’s time for a phone call.
  1. Text before you call. Getting an unexpected call can sometimes feel like a surprise or create stress. Text before you call. Clarify briefly in your text why you’d like to call or it can feel urgent. “Call me”, won’t do it. “Good times to talk today? I’d like to discuss that proposal with you,” is better.
  1.  Avoid distractions. If you’re talking on the phone, show respect by not calling from a noisy location. If the person says once, ‘I can’t hear you’, you know you have a location with too much background noise. Same goes for multitasking, washing the dishes, or filing in your office. These can often be heard on the phone and communicates they don’t have your undivided attention. If it’s a video call, be mindful of your background. Poor lighting and other people walking around behind you is a distraction. Make sure your face is centered and you’re not moving around. Eating and drinking is not a good look either.

Got to stop, I’m getting a call.

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