Recently I became aware of a societal sea change on phone etiquette. It became obvious as I was watching Jeopardy!
Have you seen the show lately? Since the start of the newest TV season, they’ve been rolling out tournaments instead of following their normal format. In these so-called Second Chance tournaments, former contestants who didn’t win, but came close, are invited back for another shot.
In the middle of the first round of questions, host Ken Jennings will interview the contestants to find out a bit more about them. For the Second Chance tournaments, however, he invariably asks something like what was it like to hear that you’d been invited back?
Almost all of the responses start with, “well, I didn’t answer my phone, because I didn’t recognize the number.”
I’m being serious. I was really shocked. Here’s why.
Way back when, I changed careers from Engineering to Recruiting. If that sounds weird, it is. The transition was challenging, but eventually I found my groove.
One thing that challenged me was mastering a device crucial to the recruiting industry. I had a passing familiarity with it, but never really embraced it:
In my new career, I talked to more people on a daily basis than I’d previously talked to in a year. And here’s what I learned about people’s relationship to their cell phones:
They always answered them. Always!
One time I called a candidate and heard frenetic traffic noises in the background. She said that she was chasing her toddler, who had wandered out into the middle of a busy street. My God, I thought, why are you answering? Fearing for the unseen toddler’s well-being, I suggested we talk at another time; we did, and everything was fine.
Another time I called a man who answered his phone. It was obvious that he was having two conversations at once: one with me and the other with the state cop who had pulled him over for having a dead body in the trunk. No, just kidding; it wasn’t that. But it wasn’t an invitation to the Policemen’s Ball, either. There was some serious s**t going down with this guy. I didn’t send him on an interview.
Yet another time, I called a woman who must have been running a daycare center. Judging by the commotion, it was not nap time. Still, she was more than happy to discuss her career choices, and she even involved her young charges in her decision-making.
Better than the guy who consulted his barking dogs, I suppose. “Daddy’s on the phone,” he eventually said to them.
The point is, people answered their phone no matter where they were, what they were doing, or which number came up. I’m not a recruiter anymore, but apparently people are more discreet about answering the phone now. My wife suggested that could be because of the abundance of spam calls. Makes sense.
And maybe it’s a good thing.
Years ago, on the boat to Nantucket, a guy answered his phone and held a conversation while he walked around the upper deck. Apparently he was in the process of closing a big business deal. How did I and the 100 or so other people on the boat know that? This self-important businessman was shouting at the top of his lungs.
It wasn’t reception issues; anyone could see that this arrogant ass wanted everyone to be impressed. And I was — enough to want to knock him overboard, given half a chance.
I guess it’s not such a bad thing that people don’t answer every call right away.
Now, wouldn’t it be nice if, like in the old days, people would avoid broadcasting their private business in front of strangers?