HR Magazine, March 2001: From the Publisher: When You’re on a Speakerphone, Don’t Make Noise

By John T. Adams III Mar 1, 2001

By the mid-1990s, every magazine in every developed country in the world had published at least one article on e-mail etiquette. (We first covered it in July 1994.)

Some writers gave it cutesy names, like “netiquette,” which is now in the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.

The Yahoo search engine has devoted an entire category to “netiquette,” and lists more than 100,000 World Wide Web pages mentioning the subject.

That seems like enough.

But a Yahoo search on speakerphone etiquette turned up only one web site that mentions it. We need more.

As the workplace becomes more collaborative and more dispersed geographically, speakerphones are a convenient way to touch base with colleagues.

The SHRM Information Center provides assistance to thousands of callers each month, some of whom use speakerphones. One of our information specialists sent me a few suggestions based on their experience with callers. I’ve taken the liberty to add a few suggestions of my own.

If you’re talking on a speakerphone …

  • Don’t shake a can of peanuts. (This happened during one Information Center call.)

  • Don’t shake anything else that might make noise, especially if you’re talking at the same time.

  • The same goes for shuffling or crumpling paper, eating crunchy food, popping chewing gum.

  • Don’t type while you’re talking or start a lengthy print job at the same time you make your call. Sometimes the speakerphone will magnify the sounds and the person on the other end won’t hear what you’re saying.

  • Don’t drum your fingers on the phone or on your desk. (I’m guilty.)

  • If you need to pick up the handset, do it gently. That noise gets magnified too. It isn’t a bad idea to announce that you’re picking up the handset.

  • Don’t get up and walk around the room while you’re talking. I know, people do this all the time in movies. But those aren’t real phone conversations.

  • Don’t shout. Today’s phones can transmit normal conversations. You don’t need to propel your voice across the line like kids with tin cans and string.

  • If the person on the other end asks you to pick up the handset to speak privately, do it—or make arrangements to talk about sensitive subjects in a separate call.

  • Don’t engage in side conversations with other people in your office.

  • If there are others in your office, let the person you’re phoning know at the very beginning of the call. And introduce everyone. That may save a lot of embarrassment.

Do you have any more tips or speakerphone horror stories? E-mail me at

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