I've kept my phone numbers out of the public domain now, as I really do not like being cold called by businesses or charities.

I have found that I used to try and be polite, but then the person calling me would try to get a foot in the door by persisting with a sales pitch. It's like they have a plan of pitch depending upon which responses of rejection they receive.

If some poor unfortunate manages to call one of my numbers I usually retort with an abrupt "How did you get this number?"

Usually they stumble around and say it's a random phone generator thingameybob...

I then reply with an abrupt "Take me off your calling list" and hang up. In Australia, businesses are obliged to take you off their lists if you request this. In fact there's a website where you can list your number to be taken off these types of lists (I haven't found them to be 100% foolproof).

So my question is:

How can I manage to end these calls without being rude? It's really not pleasant being so rude to people and I do feel a bit sorry for the person on the other end, as that would affect their day.

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    I mean although this doesn't answer your question, why should you be polite? If it's the type of cold call where they try to scam you into paying absurd amounts for a non-existent service they often destroy lives by taking the money of others, do you really care enough to be polite with them? – Crafter0800 Jun 29 '17 at 6:22
  • @Crafter0800 yes you make a good point – user57 Jun 29 '17 at 8:14
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    @Crafter0800 I like to remain polite to someone just doing a (low-paying!) job. At some point I might have been such a person myself. Also they are NOT the ruling force behind these calls. – Bookeater Jul 2 '17 at 12:15
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    @Bookeater I mean think of it this way, the time you're spending being "nice" is time they could be spending getting a successful sale, which they might get a cut of. Relative to the majority of calls they get I'd imagine just hanging up is relatively polite. (as opposed to hurling abuse to them). – Crafter0800 Jul 2 '17 at 12:17
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    @Crafter0800 So true. Polite & brief is the name of the game. – Bookeater Jul 2 '17 at 15:38

12 Answers 12


One of my roommates, when I was younger, worked in a call center... Believe it or not, the people calling you hate doing it more than you hate being called. He didn't last long working there, but came home pretty beaten down at the end of the day.

From what he said, the very best thing to do is to simply not answer the phone. The auto dialer just moves to the next number and he didn't have to do anything.

The next best option is to hang up immediately, don't bother to let them go through the spiel and tell them you're not interested, they just have to move to a secondary script and try to draw you in. They don't do it out of spite, they do it because the calls are often monitored ​for quality control. If you just hang up, the auto dialer moves to the next number and the person at the call center couldn't really care less.

Try to keep in mind that the people working at these call centers usually don't make much money, they're likely young kids just trying to make their rent. Don't give them a hard time just because they landed in a terrible job.

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    I love the fact that you've given us a perspective of the caller and how to best manage my time and the caller's time, without causing offence to either. – user57 Jul 20 '17 at 0:30
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    I used to work in a call center. I've been told I'm going to hell so many times ... I just needed to pay rent Love this advice - please don't tease, yell, "play a joke on" the caller. We had targets to hit and people got fired for not making them. – Andrea Aug 1 '17 at 16:53

The cold caller is working through a list, not trying to establish a relationship with you (other than getting your money). In that situation, "no thank you, I'm not interested -- please put me on your 'do not call' list" and hanging up is not rude. Yelling at or otherwise abusing the caller would be rude, but a polite "no" is perfectly reasonable.

Consider it this way: the caller, or person knocking on your door, is interrupting you, a stranger. It's not an equal situation. What might come across as rude (or at least brusque) to a friend, family member, or coworker isn't necessarily rude to the person who just interrupted you. People who solicit for a living know that most people aren't interested and should not take it personally.

My mobile number is unpublished and yet I've been getting an increasing number of junk calls in recent years (from auto-dialers, I assume). Unless I'm expecting a call, I now send calls from numbers I don't recognize to voicemail. This is sometimes unsatisfying (sometimes I miss something I would have preferred to answer), but the cold calls sure are frustrating.

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  • wow, thank you for this take on it. It's interesting to actually establish what is rude and what is or isn't ok in this situation – user57 Jun 29 '17 at 3:02
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    Thank you for putting "yelling at the caller is rude". I always politely say no to cold caller, and they always understand that. Having been working as in lower class job apparently taught you to be considerate toward others after you got better job. – Vylix Jun 29 '17 at 3:13
  • I've considered changing my voicemail message to include the information of "I don't answer numbers I don't recognize; please don't be offended that I assumed you were a telemarketer." I think that would show my lack of interpersonal skills though. – Kristen Hammack Jul 19 '17 at 19:01
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    @KristenHammack In my opinion, that's not necessary. Just let the call go through and check for a message later; it's not reasonable to expect someone to be immediately responsive to every call on a personal number anyway, you could be eating or doing any number of things away from your phone. (An official work number might be another matter, of course.) – JAB Jul 21 '17 at 20:19

It's like they have a plan of pitch depending upon which responses of rejection they receive.

Yes. They usually have a script to follow.

In the late '90s, the Dutch privacy artist EGBG (real name Martijn Engelbregt) created a counterscript, which you can use to derail the caller from their script by asking questions yourself.

