Are You on the Phone?

How many times have you been on the phone at work when someone walks up and asks "Hey, are you on the phone?" This person is infuriating! Here's how to handle unwanted interruption.

Richie Frieman
3-minute read

Have you ever been on the phone – and I mean literally your hand is pressed against your head – and someone pops into your cube or office saying, “Hey Bob, you on a call?” No, Bob isn’t on the phone at all. He’s just likes to cuddle with a warm telephone during long hours in the office.  

Come on people!

What is unclear about this situation? You see, and hear that someone is on the phone, yet still you interrupt to ask if they actually are? Some rude interruptors even add in the hand gesture, where you make a phone with your thumb and pinky pointed out, while asking this inane question. This drives me crazy. It’s highly unmannerly for you too assume that someone will hop off the phone right away, just beacause you popped in. You never know who is on the other line that can be affected by your interupting.

Every time this happens to me, I feel like I’m dealing with my 5-year-old daughter who, despite seeing very clearly that I'm on the phone, says repeatedly, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy… Excuse me, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy…” But she’s 5! Not an adult who has self-control (supposedly). So if this is an unfortunate habit that you've developed, here are 3 ways to go cold turkey:

  1. Lose the finger gesture. First of all, you see that I’m on the phone. Do you think the hand gesture will remind me of what I am doing? When you see someone is on the phone, they don’t need the hand gesture to realize that you're referring to the wacky device in their hand. I don't care if you throw up jazz hands, just don't do the phone gesture.
  2. If it’s urgent, leave a message. Let the person know the reason for your interruption by writing a quick message on a sticky note and handing it to them. Something like, “The 9:30 has been changed to NOW!” If Bob thinks it’s urgent, he’ll act on it. This is the easiest way to quietly say your peace if something is urgent.
  3. Let them know you’ll come back.  If it's not super urgent, but you still need them to know somethin sooner rather than later, simply say softly, “I’ll email you.”  Then make your way back to your desk, and send them a quick message. If they find it urgent, they'll get off the call.

I totally get that some things may seem so important that you have to interrupt someone, but you never know what they are in the middle of discussing on the other line. Even if you feel your needs are much more important, you have to show proper respect for their work and their time,

Do you have a great story about how you dealt with this type of person? Post all the details in the comment section below.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

And if you have any recent graduates in your circle, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career. It's available for pre-order now!

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