The Lost Art of Telephone Conversation

By Josh Tafoya, Technical Trainer

In a recent training session, I was discussing the High Priority and Low Priority fields on the User screen in the Supervisor Workstation. As you may know, these fields exist so the Central Station Manager can limit which alarms a particular operator sees. The idea is to keep brand new operators from getting a fire alarm on their first day, thus giving them a chance to ease into the alarm handling process.

But the discussion shifted to the fact that many young people, who make up a great deal of the entry-level employment pool, have never spent appreciable time speaking on the telephone. An 18-year-old has spent their entire teenage life texting. Or Snapchatting. Or Tweeting. (If I keep going, I may betray how old I actually am by listing something that hasn’t been used in years.)

The point is, people who are not a part of the millennial generation have an inherent set of telephone skills. We spoke to one another on the phone when we were kids because we didn’t have text messaging and social media. We learned very quickly to speak up so the person on the other end of the phone wasn’t asking us to repeat ourselves. We learned to enunciate, lest our grandmothers berate us when we called them on our birthdays. We learned how to speak formally to people who called for our parents.

This isn’t a slam against millennials; it is simply a result of the circumstances in which they grew up. With the technology available during their childhood, talking on the phone became a less common means of communication. They were not conditioned to learn those skills, though fortunately, many still did.

When I was a young person, beginning my not-brief-enough retail career, the good people at K-Mart insisted I watch a VHS which trained me on how to properly answer the telephone. It covered such subjects as speaking loudly enough to be heard, but not so loudly as to be irritating, identifying both the company and myself when answering the phone, and asking permission to place someone on hold. It is clear to me that others in my generation never got that training, or if they did, they never took it to heart. But to this day, I ask to put people on hold. I make sure to speak loudly and clearly.

I remember when my own kids started getting cell phones; I had to spend a certain amount of time explaining phone etiquette so they wouldn’t answer the phone with a simple “Yeah” or “What’s up?” I know it has served them well in young adulthood because, unlike many of their peers, they are not stumbling and mumbling when they are on the phone, either in their personal or professional lives.

I haven’t spoken to a lot of Central Station Managers about telephone etiquette, but it is an important subject to consider. When training new operators, an assessment of phone skills might be a valuable part of the process.