The completed forms are (still) supposed to be sent to EGBG, who had received about 15,000 of them by 2006.

This counterscript does two things for you. First, it is a good example of the kind of scripts telemarketers may use.
Additionally, and this is your goal, it may derail the caller from their script enough to have them give up, without having been rude — you're just having a pleasant conversation, asking questions just like the telemarketer had planned on doing. I remember from (Dutch) newspapers at the time that some telemarketing companies even had devised counter-counterscripts, because their workers found it difficult to get back on track.


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    @SQB Hi! You might wanna explain how to end a cold call. Maybe a short summary instead of a big flowchart. – A J 9 Oct 24 '18 at 11:07

Hang up.

If you're on the no-callers list, they have no right to be calling you. They haven't shown the politeness or the legal sense to check into the rules on whether they are allowed calling you or not, therefore, there's no reason you have to treat them particularly politely. You don't have to be nasty, but if they're being illegal, you don't have to tolerate them.*

Relationships are two directional, and since they aren't treating me as important and frankly my relationship with them isn't all that important, I have no objection to being just a bit brusque.

That being said...

I enjoy getting a good joke out of cold callers. A famous one for telephone salesmen is,

Does this telephone work underwater?


How much does a call to Mars cost per minute?


Pretty soon the solicitor gets the point that they are really not welcome, they hang up, and you get a good laugh.

*Please note that I do not know exactly what the no-caller rules are like in your area; I'm writing from a Canada / USA perspective.

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  • I do like the fun aspect. when you say hang up, do you mean don't say anything, just hang up as soon as I realise they're a salesperson? – user57 Jun 29 '17 at 3:01
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    @YvetteColomb Great question! Generally, if I'm busy, I'll just break in with a quick, "Sorry, I'm not interested," and hang up, but if they won't even let me get that word in edgewise, I'll just hang up. Relationships are two directional, and since they aren't treating me as important and frankly my relationship with them isn't all that important, I have no objection to being just a bit brusque. – anonymous2 Jun 29 '17 at 3:03
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    I love that Relationships are two directional, and since they aren't treating me as important and frankly my relationship with them isn't all that important, I have no objection to being just a bit brusque. can you put that in your answer? – user57 Jun 29 '17 at 3:04
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    Another good point here is that if they are not a scamming cold caller, you're "wasting" less of their time so they can get onto a potentially interested customer sooner. – Crafter0800 Jun 29 '17 at 8:15

I actually had a problem with this a couple days ago (and obviously in the past). I was busy at the time and muffed it, but I tried to get in the usual spiel I have for such people which boils down to this: Let them know that their product/service is not necessary for you.

In this recent case, the caller was asking for donations for a veterans group. I attempted to say the following:

I appreciate the opportunity, but I've already made donations to similar groups within the past year. I'm not interested in donating at the present time. Thank you for your time.

This is almost always true. I'd be more inclined to donate if I hadn't already donated to that subset of group, but if I have, I'm probably not interested.

If it's a for-profit business group, things can be different. I'm less likely to be nice than I would be to a charitable organization. I like to tell them that I simply don't need what they're selling. For instance, if a telemarketing cold caller were to call me selling a magazine subscription, I could say either

I already have a magazine subscription regarding that topic. I'm not interested.


I'm sorry, but I'm not interested in that subject.

Most of the time, I find I can be truthful by saying that my need is already satisfied, but if I'm not comfortable with lying - and sometimes I am - I'll simply say

I'm not interested in [your product]. Thank you.

Any of the above statements are succeeded by a brief pause to let them say something. If they say something like "Okay, thank you", then I'll end the call. If they continue the pitch, I'll hang up with a "Sorry, not interested". This is what I failed to do a couple days ago. Vylix suggested adding "I'm hanging up now" in this second case, which is more final and possibly a little nicer than just hanging up.

Basically, in cases of cold calling, I end up doing the following:

  • Letting them know that I don't need what they're selling and will not need it in the future (in case they try to put me on a mailing list or something).
  • Thanking them for their time, if they aren't too annoying. I find that this can be final without being rude. I especially try to be nicer to folks from charitable or non-profit organizations. Yes, cold calling is generally rude, but some callers have good intentions. Others don't.
  • Ending the conversation. I messed up that call a couple days ago because I let them keep talking. That was A Very Bad Move. Cold calling (and telemarketing) is a case where it may be important to have the last word.
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    @YvetteColomb I've edited it. I use the pause to see if they're going to end the call or not. – HDE 226868 Jun 29 '17 at 2:51
  • what did you fail to do? speak before hanging up or argue and not hang up? – user57 Jun 29 '17 at 3:00
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    If they still insisting a sales pitch after a "no", I would say "No, I'm not interested. I'm hanging up now". The later might help you feel less guilty a bit because you're letting them now you're hanging up before you actually do. – Vylix Jun 29 '17 at 3:07
  • @Vylix That's a good point; I've added that suggestion. – HDE 226868 Jun 29 '17 at 13:08
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    @YvetteColomb I failed to be assertive and explicitly state that I was not interested, and hang up. – HDE 226868 Jun 29 '17 at 13:10

I let them finish their opening, and when they pause to listen to me I say

Please add this number to your do not call list.

