Dictation Etiquette


I read your entry on workplace habits. What advice do you have regarding the more intimate setting of speaking to a (sometimes anonymous) person through their amplified headset?


Tired Ears


Dear Tired Ears:

We have never developed anything about the issue of dictation courtesy. However, it seems to me that, given the nature of the people who are dictating in most settings (doctors, attorneys, executives, etc.) a lengthy document (more than a couple of paragraphs) would not be read anyway. Even in a training session the person doing dictation is not likely to think there is much training needed by him or her on that topic.

Thus, it seems to me that offices, organizations and professions using dictation equipment should develop a short phrase or two to convey the concept, and perhaps affix it to the dictating machinery itself! Or, on a regular basis–maybe every few months–a short reminder message can be sent out.

The advice could be like the “Stop. Drop. Roll.” advice for putting out a fire on your clothing. Something short and to the point. Perhaps, something like:

“For more accurate results and to show professional courtesy: Speak clearly. Spell unusual words. Turn your head away to sneeze, cough, or talk off-topic.”

I asked a physician about this matter and he was sure that he had never, ever been unclear in his dictation, and that he had never, ever blown out the eardrums of his stenographer with loud noises or non-dictation comments.

Then, he said, “Sometimes I will joke about something I’m dictating, but Diane gets a kick out of it and always teases me about the remarks I made, right in the middle of the dication.”

I’ll bet Diane doesn’t think it’s all that funny, when she’s trying to get her work done!

It would seem to me that companies who produce dicatation equipment would like the idea of being part of developing material, stickers or training that includes the kind of concerns you mentioned.

Or, if there is a newsletter for an industry or organization, that could be a topic. If you think you can tie it into a liability situation, you could contact the legal representatives for the organization or profession with which you are involved in taking dictation. They may want to make that a topic of discussion in their own training or materials.

In the final analysis though, this may be something that trainers for those taking dication will simply need to inoculate trainees about. Nothing will likely ever completely stop the bad habit some people have of coughing, sneezing, yelling or laughing suddenly, while dictating. Nothing will convince them that they aren’t speaking clearly enough, or that they should spell some of the names and words they are using. Sadly, that is the nature of the arrogance of some people in some professions and job positions.

In those cases the people who must listen, must learn to deal with those issues in some way. If it becomes so bad as to be impossible to accept, a supervisor or manager may have to intervene at a much higher level. Or, a friendly and courteous contact to the person doing the dictation maybe all that is needed. Each situation will undoubtedly be different.

I’m sure you have become very frustrated, especially if you have worked to uphold high standards for your own performance. Hopefully this aspect of the work is offset by much better things!

If you ever do create material about this issue, and it seems to be well accepted and used, please let us know. We always like to have resources to share.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.