Part of my job consists of answering phones for my boss. This is not my ideal field of employment, so you’ll have to excuse the sad, bitter tone of what I’m about to write. See, my boss — let’s call him “Asshole Jerkwad” — gets a lot of phone calls. I’m resigned to the fact that 90% of my day consists of me saying, “Asshole Jerkwad’s office” over and over again. It’s okay, really it is. They pay me pretty well, and I know that someday, oh someday, I will have my revenge on cruel fate. So I’ve chosen to focus my rage not on my boss himself but on his many callers. Most of them, you see, are idiots.

These people do not know how to place a business phone call, and that makes my job harder. It makes their job (i.e., getting through to my boss) harder as well, but they don’t seem to care about that. They apparently have plenty of time to waste making boneheaded, improper or inefficient business calls. So let’s not pretend I’m doing this for their sake. I’m doing it for mine. Herewith, I propose some simple guidelines to follow when placing a business call.

1. Identify yourself.

I can’t stress this enough. You know how after you dialed my boss’ phone number and heard that ringy sound, the next thing you heard was me saying, “Asshole Jerkwad’s office”? See, what I was doing was identifying him. Now it’s your turn. You know who he is. It’s only fair. Let him know who you are.

2. Identify yourself, you stupid moron.

Okay, maybe you don’t realize this, but the reason my boss has me pick up his phone for him is to screen his calls. He’s a busy man, and he doesn’t always have time to talk to everyone who’d like to talk to him. He needs to know who you are before he picks up your call so that he can manage his time efficiently. A lot of people respond to hearing me say, “Asshole Jerkwad’s office” with “Yes, I’m calling for Asshole Jerkwad.” See, I already know that. In fact, I just told you that that’s who you’re calling for. Let’s not repeat ourselves. It’s time to move forward.

3. Identify yourself, you clueless, brain-dead nitwit.

A lot of people, after hearing me say “Asshole Jerkwad’s Office” will say, “Is Asshole there?” Well, maybe. Maybe not. But don’t pretend you don’t know why I answered the phone on his behalf. You’re not going to get by me without identifying yourself. Don’t even try. Asking me questions that do nothing to identify you, questions like “Is Asshole there?” or “Can I talk to Asshole?” or “Is this Asshole Jerkwad’s Office?” is only going to delay the process of completing your call. Please don’t waste my time and yours. Tell me who you are, and once I have that information, I’ll let you know if Asshole wants to talk to you. Can you guess why that is? Well, it’s because whether he wants to talk to you depends on who you are. Is this starting to make sense?

4. Identify yourself properly, you evasive twit.

Okay, so you’ve told me who you’re calling for, you’ve asked your stupid questions, you’ve done a lot of things to delay the inevitable, and so I finally presented you with a real stumper: “Whom may I tell him is calling?” Don’t panic. This is an easy question, and I guarantee you know the answer to it. Your job now is to supply me with information that will allow my boss to recognize you once I relay the information to him. You want him to say, “Oh, yes. I know who that is” and then be able to make a decision about whether he wants to take your call. Which leads me to…

5. “Properly” almost always means with a last name.

“This is John” is not a suitable way to identify yourself. If your name is John, you’ve probably noticed that you do not have a unique name. Sometimes you’ll be waiting for your table at a restaurant, the hostess will call out your name, and another party will simultaneously try to be seated. No, that other guy isn’t an obnoxious jerk trying to muscle ahead of you in line. He isn’t stealing your identity. No, it’s just that that man is also named John. It’s a common name. So if my boss asks me who’s calling and I say, “It’s John”, he still does not have the information he needs to decide if he wants to take the call. And I’m not just talking to you, John. I’m talking to Frank and Dwayne and Heidi and Lisa and almost everyone who calls. My boss knows lots of people. And your name is probably more common than you think. So don’t assume you’re unique. You’re not. Deal with it. Give your last name. If your name is Hiroshito, maybe you can get by without giving me your last name. My boss doesn’t know many Hiroshitos. If you were calling Sony, maybe you’d need to give more information than just Hiroshito. Likewise, if this were Tokyo, perhaps identifying yourself as “John” would suffice. But we’re not in Tokyo, this isn’t Sony and odds are you share your first name with plenty of other people who may be calling. So tell me your last name.

