I am sure you have had lots of people send you angry messages about you not answering your mobile phone calls. For someone to accuse you of being rude in that respect is completely baseless.
Don’t forget to sign up for our upcoming Phone Etiquette Month events and WhatsApp group.
It seems the etiquette of mobile phone-use is not popular in our society. Many persons place higher value in money, position, power and age, rather than on mutual respect and honouring other people's privacy. We have subsequently used the proliferation of mobile phones to further that culture of intruding on other people’s privacy.
Firstly, a mobile phone line is not a remote control to a person and a license to 24 hours unrestricted access to the person. Sharing of mobile phone numbers are normally reserved personal associates (friends and family), not business contacts. But, because in Nigeria the landline system was destroyed by poor management of the government agency in charge, we have little or no choice, but to give out our mobile phone numbers to complete strangers. The other alternative would be to give out a mobile phone number that is wired to a desk phone, or to give out the phone number of your junior assistant.
For this reason, we have forgotten that the picking of mobile phone calls are subject to the availability of the owner; or at the receiver's discretion and therefore not a remote control to the person.
Secondly, phone calls do not take precedence over the person's schedule or meetings. That is why it is rude to answer calls while in a physical meeting. This does not show respect for the person sitting before you, including the person you are speaking to on a Zoom call. This basic courtesy is the same whether the person is rich or poor, young or old, has a position in government or is in leadership. It also doesn't take precedence over previous appointments and assignments at hand.
This is why it is better, with the exception of emergencies, to send a message to confirm if someone is available for a call before calling them. This rule may be relaxed for persons whom you are closely related to.
Thirdly, unless the time was scheduled and agreed for such a call, a phone call is most likely an intrusion when not scheduled or when made outside work hours (usually 9am to 5pm).
Finally, there are three levels of association that determine how and when to call people's mobile phone lines:
1. Extended family and close friends circle:
A. Immediate family; there is no limit to the time you can call such a person, but simple courtesy demands that you don't abuse the privilege or the other person will stop picking your calls.
B. Family members can be called outside work hours as they will be more disposed to answering private calls then. Calling them during business hours may likely distract them unless they agreed to the call or if there is an emergency. When acting on emergency, remember the story of the boy that cried “Wolf!” though he was only joking, and then when an actual wolf came and he cried “Wolf!” no one took him seriously and he was devoured. That is what happens when you abuse mobile phone access to your friends and family; people eventually stop taking your calls seriously.
C. Close Friends. With regard to close friends, you should have an idea of the receiver's schedule and know if it is convenient to call the person or not. If your discussion is work or business related, perhaps you can send the friend a chat. Calls can be reserved for urgent matters. Weekends are a good time for casual calls.
2. Colleagues and Business Associates;
If you are colleagues that work in the same office you may have more liberty with each other than a business contact does. However, here are levels of familiarity to consider:
A. Colleagues at work:
Are you from the same department or actually friends? Then know that; if it is work related, keep the calls to work hours only. If it is personal to you and after work hours, then send a message and confirm their availability. That you are someone's boss at the office does not mean that you are the owner of their time. Try to keep that in mind. Our culture does not do much in terms of teaching us to respect other people’s time, privacy, or their personal space and power. We might have learnt this from the slave masters and little has been done to change it.
Culture in Africa could be looked at as; "the beliefs and ways of the dead holding the living bound, but that we don't understand, or bother to question."
B. Weekends are meant for family and social functions. Unless a colleague or staff is on a work shift during that time, you don't have a right over their time. So respect your colleagues’ weekends with the exception of an unavoidable event that has been prescheduled, or urgent work matter that the person must handle directly.
C. There are three things to note if you are contacting a person for the first time for business purposes;
A. You can send a message in advance with your name and reason for wanting to call. You can also send the name of the person who gave you their contact or the location where you are calling from. Furthermore, suggest the time you would like to call the person. This will help the person to prepare for the call. Unless it is a service or customer care line which allows for calls at any time or emergency, don't just call and expect a good response as they may not be in the mood, or may be in a meeting and they may not bother to call back if they are too occupied or forgot that you even called due to their hectic schedule for the day.
B. Confirm they can take the call before you call them and ensure it is within work hours, that is 9am to 5pm. To call after that time will be an intrusion, unless the person calls back after seeing your message, which means it is important to them. When calling ensure your introduction picks their interest first and that you keep it brief.
C. Avoid calling strangers on weekends as you are not their close associate or family. Don’t use phone calls to ask for favours from people you don't know well or work directly with. With available current technologies, such as applications on Google Playstore, you will be branded as a scam or spam number and others will see what others are tagging you as.
Finally, phone etiquette is something we need to know and practice from primary school to be more courteous, save our time, boost our productivity, and reduce the distractions caused by the unhindered access to be people made possible by modern telecommunications technology.
Have a great and courteous August 2021! And don’t forget to sign up for our upcoming Phone Etiquette Month events and WhatsApp group.
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