The Debrett’s Handbook which provides a guide to etiquette and manners has just been updated for 2014. In 1994 the Handbook provided answers to the most pressing topics of the day such as the correct way to write formally to a titled person and acceptable topics to discuss at dinner parties.
In 2014 the 10,000 questions which have been posed during the last year do include queries about dress. But they also include questions on telephone and e-mail manner in business, whether it is in order to eat smelly food in confined spaces such as on public transport and whether it is in order to smoke e-cigarettes in the workplace.
One question in particular caught our eye and that concerned acceptable behaviour in respect of mobile phones. In fact according to Debrett’s they receive more questions about mobile use than any other device. And when it comes to mobile use the Debrett’s advice is simply that “It is always rude to pay more attention to a phone than a person in the flesh.”
It’s a dilemma which arises time and time again in business. You are in a business meeting or with a customer and your mobile or desk phone rings. How do you reconcile the immediacy of the call with respect for the people whom you are with? The Debrett’s answer is clear but it can seem rude to ignore a call. The answer is to take time out to put a call diversion and management plan in place.
Working equally well for mobile or for desk based phones, a call diversion plan ensures that when calls arrive at an inconvenient time the caller still receives an answer. On the most basic level the call could simply be diverted to an answerphone; although it is still polite to make sure the message gives some indication of how long you will be unavailable and then to return the call as soon as practicable.
The next stage could be to divert calls either to a colleague or to a virtual receptionist service. Here again if the person taking the call is fully briefed they will be able to provide the caller with a meaningful response. In more substantial business settings it is possible to set up call management pathways or hunt groups which will transfer calls around larger groups of people. Either way, with a call management plan the caller is not left in limbo and the recipient can follow Debrett’s advice and pay sole attention to the person in front of them.