Caller ID

Sometimes I hate caller ID. It causes people jump into the familiar without thinking, assuming they know what is coming when they pick up the phone. They bypass any ritual of politeness and start, to what feels to the person on the other end, in the middle of the conversation.

It often goes something like this:

Phone rings.

Person called glances at the display, recognizes the number, and picks up the phone.

“Yeah?” (Or worse yet, “What?”)

Caller misses a beat trying to process this unanticipated starting point, having expected the customary “Hello” or “Good afternoon” or at least “What can I do for you?”

Caller regroups and proceeds, but something is lost, however slight, because the comfortable social norm has been removed.

The fact that I feel this behavior is akin to rudeness notwithstanding, it can also backfire quickly when the person calling isn’t actually the person identified on screen. For example, if I’m standing at someone else’s desk having a conversation that generates a question, I often pick up the phone and place a call to the person who has the answer. Or I may have other people in my office and choose to use the speaker phone so everyone can participate, but I haven’t had time to let the person on the other end know that. (For the record, I usually start these calls on the handset and then switch to speaker to avoid this scenario.) Or someone else may borrow my cell phone to make a call when hers is dead. The reason isn’t really the point; what matters is the possibility of the unexpected.

But back to my point about rudeness. Caller ID breeds a degree of familiarity, giving the person on the other end a hint about what (whom) to expect. Familiarity, however, is no excuse for abandoning one’s manners. I can be familiar without being rude. Instead of answering my phone with my standard professional greeting, I can tailor it to the person I think may be on the other end. “Yeah?” for example, can easily become “Good morning!” It still insinuates familiarity, but now it exudes politeness, as well.

Think about it.

P.S. J–I gave you fair warning.

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