Phone etiquette experts: How to be polite when sound quality sucks?
July 16, 2014 12:35 AM Subscribe
When I'm on the (cell) phone with another person, and I'm not able to hear what they are saying clearly, I get stuck. For persistent low-quality voice calls (i.e. when "can you talk a little louder" isn't the solution and "can you repeat that?" doesn't help), what can I do or say that doesn't make me look like an incompetent, impatient jerk?
posted by RaRa-SpaceRobot to Human Relations (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
When I know the person well (family, close friend), and the situation isn't urgent, I'm fine being direct: "I can't understand you at all; let's try later or text me. Or I'll email you. The connection is bad."
But when it's a delicate, professional, or new social situation... I'm stuck, because I feel like making a big deal out of it would make me a jerk. For example, when a friend calls and he's excited about a new person and there is energy that just can't wait until tomorrow, I don't feel like it's polite to interrupt the moment to say that I can't hear 65% of what he's said very clearly.
I do signal to the other person that I can't hear them by saying, "What? I didn't hear that very well. Can you repeat that?" And then if there's no improvement, I might say one or two more times, "Sorry, can you repeat that? I'm having a hard time making out your words." But after 2-3 times, I just give up and hope that the person asks, "Can you hear me OK now?" to which I would say, "No. I'm sorry, can we try tomorrow?"
But, they'll keep on without too much concern, and I don't feel right interrupting them after every sentence to ask them to repeat things (especially when the repeating DOES NOT HELP MY COMPREHENSION AT ALL. It's just more garbled words). And I feel like such a jerk if I don't just power through the conversation at least for a little longer.
My default is to listen as closely as possible and to note key words and try to piece the convo together. But, when it's my turn to contribute, I probably sound like I haven't been listening at all. For some reason, the person on the other line has NO PROBLEM hearing ME in these circumstances. It's so frustrating!
My questions are:
1. Imagine you are the other person on the phone: how could I handle this situation without hurting your feelings and cutting off the conversation? I'm looking for in-the-moment solutions, if possible, and not "let's talk about this in person over coffee tomorrow." Assume that picking up the conversation at another time is a moot point.
2. Imagine you are an employer interviewing me on the other line: how could I handle this situation most professionally? Assume that most communication is very garbled so setting up another phone interview may not even be an option that I would hear/comprehend. Would it be awful to say, "I'm so sorry, but I cannot understand anything that you're saying. I hope you can understand me. Please let's be in contact over email to make different arrangements. I apologize for having to hang up now. I will send you an email to follow up as soon as I'm off the phone. Thank you for understanding. Goodbye."