I have just completed a webinar on this subject and felt it appropriate to write an article on it too. Business Management Daily put together a downloadable report, “14 Tips on Business Etiquette” and I have taken the liberty of using some of the tips they share, in my article with you today. As there are so many areas covered under this topic, this article will be the first in a series. So let’s start with the first two:
• Cellphone etiquette
• Business phone/landline etiquette

Cellphone etiquette
This can be considered a pet peeve of mine and my family know it. I am not one who sits on my cellphone day and night, especially when I am in the company of people or out to a meal. That is my time to socialise, talk, make conversation, laugh about the silly stuff …. just talking.

The youngsters of today can walk, talk and text away on their cellphones anywhere, anytime – yet they cannot hold a conversation or just enjoy talking instead of texting. The same sort of thing is happening in the workplace.

Tip #1 – Give 100% to the person in front of you
Oh and how true is that statement? Don’t you find it rude when you are having a face-to-face conversation with someone in the hallway or lunch room or even at your desk and the other person either takes a call when their cellphone rings or is busy texting or scrolling and checking their phone for messages or roaming the social media channels. I find that incredibly rude. After all I am there, in front of you, talking to you, wanting your attention yet you choose the cellphone over me.

I have to ask myself when this happens – “Am I not important enough for you to give me 100% of your attention?” And excuse me, I was here first (wasn’t I?). Or for that matter, we had an appointment. The person calling or texting can wait. Your phone has voicemail, correct? Use it.

Ask yourself, “What impression would you be making if your attention was diverted to your phone?” It would tell me that your phone is more important. Do you agree?

Tip #2 – Your cellphone should not be part of the table setting at a business lunch
Oh yes, and this can apply to any meal for that matter. As I mentioned before, my family knows, no cellphones anywhere near the table when we are eating (either at home or out at a restaurant). The same applies to a business lunch – keep your cellphone in your bag or in your pocket or your briefcase – wherever – as long as it is not on the table.

Even better, make sure it is switched off, or on silent – give the people you are with at the lunch 100% of your attention. You can always check your messages when you are back at the office or when you take a “body break”.

Tip #3 – Avoid reading under the table in meetings
Most people know when they enter a meeting, to switch their phones off or to silent because it is not just the occasional phone ringing that is a problem.

How many times have you attended a meeting only to see people scrolling through their emails, checking their social media, texting, tweeting or checking sports scores in their lap? You will be surprised, people do notice this more than you think. It is not only distracting and disrespectful to the speaker but to everyone else around you.

Paying attention to your messages instead of the meeting sends a message that the people in the room are not important to you – nor is the meeting. And that is a dangerous message to send, especially if those people are clients.

If you are expecting an urgent call, mention it when entering the meeting and then excuse yourself or step away when the call comes through. In the longer meetings, wait until a break to check mails and phone messages.

Tip #4 – Have a professional ringtone
Whether it is your personal cellphone or one issued by the company, a professional ringtone is important and conveys a professional image of you. Also make sure it is not set too loud – nothing is more embarrassing when you are among people and suddenly this sounds booms from your phone and just about gives everyone a heart attack. Set the ringtone to a reasonable level, or set it to vibrate and put phone in your pocket.

Tip #5 – In cubicle, turn your cellphone to silent
This applies to people who work in an open plan office. It is incredibly annoying and distracting if your phone rings whilst you are at your desk. It is even more irritating to your co-workers if it rings and you are away from your desk. Again, turn your phone to vibrate or silent. Let your voicemail take the call if you step away from your desk for a cup of coffee, or a meeting, or whatever.

Tip #6 – Take personal calls in a private place
Some people just cannot talk in a normal tone on the cellphone. I mean, I know the person on the other end of the phone is far away, but it is like your landline, talk normally, the person on the other end of the phone can hear you.

It is terribly distracting if you are working and trying to concentrate and you hear someone talking loudly on the cellphone – especially if it is a personal call – it is disrespectful to everyone around you who are trying to work.
Find an empty conference room (some offices provide small rooms for that purpose) or find a private location to make your personal call. Also remember to keep your personal calls to a minimum so that you don’t come across as unfocused to your team or your boss.

I had a strict policy myself – no personal calls at work. Everyone knew I would do my personal calls after work or on the way home.

Tip #7 – Never take your cellphone into the restroom
Oh dear, and do men love to do this (some women too). In the restroom? Really? This is definitely not the place to share personal or confidential or company or client information. You never know who might be in a cubicle sitting in silence listening to your every word. And I really don’t want to be listening to what is happening in the restroom when I call you – which echoes by the way – ugh. I will rather call back.

“When we are spending time together, put your phone away. I shouldn’t have to compete for your attention with everyone who isn’t there” PSB

Appreciate the company you have – forget the phone and pay more attention to the person in front of you. Anyway, I am tired of talking to machines and gadgets, I much prefer face-to-face encounters – don’t you?

