Getting through on the phone is something all Business-English beginners can expect to be taught. But, at higher levels, it’s not so much a matter of getting through as getting rid.
In fact, getting rid of callers has become such a problem, there’s now a special website, sorrygottago.com, which provides realistic sound effects that give you an excuse to hang up. One click on an audio file gives you static on the line, the sound of the boss coming in, a fire alarm going off or an assortment of other call-terminating noises. But for those who balk at such deception, here’s an intercultural guide to the art of saying: ‘Get lost’.
1. Be pre-emptive: ‘Sorry, I’m just on my way to a meeting. I’ve only got five minutes’. This sets a useful time limit, but be careful of upsetting the Japanese, who were loath to interrupt you in the first place and now feel like they’ve unforgivably invaded your schedule.
2. Be deferential: ‘I won’t keep you’, ‘I’ll let you get on’, ‘You must be very busy’. But beware the literal Dutch, who will simply reply: ‘No, not especially busy’ and the charismatic Italians who’ll say ‘Never too busy to speak to you’.
3. Be subtle. Drop in an ‘Anyway …’. Works on Brits. But remember the Spanish equivalent is ‘Bueno’ and as much an invitation to change the subject as to sign off.
4. Be amenable: ‘Is there anything else I can help you with? Good.’ But be quick about the ‘good’!
5. Be amicable: ‘It’s been great talking to you’. But realize not everyone will register that the present perfect means you’re looking back on something you dearly wish to end.
We all prefer happy endings, but sometimes just ending at all is happiness itself.