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Telephone Conversation

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Whenever you talk with a stranger by telephone your personality to him is the sum of your voice, your enunciation, your pronunciation, your vocabulary, and your ideas.

Your speech alone represents you, for your appearance, gestures, and surroundings are not visible to your listener, and he has no previous impression of them to fill in his mental picture of your entire personality.

In business a pleasing telephone personality is of vital importance. Employers have come to realize that new friends for the firm can be gained or lost through one telephone contact; and that old, valued customers whose friendship has been built up through years of service can be lost in a single tactless telephone conversation. For these reasons telephone companies and personnel executives have drawn up rules for the guidance of those who use the telephone in business.

Socially, too, the telephone personality is important. You can be quite as charming over the telephone as you are at a party or in your own home if you know the art.

First of all, when you answer the telephone, do so with a smile in your voice. Don't say "Hello," but give your telephone number or your name, or the name of the firm or department. If the call is for someone else, don't leave the caller guessing your intention and don't ask, "Who's calling?" Say, "Mr. Smith isn't here. May I take a message?"

If you must leave the telephone, don't simply disappear. Ask the person to whom you are talking to excuse you for a moment and when you come back say, "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting," adding, if you wish, the reason for your absence.

When you have your secretary or your maid put through a call for you, be ready to take it. As someone has well said, this "wait-a-minute" habit is like pushing a door bell and running around the house. Remember, the person you are calling is probably just as busy as you are.

Don't make a telephone conversation take the place of a week-end visit. Business calls, of course, should always be brief and to the point. Social calls may be longer, but if you wish to carry on an extended conversation, you should first ascertain whether the other person is busy. If you have ever tried to discourage a long-winded telephone caller, you will appreciate the importance of considering the other person when you are inclined to chat indefinitely over the telephone.

If you use a party line you should remember that it is in-considerate to monopolize a line shared by someone else.

One of the worst telephone pests is the coy person who begins the conversation by asking, "Can you guess who this is?" Guessing games are all right in their place, but the telephone is not the place for them.

When you speak into the transmitter your lips should be directly in front of the mouthpiece and not more than one inch from it. Always speak clearly, distinctly, and not too rapidly over the telephone. Keep your voice well up in your head and don't shout, growl, or mumble.

In closing a telephone conversation never omit a pleasant "Good-by."

Simply hanging up the receiver leaves the same impression as slamming a door in a person's face. Good breeding is quite as important in telephone conversations as in personal contacts.


A. C. BENSON, "Conversation" in From a College Window, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York

JOHN M. CLAPP and EDWIN A. KANE, How to Talk, Chapter XIX, Ronald Press Co., New York

W. L. HARRINGTON and M. G. FULTON, Talking Well: A Book on the Art of Conversation, The Macmillan Company, New York

J. P. MAHAFFY, Principles of the Art of Conversation, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York

J. B. PRIESTLY, Talking: An Essay, Harper & Brothers, New York

MILTON WRIGHT, The Art of Conversation and How to Apply its Technique, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York


DIRECTIONS FOR SCORING: Each question counts 10 if you can answer with an unqualified yes. Grade yourself from 10 down to o as you think you honestly deserve.

1. Do you find it easy to converse with anyone?

2. Do you always draw others into the conversation?

3. Are you an interested listener occasionally?

4. Do you refrain from gossiping, false humor, flattery, swearing, gross exaggeration, prying into the affairs of others, pedantry, talking about yourself a great deal, grumbling, bromidic re-marks? (Deduct one point for each fault listed of which you are guilty.)

5. Can you discover quickly what others are interested in?

6. Are you, according to your friends, a good storyteller?

7. Do you make an effort to be as interesting at home as you are

when with friends?

8. Is your conversation free from poor enunciation, mistakes in grammar, and ineffective expression?

9. Do you refrain from discussing gloomy subjects, such as sickness, death, and failures; and controversial subjects, such as religion and politics, with people to whom you might give offense?

10. In your telephone conversations do you always:

(1) Speak distinctly in a pleasing tone?

(2) Answer by giving your name, the telephone number, or the name of your employer or your department?

(3) Refrain from talking too long?

(4.) Treat the operator courteously?

(5) Say "good-by" pleasantly at the end of each conversation?

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