Because they are hands-free, speaker phones allow more than two people to take part in a call at the same time, even though this can result in a "tunnel effect"--a kind of echo that distorts the sound of the speakers' voices. Speakerphones in offices, which can be activated by the push of a button, can be calibrated to reduce this effect. Some cordless phones have speakerphone capabilities, and even cell phones can function as speakerphones in a closed environment. Not long ago while traveling on an Amtrak train, the woman seated directly in front of me was using her phone as a speaker so all passengers could here her dual conversation. She wasn't in an office with the door closed, and her call was disruptive to everyone around her.
A telephone call is often the first impression that we make on someone--a business prospect, a client or a colleague. Here is a commonsense guide to speakerphone etiquette.
General Speakerphone Tips
• Before picking up the receiver, make sure you stop any other activity that could distract from the call, such as drinking, chewing gum, or typing. Because speakerphones are hands-free, they allow callers to take part in other activities at the same time, such as sifting through papers pertinent to the discussion or typing on a keyboard. Remember that your caller is likely to hear such noises, and try to give that person your full attention instead.
• Avoid using a speakerphone in an office environment where there is open space such as cubicles. If you can shut the door and not disturb others, this is ideal.
• Always ask the person on the other end of the line if he or she minds being put on the speakerphone. Some people find them annoying and invasive.
• Tell your caller who else can hear the conversation. The last thing you want is to have your caller be surprised to hear the voice of someone he or she didn't know was on the other end of the conversation.
• Driving while talking on a cell phone with the use of a headset automatically turns the cell phone into a speakerphone inside the vehicle. But since studies have proved that talking on a headset while driving is almost or just as dangerous as talking on a hand-held cell phone, it's best to not talk on the phone while driving at all. Passengers, of course, can use their phones and headsets as they wish, but should follow all the above guidelines when possible.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (www.AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.