Saturday, June 14, 2008


If you're with someone and you answer your phone when it rings, you're explicitly telling the person you're with: "No matter who this is on the phone, they are more important to me than you are."


Jason said...

When I'm with someone else and you phone, I don't answer because they're more important than you.

Jason said...

I just find it hilarious...

If you don't answer, then the person on the phone isn't important at all?

What if it's a vital phone call? What if it's BCLC telling you you'll never work again?

Okay, this was all dumb. Sorry.

Tannis said...

Does that apply when it's you and I at home? I've made great strides in this department but I'm still more compulsive about it than I'd like. I treat phones like time bombs I need to defuse in record time.

Jason - I took you seriously. I'd way rather leave a message than have an awkward conversation with someone who has somebody else standing there waiting.

Jeremy said...

I can't tell if you're disagreeing, J. Don't you feel this way if you're in the middle of a conversation with someone who suddenly abandons the discussion mid-stream to answer their phone? You're less important to them.

Admittedly, I hate phones. Pretty much anything I'm doing at any given moment is more important to me than answering the phone. I treat it like e-mail when I'm busy -- leave me a message, and I'll get back to you when I'm finished doing what I was doing when you called -- you're next in line. And so I've never understood why people who are attached (literally and figuratively) to their phones let any call trump anything they're doing.

To me, it's no different than if we're having a conversation in person and halfway through, you just wander off and start talking to someone else. It's just rude, and forces me to wait, even though I was first...why not let the other person wait their turn (let them leave a message)?

Tan, I think we answer the phone when nothing else is going on, but never when we're in the middle of a conversation.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you!! I hate having to answer the phone if I am busy or talking to someone else. " I am busy talking to someone else!!" Why is it so important that I need to answer the phone when it is convient for the caller? I'd rather wait until I have the time and the attention to give to that caller. I am more relaxed when I don't have to deal with more than one person at a time, and in the end the caller and I will have a better conversation and I won't feel overwhelmed or dissapointed that I could not talk to them with full attention.

Teri said...

neil hates it when he's in a store and the cashier makes him wait to answer the phone and deal with the customer on the phone. i usually see who it is and if it seems important, i'll excuse myself and take it, but 99% of the time, the phone goes to voice mail and I'll call back!

Andrew said...

Agreed 100%, Jeremy.

Anonymous said...

You are missing context.

Some conversations are more important than others. If I am obviously engaged in an important conversation, I would never answer the phone. Unless...

I am also expecting an important call, in which case I would look at the call display before answering. This is also rude, but less rude than answering without checking. And then...

If it is that important phone call, I would still acknowledge via commonly accepted sighs, eye signals and shoulder shrugging that I agree that I am involved in an important conversation and am about to do something rude, which is a step above being unaware of rudeness in my books.

Keep it brief and apologise after.

Now if it is just another arguement with another pinhead who refuses to admit that Badmotorfinger was way better than Nevermind, well, they were lost to me anyways.


And I find a similar arguement can be made with fast food drive-thrus. I got out of my car and came in, why are you panicking to fill their orders ahead of mine?

Nikki and Shane said...

I can't say I've ever given this much thought, but now I'm truly torn as to what I believe. Thanks for getting me thinking about this one!

When I'm at work and someone stops by my desk to chat and the phone rings I always answer it because the person on the phone is usually more important than a co-worker. I'm paid to answer my phone and get business done.

Growing up our family did not allow answering the phone during dinner and I hated that. How Tan described it being like a time bomb - that's totally how I felt. Now having my own family I totally get it.

And oddly enough I was in a similar situation yesterday where I was visiting a friend (had been there for 2 hours) and her phone rang. She looked at the call display and wasn't going to answer but then told me it was odd because the person calling only ever calls during the day, so she thought it must be important. Turns out her friends stepdad just found out he's full of cancer. Although an extreme case, in this situation I wasn't as important as her friend and I was fine with that. We'd had our time and I headed home to let her console her friend in tears - something I would have appreciated if it were me in her shoes.

As far as businesses go, I think they're obligated to answer the phone. However they should be answering and asking the person on the phone to hold while they deal with the client who is in front of them first - at least that's our policy for our reception desk.

I think Plett has a point when he says context is key. Are you expecting a call? Or is it just random. This is a tough on to feel out ... I like it!

Pearl said...

Interesting comments. I would like to add the perspective that it annoys me greatly when I have what I think are important communications to make and all I get is answering machine. Surely not everyone is engaged in a crucial conversation so they cannot answer their phone. Guess i am used to the days when a telephone was a vital communication tool and people answered their phones "live".

Dianne said...

