Maddie Martinez misses hearing “goodbye.”
Twenty years ago the two-syllable courtesy regularly ended the thousands of conversations she had as a customer service representative with Public Service Company of New Mexico.
But in today’s world of cell phones, e-mails, instant messages and text messages, it’s “see you later” or a quick “thank you” that mark telephonic adieus, says Martinez, now director of Customer Contact with PNM.
Despite the difference, she has no fears about mass rudeness, nor does she worry that civility’s throat lies under a blade of casualness.
No, she says, this is just change.
But – like it or not – adapting to that change can make or break relationships, warns Virginia McDermott, an assistant professor of communication at the University of New Mexico.
Communication, McDermott explains, is a game with multiple rules, which are constantly morphing as technology evolves. Adapting to new ways of ending a conversation – McDermott calls it “leave-taking” – is key, she says, to maintaining social connections.
Using an improper au revoir is like putting a hole in a tank full of the fuel driving your friendships. With enough holes – or enough time passed without plugging them – the relationship may sputter, spit and stop, leaving its future abandoned on the roadside.
One of the worst leave-takings is a “click.”
“If I just hang up on you, what I’m indicating is you’re not that important to me, and that’s quite aggravating to most of us,” McDermott says. “It’s almost insulting and rude.”
Many affronts are more subtle, she says, and can be attributed to the way different generations adapt to rapidly changing technology.
“The kids who have grown up with cell phones . . . have different rules of etiquette,” she says. “Because they grew up with the ease and convenience of a cell phone and being able to access anybody, anytime and anywhere, that also necessitates they need to disengage anytime, anywhere, with relatively little notice.”
Chrisara Torrez has heard it. She’s 23 and works at PNM as a customer service representative. She says many of the calls she takes from younger people occur on cell phones. They’re talking while driving in their car or doing other attention-requiring activities. That can mean fast conversations and sudden goodbyes.
It’s a behavior and accompanying etiquette McDermott says previous generations lacked with their wired-to-the-wall telephones offering conversations in the relative calm of a home.
“That has changed and I think for some people, it’s threatening,” says McDermott, who is in her mid-30s. “People who are under a certain age, who grew up with this technology, I don’t think honestly they pay attention to it.”
Despite her customers being occupied with multitasking, Torrez says she still gets some kind of closing – often a “thank you” or “talk to you another time.”
“I don’t find it rude at all if they don’t end with a `goodbye,’ ” she says. “It’s maybe not something they’re used to doing, maybe something that wasn’t taught.”
Her older customers, however, more often say “goodbye.”
“Their generation goes back a little further,” she says. “For them to end the call with `goodbye’ is appropriate for them.”
Yet in the course of managing more than 1 million conversations a year as general manager for the city’s 311 information line, Michael Padilla struggles to recall hearing a “goodbye.”
“You’ll hear `thank you’ and `talk to you later,'” he says. “I think it might have something to do with age, and whether it’s a business conversation or personal conversation.”
Take Ariel Velarde. The 20-year-old Albuquerque resident says her phone conversations with family always end with, “Goodbye. Love you.” That way she knows her last words were positive if something terrible were to happen and it was the last chance she had to talk with them.
With Lori White, 50, it’s a “love you” to end phone calls with her two daughters. Talking to friends, she’ll use “see you later.” Talking to a customer service representative at PNM, and she might end with a “thank you for your help.”
Whatever the context, the important thing is to tailor your communication style to it, McDermott says.
If you get hit with a conversation ender striking you as rude, she suggests you focus on the intent of the message, not the communication style of the messenger.
After all, he or she may think nothing of that quick end of a conversation.
“Certainly communication has become more truncated,” she says. “It’s not necessarily good or bad. It’s just different, but you need to know how to play the game smoothly.”