By Rebecca Meiser
Every year, when it comes time to think about phone plans, Michelle, the mother of 14-year-old Jonah, can’t bring herself to cancel her landline. She knows it’s not necessary—at this point most of her friends only have cellphones—but she worries what kind of communication skills Jonah will absorb if he never has to pick up or make a call on a shared line.
Today’s teens rarely call a house phone and say hello to their friend’s parent before asking for their friend, nor do they have to take phone messages for others in the family. Plus, they can text, and make appointments online, and avoid a phone call altogether. Michelle fears this reality will impact Jonah’s confidence and manners on the phone. “How are you supposed to get a job—or interact with adults—if you don’t know how to have a phone conversation?”
Phone Etiquette Tips
Sometimes a phone call is a better communication choice—while texting is great in some cases, like sharing quick facts, nuances can often be lost in typing.
“The tone of your voice conveys a great deal,” explains Daniel Post Senning, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast and great-great grandson of famed etiquette author Emily Post. “People have a harder time interpreting meaning when they are shown the written word.”
The language teenagers use while texting significantly differs from spoken language. “If you are communicating via text, it’s like shorthand verse,” explains Alex J Packer, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of the book How Rude!: The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out. “It has its own specialized language and even spelling.”
Phone calls follow a general format—introductions, content, conclusion—but texts have no real structure. “It’s sort of an eternal conversation,” says Senning.
Overreliance on texting can leave teens fumbling when they need to physically ask someone, like a teacher or a car mechanic, for help in real life. “Sometimes, they are not even sure how to start the conversation,” Packer adds.
While texting is convenient, parents can also help teens develop phone skills they may need in their personal or professional life.
“Practice with them,” Senning suggests. “Give them a call yourself. It doesn’t have to be as explicit as, ‘This is your phone etiquette learning time.’”
Parents can set standards and guidelines for when they expect teens to call—rather than text—with information. “If they are asking to change the time they want to come home at night, for instance—tell them that first they need to call you to discuss it and explain why they are going to be late,” Senning says. It’s the same sort of courtesy any future employer would expect.
6 Must-Have Phone Skills
- Open the conversation with a greeting when calling someone who is not already a close acquaintance. Then immediately identify yourself, so the recipient knows who they are talking to.
- It’s polite to let the recipient know if your phone is on speaker.
- When taking a message, make sure you write down the name of the person and the best way to reach them, as well as the message. Remember to actually give the person the message!
- If leaving a message for someone, identify yourself—and the best way to reach you—right at the start of the message, follow up with the content, and then leave contact info again. “A lot of people will say the thing they are thinking, then leave their contact information only at the end,” says Senning. “But if the person is not ready, they have to listen to the whole message again to get to that number, which can be a pain.”
- Smile before you dial. Studies show people can hear the smile in your voice.
- Speak clearly and in complete sentences. Make sure you are holding the phone close enough to your mouth so the listener can clearly hear what you are saying.
Rebecca Meiser is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio, and frequent contributor to Your Teen.