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Life in General

Is Etiquette Evolving or Extinct?

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According to the dictionary, etiquette is the customary code of polite behavior in society. What do you think – is etiquette evolving or extinct?

Understanding that with the pandemic, it will be a long time before handshakes will be used to greet a peer or seal a deal. Things do have to change as we adapt to new circumstances, for sure. Today we’re talking about before the pandemic and we’re taking on phone etiquette in particular.

I was taught that there is a natural progression to a phone call, for example. You had the greeting, the conversation and the closing. Before cellphones were in almost everyone’s pocket, purse or briefcase, you had a phone plugged into the wall and maybe an answering machine to capture who called if you were away or couldn’t get to the phone. You either missed the call entirely or you played a message back and returned the call. Then came “call screening”, where you listened to the message and decided if you were going to answer the phone or call the person back. With cellphones however; this has changed over time.

In my professional life, I’ve called people who have answered the phone and said they “can’t talk right now” and I have to wonder why; if they can’t talk right now as they have said, they answered the phone at all? Perhaps they didn’t recognize the number, but why not just let the call go to voicemail? If I managed to get past that hurdle and left a voicemail; then the person would call me back without listening to the message and although I answered the call identifying myself and the business they were now calling, they would respond to my answer simply with “Yeah, you called me?” When did this become the “”customary code of polite behavior”? My sarcastic side really wants to respond, “It’s possible I called you, as that is my job, but it would be ever so helpful if you would be so kind as to tell me who you are?” Instead, because I don’t want to be rude, I have to say something like, “Thank you for calling back. May I have your name please?” Sometimes, someone would hit that button the cellphone to dial back and after I answered with the proper greeting, they would respond with, “Yeah, I missed your call”. Immediately, the angel on my shoulder would have to duct tape the mouth of the devil on my shoulder who wanted to say, “Yep, you sure did and I left you a voicemail. Maybe you could listen to it.” There were days when I think the angel on my shoulder deserved hazard pay, for sure.

I was speaking with my sister in law about this the other night and she pointed out that some people prefer to have a whole conversation by text rather than by calling or they are actually bothered by someone calling them without first texting to see if they are available to talk on the phone. I guess I can understand that, but again I wonder why they don’t just let the call go to voicemail and return the call when they can or if they want to speak to the caller? I tend to think that if you have that much to say, let’s not wear out or fingers and have a conversation. Besides, sometimes I’m still responding to something and you’ve already moved onto a whole different topic!

I’m always baffled by those that abruptly end a call without a proper closing. While I did recognize that the call was winding down; I have called people back because I thought the call dropped. When did we stop ending a call with, “Have a great day!” or “I love you” or even just a simple “Goodbye”? My guess is it was about the time that people started ending relationships via text and email. I’m sorry, but I will never believe that to be an acceptable way to end a relationship with someone.

Overall, I think etiquette is evolving but I wonder if it will continue to the point where it becomes extinct. We see this more and more in business especially, I think. Who hasn’t been on a company conference call and heard someone placing an order at the drive thru or flushing a toilet (yikes!). You’d better be a ninja with that mute button if you’re going to try to multitask! More so, if you’re one of those people who takes conference calls on speaker phone!

Speaker phone should only be used for times when you are alone and unable to hold the phone. No one needs to hear both sides of your domestic discord while waiting for a plane or shopping. Besides, I think there’s an assumed amount of discretion on the part of the person on the other end of the conversation. I’m pretty sure if they wanted a group discussion, they would’ve requested it. Could you imagine if everyone used speaker phone all the time? Although parents would know what their kids are up to and who they are talking to, family dinners would be chaos!

Ah, the dining thing – it had to come up, didn’t it? Nothing makes a person feel like you’d rather be anywhere else or with anyone else than taking a call while you’re sitting across the table from them. Sure, if you have one of those jobs where you’re on-call, I expect that you have to check your phone from time to time. I totally get it if your kids are with the babysitter and you want to check to see who’s calling. Otherwise, put the darn thing away and spend time among the three dimensional people you’re with! Interrupting a meal to take a call from someone who does not require immediate attention will most likely bring out that devil on my shoulder and I don’t think the angel will have any objection to whatever action follows.

poor phone etiquette
Drink it or wear it, buddy!

There is so much more to etiquette than just phone etiquette of course and so many more examples of the breaches of etiquette to be found, I’m sure. If we want this to evolve rather than become extinct, this article has some simple rules to learn and to teach future generations.

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