I’m Listening (and so is Everyone Else): When is speakerphone acceptable?

by EPI Staff on March 11, 2011

Q: Is it acceptable for me to put a phone call on speakerphone without telling the person I’m talking to?

A: The person you’re talking to may be speaking confidentially, for your ears only. Or, your conversation partner may be hard if hearing, in which case the background noise picked up by the speakerphone could make it even more difficult for him. Explain up front that you’d like to put the phone on speaker, and ask whether it’s OK with the other person. Most people won’t mind, but if you sense hesitation, explain your reasons-for example, other people in the room may need to contribute to the conversation, or you’d like to have your hands free for taking notes. Does your phone mate still seem uncomfortable? Then do respect her wishes.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Lady Antipode March 11, 2011 at 2:22 am

No, it’s not acceptable, any more than recording a conversation without the other person’s knowledge is acceptable. For all the reasons mentioned above, it’s not only polite to ask about putting the phone on speaker, but also to say who else is there.

If I’m answering a call by speaker phone (usually in the car hands-free) I will say something like “Hi, you’re on speaker phone in the car with Lady Antipode and the Duchess” as though it were a radio program. If I’m making a call, I’ll open with “Hi, it’s Antipode and the Duchess here. You’re on speaker phone”.

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Jerry March 11, 2011 at 3:12 am

Are you talking when is it appropriate for business or when is it appropriate for personal communications? Because these two raise very different questions. In the former situation, putting someone on speaker is not as big a deal (so long as you aren’t discussing confidential information) than in personal situations where it is just creepy.

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JB March 11, 2011 at 3:44 am

I have to disagree — putting someone on a speaker phone without their knowledge in a business situation is a very big deal. For the most part, speaker phones are useful when it comes to calls where there are multiple people involved and in the same room, or if one of the callers needs to be hands-free in order to take notes. In these situations, it is very important to alert the caller that he is on a speaker phone and identify any and everyone who is on the phone. It is also courteous to identify yourself when you begin speaking as voices may sound alike.

Otherwise, most people do not like them and do not wish to have their calls broadcast in such a manner — they have no idea who may or may not be listening in (regardless of what they are told), background sounds are distracting and you feel as if you are talking from inside a tin can. Perhaps most importantly, when putting a caller on a speaker phone simply because it is more convenient for you to listen in this manner, it sends the message that the caller is not important enough to receive 100% of your attention … you are likely checking email, glancing at paperwork, and a number of other things as you “listen” in on the call.

People usually can tell if they are on a speaker phone, whether they say anything or not. Many times, in business, nothing will be said, but you have made an impression … and not a good one.

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Vanna Keiler March 11, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Well said, JB. I think you summed it up nicely. I agree that you should notify anyone you are speaking with (business or personal) that they are or will be on a speaker phone, and perhaps an explanation for the reason (unless the reason is obvious between the parties). To not do this is inviting issues, misunderstandings and a whole host of other problems. I say “err on the side of caution” and let everyone know if they are on speakerphone.

I have a personal experience and sad tale relating to this of a relative who never informs me when she puts me on speaker phone when I call her or vice versa, despite my requests to be notified. As a result, her young 5-year old daughter has been listening in on adult conversations between us over a period of time, and some of our topics have included her grandparents’ health issues and my concerns over them. The end result is that her daughter now constantly worries about her grandparents health issues as well, among other things — worries a 5-year old should never have. For whatever reason, I have to keep asking my relative if we are on speaker phone and admittedly, sometimes forget to ask because of her bad habit of not telling me.

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