If Dale Carnegie were to write another bestseller on ‘How To Lose Friends & Infuriate People’, there would be enough grist from our common communication. None of these practices may be intentional but most of us would be guilty of committing such faux pas at some point in our lives. Or still are at the receiving end. Unveiling the ten cardinal rules to put off people:

I’m Early! Oh really?

Eager beavers out there do need a vocabulary test. ‘Punctuality’ is about showing up on time. The operative words ‘on time’ do not mean ahead of time but on the dot. You may factor in the usual villain of the piece – traffic, and leave way ahead to reach your destination an hour earlier, if you please. But imposing yourself before the scheduled time is just as bad as showing up late. The logic is simple. It makes no difference whether land up after your expected slot or before it begins. Or if you show up or even text ‘I’ve reached’ earlier than expected. That is not your appointed time. Period. So if you do want to be doubly sure about your stop watch precision, grab a bite or sip coffee outside or read a book or take a stroll or meditate or do whatever; except ringing that bell.

SOS! How about Textual Intercourse?

You’re in an important meeting. Or at the hospital. There are fifteen missed calls from the same number in quick succession. You bump the call every time hoping that the caller would understand that you can’t speak. Tough luck. What follows could range from an exasperated “why aren’t you answering my calls?” to “Call me back. Urgent.” If someone doesn’t pick your calls, there can be only a few reasons – they are driving (and responsible motorists) or sleeping or on another call more important than yours, or in a meeting, watching a movie, getting a massage or having sex or in the bathroom. If it’s that earth shattering, how about texting the actual message instead of that useless “call me back. It’s urgent.” Your urgency may not mean much to the person called. So just text. It’s non intrusive. And cheaper.

Action Replay?

You have a grievance. After passing through a maze of interactive voice response options in 3 minutes (the ‘count to ten’ advice for anger management is outdated) you finally manage to vent your spleen. Just when you think a solution is on the way, you are reminded of that childhood game of snakes and ladders. A new and perhaps higher in the pecking order mother hen comes on the line with an indignant “Yes, tell me.” That ‘back to square one’ feeling is unbeatable. And makes you wonder if the first executive was doing some of the above in the previous paragraph instead of briefing the person to whom your call is transferred. The justifiable refrain could be: ‘so am I to repeat the Ramayana to you as well.’ If you’re lucky, the line will not get cut at this point! If you muster the patience to call again, pray that you are not ‘caller number 25’. And hear that placebo: ‘Please wait. Your time is important to us.’

‘Busy’ Means Buzz Off

To those whose calls you repeatedly bump but who think you’re just playing a game of ‘catch me if you can’, here’s that eureka moment: it’s a state of preoccupation with a priority list where you rank at the bottom, if at all. In common parlance, the word is ‘busy’. Even if you text these blokes exactly that -‘I’m busy. Call you back’, some will do an act of contrition or propose an effusive vote of thanks. If someone says they are busy, just stop, don’t even text any further. Silence can be such a relief.

Whose Privacy Is It Anyway?

There is a reason why a mobile phone directory doesn’t exist. Or why some folks don’t print their mobile numbers on their visiting cards. Or have anonymous numbers that don’t show up on your screen or rat out their identity on True Caller. They value their privacy. So before you generously part with someone’s mobile number or private landline number just to flaunt your proximity with them, do exert yourself a wee bit and check if it is ok to share their number, especially with a perfect stranger. It’s a different matter altogether if it’s an old friend trying to reconnect. Springing a surprise on unsuspecting souls and then asking them not to divulge how they got the number may just make your nose grow longer a la Pinocchio.

Unreserved On Shatabdi Express

Prefixing your calls to a mobile number with a simple ‘got a minute?’ or ‘are you free to talk?’ is the most basic but often neglected part of telephone etiquette. The norm, it appears, is to rattle off at breakneck speed, all about your problem or brag about yourself – your feats and fears, or worse, throwing tantrums over why the other person didn’t call back, without the courtesy of checking if it’s alright to chat. With a mobile phone, you could be anywhere or doing anything, more specifically enumerated under the second sin above.

Necromancy…Unwittingly, Of Course!

If you’re wondering what that is, well, it’s a form of magic involving communication with the dead! With meagre face to face interaction, thanks to the social media, many of us are prompted by facebook to wish even our departed friends on their birthdays. In the same vein, wishing a person who has just been bereaved, a great birthday or merry christmas, is just as bad. If facebook has a bug that it won’t fix, it’s not a bad idea to spend a minute scrolling down the timeline of a friend you haven’t been in touch with for a while at least before you attempt to virtually blow their birthday candles.

‘Thank You’. ‘Oh You’re Welcome.Wassup?’

For those who make it a point to acknowledge every single wish on their facebook timeline, messenger, or on linkedin, twitter, sms, email (Phew! Imagine the sheer number of platforms!) birthdays or festivals can be quite stressful. I’m steering clear of ‘celebrities’ who are otherwise hyperactive on the social media with their characteristic ‘I, Me, Myself’ promotion but don’t care to even press a Like button for a wish. If the birthday boy takes the trouble of saying ‘thank you’, even better if it’s with your name, don’t extend the acknowledgement with a chat window. Believe me, while receiving a few hundred wishes may trigger an endorphin release, responding to each wish takes some effort. So don’t over engage.

Cut, Copy, Paste Brigade

Passing off a round robin email to a hundred recipients by cleverly camouflaging it with addresses in the Bcc line and garnished with an informal pretence like ‘Hey there’, is the most corny way to get your message across. A genuine personal touch works best. If that’s not feasible, an honest approach will do. Instead of ‘hey there’, ‘dear all’ seems more sincere. Email addresses in Bcc helps by not revealing confidential IDs to the world at large but also acts as an inherent deterrent against the compulsive and indiscreet ‘Reply All’ Johnnies.

Less Is More

Condolences cry out for brevity and simplicity. They must be heartfelt. I’ve seen folks using the expression ‘hearty’ followed by needless prose. Don’t pry unless the bereaved voluntarily share details. It’s more dignified to let your mere presence do the talking. Like the title of that Ronan Keating number ‘You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All.’

Sanjay Pinto Black Shirt
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Columnist, Author, Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7 and a Public Speaking Mentor)