Did the invention of the telephone lead to the death of politeness? The history of telephone etiquette explained.

By Laura_Donohue

June 30, 2020

In your lifetime, think of a technological discovery that has radically changed how we communicate with one another. Perhaps only the arrival of the internet is comparable to the development of the telephone. The invention of the telephone brought about monumental changes to the very fabric of society, how we conduct business and even international diplomacy. With this new method of communication, communication companies, socialites, and even Alexander Grand Bell himself wasted no time in their haste to share best telephone behaviour and practices.

The beginning of the end of politeness

Not everyone was excited about the invention and popularisation of the telephone. In 1907, one New York Times writer wrote a scathing article on how telephones enabled rudeness: “The general use of the telephone, instead of promoting civility and courtesy, is the means of the fast dying out of what little we have left.” Experts from all areas rushed to weigh in on telephone etiquette. In 1910, Bell’s Telephone Engineer magazine sponsored a telephone answering etiquette competition. Competitors from far and wide submitted essays describing their telephone answering technique. AT&T won with their essay on the dreaded H-word: hello. They compared the greeting to rushing ”… into an office or up to the door of a residence and blurt out ‘Hello! Hello! Who am I talking to?”

“Speak directly into the mouthpiece,” explained a California franchise’s instruction manual, “keeping moustache out of the opening.” Luckily, telephones and mobiles are specifically designed to accommodate facial hair.

Emily Post, an American author best known for her work Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, provided advice around telephone etiquette. Many turned to her for wisdom around telephone calling and answering etiquette. She made it clear that telephones were only to be used informally and that invitations to house and dinner parties, for example, should always be sent by mail.

Examples from Emily Post’s Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home on how to answer the telephone when receiving an invitation to sup.

Telephones have transformed social norms

That curmudgeon of an author from The New York Times might have been on to something when they said it was the end of politeness as we know it. Long-standing social norms on telephone usage and etiquette have shifted dramatically. In a study conducted by Pew Research, younger generations tend to be more approving of using mobile phones in a range of situations including on public transportation and in a restaurant compared to their older counterparts. When it comes to mobile phones we really are a mass of contradictions. While it was found that the vast majority of participants believed using one’s mobile during a social gathering hurts conversation, 75% of respondents said that their mobile usage took none or a little of their attention away from the group. Randstad’s Workmonitor Global Press Report stated that 20% of UK respondents answer their phone or respond to email during business meetings. Answering the phone is vital to maintaining a successful business, it shouldn’t compromise business etiquette and activities.

Answering the phone is an art we’ve mastered

    We believe that Emily Post and telephone etiquette experts would agree that when it comes to answering the phone, the Verbatim team goes above and beyond. With over 21 years of experience under our belt, we know how to answer every phone call. We’re so passionate about telephone answering that we’ve created a series of YouTube tutorials on telephone answering. From how to leave a good first impression of dealing with Mr Angry, we share all of our secrets to success in under two minutes per video. You’ll be impressed by how much thought and care goes into each telephone answering strategy. Want to learn more about how we can help? Don’t waste another second, contact us now.


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