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Directly Speaking
That’s All I Can Stands, I Can’t Stands No More!

by Scott A. Meyers, Executive Vice President

(Reprinted and slightly revised from the May/June 2012 issue of KeePosted) For our younger members, the quote above was used time and time again by Popeye, the Sailor in his film shorts (eventually called cartoons) that aired after school during the week and on Saturday morning television when I was a kid! (Back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and yes, there were televisions back then!) Popeye would put up with the bullying of characters like Bluto (arch nemesis), Abu Hassan (a cartoon takeoff from a villain in one of the short stories of One Thousand and One Nights) or any other episode nemesis for just so long and then he would stop, exclaim his famous quote and then down a can of spinach. The spinach would energize and strengthen him so that he could put an end to that episode’s troubles.

In 2012 my big concern was conference call etiquette which you will see in a sentence or two. But now, while more and more people understand the rules of conference calling, there are new issues on the nearby horizon that have my blood boiling. 

Well, when it comes to conference call etiquette it’s my turn to exclaim, “That’s All I Can Stands, I Can’t Stands No More!” Maybe you don’t do frequent conference calls so you’re not sure what I’m talking about, but if you participate in any, please read further. ICHP conducts at least 7 and often more than 10 conference calls each month with our different divisions, committees and networks. In addition, I personally participate on calls with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (DFPR), Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (IDHFS), the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB), and on several other organizational or issue related calls at any given time during the year. These calls save countless hours of travel and the related expense. They help us conduct business at a faster pace than ever before and they make ICHP a more effective organization in general.

But, darn it, I’ve had it with the few nitwits that occasionally participate on some of these calls! There are an abundance of websites (most are conference call providers) that provide a wide range of etiquette recommendations. Unfortunately, these few offenders have never seen them, or if they have they forgotten them or worst case scenario, think these etiquette rules don’t apply to them. Etiquette, believe it or not applies to everyone, even you! 

So here are some suggested conference call etiquette rules that I have gleaned from the multitude of conference call providers and more importantly from my own experience over the past 10 years and thousands of calls.

  1. Always mute your phone when you have nothing to say or add to the conversation. We don’t want to hear you and a colleague discuss your patient’s lab values and what needs to be done next, nor hear your dog bark, or toilet flush! To our young Moms and a few of you Dads, this means making sure you mute your phone when home with a child. We appreciate your dedication and participation, we love baby and kid pictures and we even like to see them occasionally at our meetings but a temper tantrum during a conference call is a killer!
  2. Always assume your phone is not muted unless you have muted it yourself. Some of the same reasons apply as above, plus the last thing you want to do is say something rude or nasty about another participant on the call having assumed your phone is muted when it is not!
  3. A conference call is not your lunch hour. If it is, mute your phone for sure! Your chewing may not only be distracting but may also be disgusting and no one wants to hear you talk with your mouth full!
  4. Give the conference call your full attention. There’s nothing worse than asking a lengthy question of one of the participants only to hear, “Sorry I was distracted, what was the question?”  We know that computer solitaire is a tough addiction to break!
  5. Don’t print a document if the printer is near the phone and please don’t open a new program or video containing sound while on the call. Some conference call systems use the most continuous sound source to override the background noise of others, so often a printer or video will drown out the conversation.
  6. Please, don’t ever put a conference call on hold! Your intentions are good (you think you’re muting your phone) but often the other conference call participants get to hear about your health-system’s most recent national award or worse yet a crappy version of a once famous Beatles song or static-filled elevator music. The rest of us don’t care about the award and talking over it or the music is impossible. Putting the call on hold might mean no one will be there when you come back!
  7. The conference call is not a time to straighten your desk. Again, the sound of shuffling papers or moving furniture overwhelms, distracts and destroys what could be a productive call.
  8. Please, don’t use a speaker phone unless there are multiple folks at your sight and they all agree to abide by the previous 7 etiquette tips. Enough said? In addition, speaker phones often create an echo or feedback, so if you have to use it, mute it.
  9. Make sure you don’t monopolize the call. Each participant on the call may have an opinion or insight on an issue. Take turns, letting others speak too. And if someone begins speaking when you begin, stop and let them finish or defer to you. That is unless they are the call hog and you haven’t been able to get a word in yet. If that’s the case, ask the moderator if you may provide your input when they are finished. Or you can always add a sarcastic “Before I was interrupted,” when beginning the next time. You’re on your own though the next time you meet the call hog face-to-face.

And since I’m on my bully pulpit, how about a refresher on e-mail etiquette?

  1. E-mail is NOT the same as texting. Use full words and sentences with proper punctuation. Thx U dig
  2. With every e-mail you send, including replies, not just original messages, you should include a complete signature (name, title, mailing address, telephone number, e-mail address, fax if you have one, and any other information someone might need if there is a remote possibility that you are now or could ever be seeking any type of response through any other means than e-mail). I can’t tell you how many times someone will e-mail me, “Give me a call” only to find they haven’t provided the telephone number in their signature. If there is any signature at all! Sure, I probably have it somewhere, but the time it takes me to I return your call is directly proportional to the time it takes me to find your telephone number somewhere in my files. 
  3. E-mail shouldn’t be used for emotional issues. Typing something in ALLCAPS looks like you’re shouting at the other person. Even if you’re only trying to emphasize a point. Improper use of emphasis in e-mails leads to skirmishes that can turn into major battles requiring multiple telephone calls and conversations in order to disarm or deescalate. 
  4. Be judicious with the “Reply All” button on e-mails. Are you sure everyone wants to hear your response? Has someone volunteered to collect all the responses and distribute a summary later? If so, honor that! Peoples’ mailboxes are clogged enough with Medicare information, hair growth promos, sexual enhancement products and who knows what else. Don’t make the junk mail issue worse by telling everyone what only one person wanted to know!
  5. Check your e-mail before you send it. Make sure the addressee is correct, the attachments are attached, and you haven’t inadvertently copied someone (Usually with a similar name to an intended recipient) who shouldn’t see the contents of the e-mail. Once it is sent, you can’t get it back. I love those, “Mr. So and So would like to recall the previous e-mail message” e-mails. Sorry, too late, already read it and the cat’s out of the bag!
  6. And speaking of once it’s sent you can’t get it back, remember anything you put in e-mail is in writing and could surface at some other time and place to haunt you like a bad nightmare!

Finally, one other very important rule of etiquette that many people seem to miss or misunderstand is the meaning of RSVP. RSVP is an acronym for the French term “Réspondez s’il vous plaÎt”, the English translation being “Please respond”! When you receive something with an RSVP on it, the sender would like to know your response, even if it means you will not attend or will not participate. The sender wants to know so they don’t have to plan for some “pop-ins” that never responded like having to order a few extra meals just in case. Worst case scenario, so you don’t have to go without a meal or a handout because the sender didn’t know you were coming! When you see an RSVP, send an answer no matter what!

Well, I didn’t down a can of spinach before I went on this rant but I do feel better. I will admit too, that I do violate one or two of these etiquette rules from time to time but not nearly as often as I used to. Especially the “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach of sending out an e-mail without the attachments! But overall, I try to do my part to keep conference calls noise and call-hog free and I try to keep my e-mails formal, polite and complete. And I’m doing a much better job of sending regrets when I can’t make it to a function too!

If you’ve never given any thought to etiquette in general, I hope this has been helpful. If you’ve heard this before and thought, “Okay, but that’s for everybody else.” I hope you now realize that you’re part of the problem. If these tips are tips you’d like to share with those in your conference call and e-mail circles, feel free! If this makes one call a month quieter and more efficient for each of you and me, I’ve done my job and won’t need my spinach! 
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