There is nothing rude about this request, you've listened to their opening without interruption, and this is the most polite and sure way to signal your complete lack of interest. Almost any other response will result in them continuing the call to break down whatever barrier you throw up - but this one actually ends the call.

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  • Note that some people still say, "Please take this number off your list" and they will - but they will get your number from another list and call you again. A do not call list, however, is a list they must maintain which, if your number is on it, they should not call you even if they obtain new lists from other sources. – Adam Davis Jul 22 '17 at 13:53

There's no need to be "polite" to someone who is calling you despite your being on a "do not call" list, which is basically illegal. There's no need to worry about their day, since if they are caught, they (or at least their company) could be subject to heavy fines. On the other hand, there is no need to go out of your way to be impolite.

As soon as I've heard what they are about, I say, "we're not interested." and hang up. That gives them the "courtesy" of hearing your posture, and an unmistakable sign of such.

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I find that if declining and saying you have to go/aren't interested simply doesn't work, there are many ways to give hints.

"I'd like to let you go so you have more time to talk to other people who would be a lot more interested than me in your product. Perhaps your company may wish to take me off your list so I don't waste anyone's time in the future."

This is a bit passive aggressive, and it uses the mental trick of pretending you're doing someone else a favor, so it's not for everyone. But also, it doesn't HURT anyone.

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  • thanks for that. I like how you focused on the hurt aspect – user57 Jun 29 '17 at 8:15
  • Having had an acquaintance in telemarketing, I know (anecdotally) that they do not mind someone who's not interested finishing the conversation as soon as possible. – SQB Jun 30 '17 at 6:52

Quite often these people will launch into their speel, but you would prefer not to listen to the whole thing before telling them that you aren't interested.

The key here is to say something like, "Sorry to interrupt, but I'm actually not interested. I hope you have a nice day" and then hang up. I don't believe that the caller will feel too upset about that.

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Your caller will be on a script. In order to get to your preferred script end (end call) there is one sure way:

Caller: Hello I'm able to offer you an incredible deal on [whatever]!
You: I'm sorry I don't do [whatever].
Caller: But it is an incredible [whatever] deal and only available for a short period of time!
You: I'm sorry I don't do [whatever].

You will have to say it twice. It does not matter if they call you on your mobile and [whatever] is a mobile phone. It is perfectly polite. And it does not give anything away. Be sure these callers live on information and you do not want to feed them.

One general tip:
Absolutely refer from using the word 'yes' in these conversations. The more aggressive callers will send you their package automatically if they've captured that word from you - in whatever context.

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  • how do you know you need to say it twice? – user57 Jul 2 '17 at 12:01
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    @Yvette Colomb, I've once applied for a job at a shop where they built such scripts... in my sinful past. Afterwards I've kept a tab on handling the annoyance around the speedily growing market this became. Yup, old, here. – Bookeater Jul 2 '17 at 12:03

I ask for a website so I can read up on the details/options on the service/product/organization. If they don't give me one, I let them know that I consider products/services/organizations when I can research them in detail.

If I don't have the time to review the site right then and there, I'll thank them for their call and the website, and this will typically end the 'connected' nature of the call.

If I choose to visit it right then and there (if I have the time), I provide feedback if I feel like it:

  • The website:
    • Is poorly designed, and reflects badly on the product being offered
    • Doesn't have the information I'm looking for, and I don't like buying things that don't have a clear product description, support agreement, privacy policy, etc.
    • Has a lot of info, I would have to read through it and look into this later
    • Has the information I need, thanks
  • Online reviews
    • The product/service gets a lot of bad reviews online, which turns me off
    • The organization doesn't provide transparency per Charity Navigator
    • The product/service/organization gets good reviews online
  • The product/service:
    • Meets my needs, but not at the price being offered
    • Meets some of my needs, but I'm really looking for additional specific items
    • Doesn't meet my needs
    • Meets my needs

I'll then ask them to convey the shortcomings back up to their supervisors, and let them know that they did a great job in calling and providing me information, but that the product/service/organization fell short for me.

After all that, if it's not something you want, I guess you'll have to figure out another way to say that.

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It would be rude not to hang up, as these poor callers often earn their pay from commission. If you don't intend to buy, don't waste their time.

I don't have any problem with "Hi, you are talking with John Doe from ACME corp" - "No, I'm not." [click]

I have thought of asking female callers improper questions like "Are you wearing panties? What colour?" to get on their blacklist, but I have not mustered the courage yet ;-)

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    advocating sexual harassment is never a good solution – user57 Sep 8 '17 at 2:29
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    Lenne, first, what @YvetteColomb wrote is really relevant. But above that, you are insulting an unrelated person. But if you like to stay with that style of conversation: Convince male callers to find out whether, and which style of underwear their boss is wearing! Too odd to risk insulting, and you may even get an honest answer, if both are gay and find it funny – Volker Siegel Jan 7 '18 at 13:35
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    @Lenne It's just wrong how you use "improper", using "just wrong" would be less improper. Extra points for finding why. – Volker Siegel Jan 7 '18 at 13:41

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