6. If you know my boss won’t recognize your name, give your company name as well.

There are many people my boss deals with on a day-to-day basis, and it’s safe to say he’ll recognize those people from hearing their full name. But there are other people who call less frequently. Some people call only in regard to a certain project and then never call again. When you place a call, you probably know which category you fall into. So if you’re not someone who calls every day, you might want to toss in some extra information. Let’s say someone told you you had a phone call from “Roseanne Q. Winterplatt”. Would you drop everything you were doing and take her call? Probably not, because you don’t know any Roseanne Q. Winterplatt. You’re too busy to talk to complete strangers, so before you talk to Ms. Winterplatt, it would help to know what she’s calling about. If she said she was “Roseanne Q. Winterplatt of Destination Travel”, then you’d know it was about that swingin’ Club Med jaunt you were planning, and you’d be most delighted to talk to her. So if you’re Roseanne, why not tell people where you work so they’ll be more likely to take your call? Remember, when you place a phone call, your objective is to talk to someone. If you don’t get the person you’re calling on the line, you have failed.

7. Don’t try to outsmart me.

Maybe you’re a telemarketer. Maybe you’re that lowlife scumbag who screwed up that deal that my boss was working so hard to push through. Maybe you figure that if my boss knows who you really are, he’ll never take your call. So you’re going to try being sneaky to get past me. My advice to you: give up now. I’m smarter than you. Oh, you don’t think I am, but I’ve been doing this a long time, and I can spot a phony. If you think you can fool me, you’re in way over your head. One trick undesirable callers use is to pretend that they’re too important to give their full name. “It’s John,” they’ll say, in a big huff. Then, when I ask for more information, they cut me off with something like, “He knows me.” Then comes the hard sigh, like they’re soooo annoyed this lowly assistant is hassling them and wasting their time. They want me to think they’re a real big shot and that my boss is going to be pissed off at me that I was so rude as to ask this obvious Fortune 500 CEO type person to identify themselves. Well, guess what. Big shots don’t have to be evasive. They know that when they drop their full name, they get treated better. When Ted Turner or Bill Gates tells someone they’re calling, their call gets through about a thousand times faster than if they play games with the assistant. And real big shots don’t have time to waste. So give it up, pal. You’re not a big shot. You’re just an evasive jerk. Big shots didn’t get to be big shots without knowing how to place business calls.

I don’t know why people play these games. Most of them, as I’ve suggested, are just not very intelligent. But they’re not the dumbest people I deal with. Yes, it’s true, there are people even more dimwitted than the ones who won’t identify themselves. As I’ve said, I answer the phone “Asshole Jerkwad’s Office”. There are slightly different varieties of this greeting in use in the business world, but it’s fairly standard. Usually, when you place a call to someone who has an assistant, you’ll get something very much like “Asshole Jerkwad’s Office”. Still, some people come back at me with, “Is this Asshole?” Or even worse, they’ll just start talking. “Hi, Asshole, I’m calling from XYZ Corp and I wanted to ask you about the merger with blah blah blah I’m a big dumb jerk.” Hey, buddy, I tuned you out a long time ago. If I were Asshole Jerkwad, wouldn’t I have a simpler way of answering the phone than by saying “Asshole Jerkwad’s Office”? Say, maybe, “Hello”? Look, you can’t handle this. Please stop using telephones. Write letters. Send smoke signals. Tackle a technology you can handle.


Now that you’re armed with all the information my hostile, self-destructive sarcasm can drum into your tiny little brain, let’s review how a typical phone call should proceed.

ME: Asshole Jerkwad’s office.

YOU: Hello, this is Courteous Caller. Is Mr. Jerkwad available?

ME: Just a moment. [I place you on hold. To Asshole:] It’s Courteous Caller on Line 1.

ASSHOLE JERKWAD: That fucking son of a bitch? I hate that scumbag! Tell him to go to go suck Hitler’s cock in Hell!

[I pick up the phone.]

ME: I’m sorry. He’s unavailable right now. Can I have him call you back?

COURTEOUS CALLER: That would be wonderful. Goodbye.

ME: Goodbye. Have a pleasant day.

See how simple that was?

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