What to say when picking up another person’s phone?

Picture by FredEver come across the following situation? You’re in the room with another person who is engaged in an activity that requires her/his full attention and impedes her/him to communicate clearly and directly with you. Let’s say (s)he is engaged in a telephone conversation on a land line that (s)he is unable or unwilling to interrupt. Then all of a sudden this person’s mobile phone starts ringing and (s)he starts gesticulating to you in a way that suggests that this might very well also be an important call and that you should answer the call.

Well, I have been in the situation and always find it very difficult to decide what exactly to say when you pick up the phone. As the gesticulation suggests that the calls should not be left unanswered and as it usually is only a handful of seconds before the voicemail is activated, there is simply no time for elaborate (or even non-elaborate for that matter) discussion, with the other or with yourself, of the specifics of the path to follow. One thing is clear: the person on the other side of the line is not expecting to hear your voice, which is especially true if you are not the same gender as the phone owner (the gesticualtion also suggests that the call is not unexpected to the owner of the phone, hence the probablilty is quite high that the call is coming from someone who has been in touch with her/him before).

As quite a few people have the weird habit of rapidly ending the call abruptly whenever confronted with unexpected circumstances, starting to give a full sentence explanation like “Hello, this is [your name]. I am answering the phone of [phone owner name] as (s)he is currently unable to answer this call but (s)he asked me to answer the call and possible take a message.” seems not to be a good idea. More often than not, the red button is being pushed already after “Hello, this”. So, this is not a method that by default will lead to the desired result.

An alternative I’ve seen an heard other people use is something along the lines of “Hello, this is [phone owner name]’s phone speaking. But that sounds very weird to me, as it’s really in a linguistic sense referring to yourself as being a phone (sounds more like one of those silly Facebook-tests: if youy were a phone, which one would you be? Do the test and share the result!) . We’re beginning to read more and more about man/machine integration in an increasing number science publications, no longer only in science-fiction publications, but linguistically subsituting yourself with a mobile device completely has an unnatural sound to it.

So, then, what should one say? Well, frankly… I don’t have a clue. And I sincerely hope that you might have. Let me know if you do!


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