You Had Me at Hello: Getting to Know Proper Telephone Etiquette

Businessman talking on telephone
Jon Feingersh / Getty Images

When did you start using the telephone? It was probably as soon as you could say "hello." You didn't need any more skill than that in order to make or receive a call. The truth is, while it certainly isn't rocket science, proper telephone etiquette in a work environment involves a bit more than the ability to utter a greeting. Since it may be your initial point of contact with a client, customer or even your employer, it is your opportunity to make a good first impression ...

or a poor one. Here are some tips you should follow when using the telephone at work:

  • Swallow First: In other words, your mouth should be unoccupied when making a call or answering the phone. You want to be able to speak clearly and that is impossible if you are chewing or swallowing.
  • Name and Rank Please: When you receive a call  at work you should identify yourself and your company and department if applicable. If the caller has been transferred to you from the company's main line, you can state your name and department only. The person who initially answered the call most likely gave the company name. When you are the caller, identify yourself in the same way before asking for the person you are trying to reach.
  • Manners Really Do Matter: Always be polite regardless of who is on the other end of the line. Whether you are talking to a receptionist or the company president never forget to say please and thank you. Aside from the fact that everyone deserves respect, the person who answers your call can make sure it gets dealt with appropriately.
  • Focus: While we all like to multitask (or attempt to) refrain from tending to other things while you are on a call. You should give the person you are talking to your undivided attention. Your email, social media and games can wait.
  • Now Hold On: First of all, you should avoid all other conversations while you are on the phone. Reality sometimes gets in the way though. You may have to talk to someone who comes into your office or cubicle or pick up another call. Excuse yourself and then limit your other conversation to just a few seconds. Don’t leave someone waiting on hold indefinitely. If you can't take care of the other matter quickly, but it must be dealt with immediately, instead of putting the person with whom you were speaking on hold, ask if you can call back at a time that is convenient for her.
  • Don't Let Your Caller Get Lost in the System:  There are times when you won't be able to help the person on the other end of the line and will have to transfer him to someone who can. When you do, make sure he knows to whom you are transferring the call and why. Let him know what to do if the call doesn't go through or if the person you are sending him to isn't there or can't help.
  • Keep Messages Short and Sweet: When you leave a voicemail message for someone, speak slowly and clearly especially when you state your name and phone number. Too many people leave very long and rambling messages only to quickly mumble their names and numbers at the end which leaves the recipient unable to return the call.
  • Once is Enough: If you leave a message and the person for whom you left it doesn't get back to you immediately it may be because she can't at the moment. There is no need to call again and again. If it is a pressing matter, you can try calling again the next day or following up with an email stating that you also left a voice mail.
  • Listen First: Listen to a voicemail you've received in its entirety before returning the phone call. You may learn that it isn't even necessary to call back (wow, what a time saver) or that you need to take care of something first. For example, the caller may need information that you can have ready when you get back to her.

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