Another voice from an earlier generation (because I'm afraid it was probably me who ticked you off in the first place, Jer). Having grown up first without a phone and then for at least thirty years without an answering machine, you get conditioned to a phone call being potentially a big deal and if you don't answer it you could miss everything. As you get older it takes longer to internalize new technology (like the answering machine) as a good alternative. That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it! But I still see your point and very much agree with it in principle.

Anonymous said...

Well let's just hope when you do finally have the "time and attention" to call back the person whose phone call you ignored, that they have the "time and attention" to actually pick up your call, otherwise nobody would ever get to talk to anybody, right? I'm too busy to talk to you, no I'm too busy to talk to you, no I'm too busy to talk to you.....

Jeremy said...

This might be the shortest post ever, and the one I put the least amount of thought into, yet it obviously resonated.

First, yes, work is different. If you're working and you get a work call, all bets are off. Answering that phone so you don't get fired is more important than the watercooler discussion you were having. And if you have the kind of work (self-employment, mostly) that requires you to take "important" work calls after normal working hours, that might require the machinations Plett described above. But even that doesn't change the simple fact in those 36 words I posted -- you are explicitly telling the person you're with that they're less important. Maybe they're fine with that, and maybe you're fine with that, but it doesn't change the message sent.

Second, yes, there is are some technological implications that tweak this equation. Call display means that you know who's calling without answering, which minimizes the objection I was referring to with the "no matter who this is" part. Even then, the result is the same: the person you were visiting with knows they're less important if you take the call.

Plett is also right that even looking at the call display while you're in an in-person conversation is rude (I might argue that having the phone turned on at all is rude, but this audience has proven too sensitive for these proclamations...and don't even get me started about call waiting). This really reintroduces the "no matter who this is..." caveat, because even though it might be a telemarketer, you've already sent a message to the person you're with that you were willing to stop paying attention to them just to find out. Even if it's a call you're expecting, why would that make it more important than the person you're already talking to?

And ubiquitous answering machines mean you never miss any call, important or otherwise. And really, how many calls have you had in the past year when it was essential that you answered it in real time, rather than say, 15 minutes later when you finished what you were doing? One or two? I think we tend to fall into the trap of believing that we need to know everything immediately, even when it makes no real difference to anyone.

I think my mom and mom-in-law are right that this has something to do with a carryover from when this was all new. And I believe we're seeing a similar phenomenon with how people use the web -- it trumps real-life communication in all kinds of ways. Wonder how many people spend more time in a week e-mailing and Facebooking and chatting with acquaintances online than they do talking with their actual friends in person? Most?

Anonymous said...

No, I'm going to say you are going overboard on this one Jer. It's not much different than saying "If you don't turn off the TV/stop stirring the pot/pull over immediately once someone starts talking to you that the show/soup/destination is more important than you".

I know when I'm in a conversation that matters, and those times are when I use judgement. Most other conversations do not fall in that category, and no one in modern society feels slighted when someone answers the phone during a conversation. Mid-sentence maybe.

I also know that I only leave messages on the machine about 10% of the time, and that's probably the same as a lot of people. If they don't answer, I don't speak.

Perhaps you should post a schedule of when you know you will be alone in the house, so the rest of us know when calling you will be effective.

It's not that I don't see your point - I won't say who but I am married to someone who has this habit in a big way - but I suspect most people would look at you oddly if you didn't answer your own phone during a run-of-the-mill conversation. "Maybe it's the cops. Is he wanted for murder? Is that a bead of sweat running off his brow?".

But during conversations of importance, it is borderline offensive.


ps Posting a schedule of phone availibility is unlikely to increase my current calling rate of once per Olympic year.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you 100% Jer - A. Carol

TS said...

But we all (should) understand that we are human, that the other person would probably do the same thing, reasonably, and that after we answer the 'phone we can say, "I'm busy right now" (i.e., I didn't want to ignore you and you too are important to me).
When the phone rings, we answer it. Not to do so would be rude.
But there are choices based on circumstances: what about a cell phone? Just push the button to take a message. Is a home phone different? Yes.

Jeremy said...

I must admit that I'm surprised to get any pushback on this one at all. Why all the attempts to finesse and justify and rationalize something that is so obviously rude? It seems like people are always looking for the next thing instead of being thankful for what they already have -- in this case, they are already having a conversation, and odds of the phone call being more important than it are pretty much zero. But maybe I way over-value conversations with friends.

The idea that not answering your phone when it rings is rude (no matter what else you're doing) is laughable to me...perhaps a relic behaviour from a past age when calls were infrequent and important?

Isn't it time we take control of our time and let our actions reflect our values? If your friends are important to you, don't start something different (like a phone call) when you're hanging out with them. If you don't much care about a conversation with a friend, feel free to pull out your phone at any time while they're talking and call a different friend. I don't see much difference there.