Business phone/landline etiquette
Ooh, don’t we love those growling, complaining, fighting callers? So why don’t we turn them into a tamer, calmer and more purring type of caller instead? Let’s take a look at some of the techniques below to help you.

Tip #1 – Bite your tongue
Not literally, but yes, learn to zip it or keep quiet. When you answer the phone and the other person is shouting and screaming, ranting and raving at you with their complaint, I bet your first instinct is to tell them where to get off. (Especially if you are not in the right headspace to answer that call). You want to shout back at them, I mean, really, who do they think they are? I only work here, happen to have answered the phone and in a polite tone mind you, and you feel the need to shout at me – and oh yes, what about the cursing/swearing caller? Wow, not on!
With an attitude like that you will only antagonise the other person and probably aggravate the situation and make things even worse.

Remain calm and listen. Yes, listen. Sometimes, not saying anything but just listening with an occasional “hmmm” or “ahuh” will let the caller know you are still on the line and not interrupting and they will eventually calm down. They may even stop and realise how silly they sound when realise you are not responding.

Tip #2 – Let them vent
That is why they called – they want to vent. Get whatever is bothering them, out. Angry callers are like a whistling kettle. They need to vent some steam. They need to be heard – by you – they need you to hear their gripe and hear them out completely.

So let them. Don’t interrupt – even if you have a solution – wait until they have told you their full story and then you can offer your solution.

Usually when they have finished ranting and raving, they eventually calm down and are more open to hear what you have to say.

Whatever you do, never, ever tell them they are wrong. Oh boy, that is like waving a red flag to the bull. Don’t tell them you understand (because you really don’t unless you are in their mind). Empathise with them – offer them a solution which would benefit both parties. Offer a win-win solution.

Tip #3 – Control your tone
Yes – this can apply to me too – turn it down a notch. Instead of raising your voice to match the caller’s volume, speak softer. By speaking in a softer tone and slowing down your speed you will be able to soothe the caller and show him/her that you are interested in handling the complaint in a calm and rational way.

Ever had an argument with someone and you are both fighting, arguing, shouting and nothing is getting resolved. I mean, how could you resolve anything – no one is listening.

As a parent I made it a rule never to respond in anger towards my kids or anyone. One tends to say things in the heat of the moment and then it is usually taken completely out of context. Rather sit back, listen, think about your response before you respond. Then you make much better and more informed decisions and both parties are calmer and ready to listen and resolve.

I think it was Einstein who said “You never learn anything whilst talking”.

Tip #4 – Stay focused
Very often we get so busy that when a call does come in, we carry on doing what we were busy with whilst on the call and supposedly listening to the other person on the phone. Remember, whether you are smiling or not, you can actually “hear” it on the phone. Test it out – trying saying hello with a smile and then again looking down and doing work. Can you hear the difference?

Resist the urge to complete another task while the caller is ranting. The sound of you moving papers, or typing will give the caller the impression that you are not really interested in what they have to say.

The same rule applies when talking to someone – keep eye contact and focus on what they are saying – forget what is happening around you or what you are planning for the rest of the day – you can focus on that when you are done talking.

Tip #5 Empathise and apologise
When the caller runs out of energy, is exasperated and has reached the end of their tether, show them that you understand why they are so angry.

Example, “I know this has been frustrating for you Mr Smith, and I’m sorry that Ms Jones has not returned your call”. Note, use the caller’s name and speak in complete sentences. Don’t use single words such as “Yes” and “No” – this can sometimes come across as rude.

Something to think about – avoid being red-flagged. By this I mean, when dealing with people on the line, always end the call politely.

Slamming the phone down many result in a “hang up” note attached to your record which hurts your chances when you need something in the future. Never hang up in anger. Can you relate?

Tip #6 – Take one for the team
The easiest and quickest way to sort out a problem with a caller is to accept responsibility for the problem (even if you are not to blame).

Example, “I should have made it clear that, although our manager will be returning to the office today, she is tied up in meetings until the afternoon”. Then ask, “What would you like me to do?” This will show that you are there to help.

Offer a fall back. Never end a call with “I can’t do that”. If you can’t do what the caller asks, tell them what you can do. Example, “I can’t interrupt the meeting Mr Smith but I can pass along the message to call you as soon as possible”. Now that should make them feel better, don’t you agree?

Don’t offer a specific timeframe either because your manager may get involved in another meeting or discussion and it could be late when they eventually get the message and return the call. If you set a timeframe, and caller has not received their phone call, they may call you again and the whole scenario starts again.

So listen more, stay calm and resolve in a mutually beneficial manner – it always works and ends in a smile.

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Michele Thwaits is the owner of Empowered 4 Success - an experienced and a sought after facilitator and trainer specializing in EA, PA and administrative skills. Since 2006 she has had the privilege of working with audiences through training and speaking ... (Read More)

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