Digital Age Phone Etiquette

With the advancement of technology, we all seem to be moving at a much faster pace in an effort just to keep up. From the first telephone call of Alexander Graham Bell’s utterance in 1876: “Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you,” to Lily Tomlin’s “One-Ringy-Dingy” parody of a switchboard operator, there’s currently no one on the planet today who can relate to a world before the telephone. But what about our telephone etiquette? How has that changed with introduction of smart phones and VoIP phone services entering our zeitgeist?

We had Rules. . .

At the turn of 19th Century, there was a definitive guide as to what was the proper way to conduct one’s self in public. The Victorians and Emily Post placed a major emphasis on etiquette and manners as to how to exchange proper human discourse. Ironically in an error of social media, it appears our social skills have diminished and like our technological advancements, we’re constantly seeking ways to communicate faster with less and less concern as to the manner in which we speak to others. “The rules of good manners are the traffic lights of human interaction,” Pier Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and civility researcher, told the Washington Post in 2011. “They make it so that we don’t crash into one another in everyday behavior.”

Be a Better Communicator . . .

Those who take the time to appreciate the past would agree that we’re better communicators when we put out an effort to be polite in business as well as social settings. Even the common courtesy of “looking someone in the eye” when talking to them is possible in the Digital Age. With VoIP services, SKYPE, Apples FaceTime and other face-to-face communications, we have now traversed past the basis voice transference to an arena where our facial gestures are important in displaying interest and sincerity.

Be a Good Listener. . .

Unfortunately in the 21st Century, research shows that the average person listens with only 25 percent efficiency. To improve those communications, we have to become better listeners again. Paul Sacco, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work told the Huffington Post recently: “We all have a good listener within us.” “It all just depends on the ability and desire to be mindful of where you are and who you’re talking to. A lot of us are focused on the mechanics of listening — eye contact, nodding your head — but for good listeners, there’s a naturalness to that behavior that we should all aspire to,” adds Sacco.


To disconnect one’s self from our devices is almost impossible these days. Just walk down the streets of a major metropolitan city like NYC, and the odds of seeing any passersby not looking into his or her cell phone is probably a mere 5 percent. This phenomenon is so prevalent that in 2006, pop songwriter and our modern-day troubadour Jimmy Buffett not only felt it necessary to express his observations, but also the history our communication devices down through the ages, in a song he titled, “Everybody’s On The Phone.” With lyrics such as the following, who couldn’t relate:

♪ ♫ ♪ Everybody’s on the phone
So connected and all alone
From the pizza boy to the socialite
We all salute the satellites

So when do we unplug? Well, perhaps we could start at meal times. Whether you’re entertaining a client to negotiate that big business deal, or just sitting down for an evening meal with the family, think about unplugging. According to Lindsay Holmes at the Huffington Post, “we may be living in a digital landscape that Emily Post never saw coming, but it’s still considered poor taste to text at the dinner table.” A new study out of the UK suggests communications between people are harmed when one party is distracted by a cell phone. And according to Scientific American, research indicates that phones can hurt people’s attempts at interpersonal connections just by being in the room. So by stashing your device, your show of politeness could actually increase the bonds you’re attempting to solidify in business, while making one’s parents extremely happy on the homefront.

VoIP Etiquette for Business

During VoIP teleconferencing, here are a few tips as to how to conduct yourself when using the Internet or your hand-held device.

Bear in mind your computer or smartphone’s screen is not your mirror. It can be extremely distracting to the parties you’re communicating with to be preoccupied with one’s out-of-place hair or adjusting one’s tie instead of listening intently to the new budget proposal.

Differing from the traditional voice-only conference call, gone are the days of multi-tasking or accessing that heavily-abused mute button. Say good-bye to sending your tweets or updating your Facebook status, and instead provide all parties with your undivided attention.

And above all, be a good host when you’re in charge of conducting a face-to-face video conference. Prepare the call as you would a formal presentation. Organize your thoughts and script so there’s an even flow and you’re touching on all your bullet points in an easily understood and expeditious manner. Everyone’s personal time is important, so respect the time you’ve allocated for the call and be the first to remind participants if you foresee the call running over.

Before We Hang Up. . .

Cell phones and VoIP services like Telzio have been around long enough to have a basic set of rules. While we no longer have an Emily Post to guide us through the proper phone etiquette for business or leisure, some of her basic tenets for proper discourse still apply. And sometimes it just comes down to common sense, and knowing when to talk and not to talk. After all, that’s why they invented texting. But then again, that’s another story. . . and fodder for another day.

Ron is part of the marketing team at Telzio, covering everything from tips and tech for growing businesses to customer success stories for the Telzio blog.