Sunday, January 24, 2010

Manners (or not) of speaking

Fairly often, I go hunting. Not for quail or the remote but rather for people connected to a subject I’m writing about—and sometimes the person himself.

At times, this requires cold calling. That can be unpleasant—no matter which end of it you’re on. Otherwise it would be called warm calling.

But it really shouldn’t be unpleasant for the one answering, especially if the caller is not selling something.

It seems obvious to me but experience shows that it bears repeating: if you don’t want to be interrupted during whatever it is that you’re doing, simply don’t answer. The phone is for your convenience, not mine. I’d rather try again (and again) than be spoken to as if I’m annoying you over a matter of 20 seconds.

Either way, I’m just asking if you are the person I’m looking for, or if you know that person. And before that I’m asking if it’s a bad time and I’m identifying myself quickly and clearly. I’m easily verifiable, courtesy of Google. I am not the IRS or your ex’s lawyer.

So why are you often gruff, evasive, or downright rude? What has made you instantly suspicious of anyone you don’t know who calls? You’re an adult. By now you should have learned that even strangers can have good intentions.

I realize it may not matter to you if I find a certain person. But you should know that the person I’m looking for will almost certainly be perfectly fine being found. In fact, some even benefit from it. If you can help with that, why wouldn’t you?

The comments that I find the most antagonistic:

“Who’s this?” – Making this more frustrating, it’s usually asked after I introduce myself by first and last name and profession.

“What do you want?” – I am getting to that. It is, of course, why I’m calling. But please either wait till my second sentence or at least ask this in a more polite way (“Sorry to be quick, but I have only a moment. May I ask what this is regarding?”).

“I’m not going to tell you anything” – The Internet has forced us all to be more vigilant in protecting our privacy. But don’t pull up the drawbridge until you know who is approaching. You and I are just talking. I’m not sucking intimate details out of your head through the phone. I’m also not asking for social security numbers or locations of tattoos.

Me, when I’m answering a call from a number I don’t recognize, I’m (mostly) patient and polite. Even with the weekly calls I get for an office at Pace University, whose number is one digit different from my cell. And even with the few telemarketers who apparently disregard that I’m a charter member of the “do not call” list.

I imagine most people never get a call from a writer doing research. And those that do, unless you’re trying to keep the lid on a scandal, remember your manners. If you’ve ever read a nonfiction book, you should appreciate what it takes to get the story as accurate as possible.

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