10 Tips for Practising Good Telephone Etiquette at Work

A young woman speaking on a pink landline telephone

The telephone? What’s that? Isn’t that a device where you call people instead of texting them emoticons and sharing selfies?

Believe it or not, the telephone remains the primary mode of communication in the workplace, whether you are answering enquiries from clients or speaking with your colleagues – yes, you should be discussing work-related business, but you can’t help but talk about the Game of Thrones season eight premiere!

We have slowly learned that email is the most inefficient and ineffective way to communicate. Rather than just walk over to a coworker’s desk or pick up the telephone to make a call, we sit on our behinds and type out a request or question, which takes a lot longer than doing so verbally.

So, why do we do it? There’s plenty of reasons, from being lazy to socially awkward to convenience.

But management is getting wise to us. Instead of maintaining the status quo and wasting time typing 23 words a minute, companies are training – or retraining, if you will – staff to embrace the telephone as part of a complete overhaul of office etiquette. Indeed, there is the good and proper way, and then there is the unprofessional manner.

How can you adopt the former and avoid the latter? There are many telephone etiquette tips you can employ.

1. Smile

Let’s put a smile on that face!

Okay, that might sound a little bit creepy after The Dark Knight, but it is still sage advice when you’re engaging with someone on the telephone. By keeping a smile in your voice, you become more amiable and enthusiastic, and the person on the other end will pay better attention to what you’re saying – whether it is advice for an upcoming presentation or a receptionist who needs to write down important notes.

There’s nothing worse than speaking to someone with a monotone voice who is obviously one step away from taking a trip to Bellevue or Washington, DC – or is that the same thing?

2. Get the Greeting Right

Sure, your office might have a more laidback atmosphere, but that doesn’t mean you can say anything you want. Despite Monday being Hawaiian shirt day and Thursday designated as dress up as your favourite fictional character day, it is always important to remain professional, including when you’re taking a call.

For example, if you’re answering a call, don’t say ‘yo’ or ‘home of the Whopper, what’s your beef?’. Ditto if you’re contacting somebody – you don’t want to speak in a foreign dialect or say ‘ahoy hoy’.

Instead, the best way to greet someone is to utter one simple word: ‘hello’. Or, if you want to expand upon that, then you can also use ‘good morning/afternoon/evening’.

3. Don’t Interrupt

With the art of the conversation dead and buried six feet under, we are not as adept at analysing a discussion as we once were. Because of this, it can be hard to tell when you can speak and when you cannot without appearing uncouth or odd. It’s even harder when you’re on the telephone.

Simply put, try your best to never interrupt the person on the other line. A grieving customer, a perturbed manager or a colleague explaining the 230-page report tomorrow – it is best to let the person speak until there are a couple of moments of silence. Or, if you don’t want to time each call, you can go with the flow and use common sense when the other person is finished.

4. Avoid Getting into an Argument

Let’s be honest: some days you just want to explode. You’re exhausted, you’re frustrated, and you’re fed up. It takes just one spark to light the fuse inside of you, and a complaining client or an outraged boss can tap into that little man inside your stomach and unleash all that rage.

Sure, you’d feel fine at first, but it can jeopardise your career, especially if you’re in customer service.

It is imperative that you remain calm and do not enable your difficult coworker who already has a bad attitude and won’t stop chewing gum. Instead, you need to speak in a cool manner, show your interest in their call and stay professional.

That is the best etiquette to have when dealing with irate people on the phone.

5. Practise Clarity

Do you mumble? Talk fast? Talk quietly? Well, stop it – at least when you’re talking on the phone at work. You need to practise clarity whenever you hold a phone to your ear – or have a headset on.

Indeed, clarity can mean more than just being articulate and audible. It also requires you to adopt these aims:

  • Emphasise a message one at a time.
  • Do not provide too much information at once.
  • Complete your thought and ideas before you move on to the next topic.
  • Use appropriate, precise and concrete words to communicate.

It is this level of clarity that can improve your overall communication skills and make you sound like a pro.

6. Don’t Let the Phone Ring Too Long

You can still practise telephone etiquette even when you’re not holding a receiver to your ear. How so?

Well, here’s a question: how many times do you let the phone ring before you answer it? If your response is more than three, then you’re doing it all wrong. Instead, you can only allow your telephone to ring a maximum of three times, unless it is entirely out of your control (you’re in the washroom or you’re sitting in a meeting).

So, if you’re sitting at your desk, try to pick up the phone as quickly as possible.

7. Don’t Eat

Are you enjoying your chiles en nogada? Well, that’s great, but just because you’re enjoying it, it doesn’t mean other people need to hear about it!

One of the worst things you could ever do when you’re on the phone is to talk and chew your food at the same time. You have likely heard many people do this while they’re talking to you, but it is just a disgusting characteristic of ours. It’s also quite unprofessional when you’re doing this in the office.

8. Stick to Business Hours

While it is true that the global economy has made business hours 24 hours a day, you need to adapt to the situation at hand. So, there are two approaches to this issue:

First, if your business hours are from 9am to 5pm, then you only need to answer the phone during these times.

Second, if you’re trying to get in touch with John Smith or Jane Doe, then you should only call them during their business hours – or the times they left in their message.

9. Use the ‘Hold’ and ‘Transfer’ Buttons

The two most important buttons on your telephone system are ‘Hold’ and ‘Transfer’. You will soon realise, once you make the phone more integral to your day-to-day affairs, that these two buttons alone can make all the difference in the world in your telephone etiquette.

The ‘Hold’ feature is great because you can verify something with a colleague, confirm a fact with a supervisor or allow the person on the other end have a breather. You should never put your phone to your chest – nobody wants to hear your heartbeat or your food digesting!

The ‘Transfer’ button is just as good because you can feel like a pro by connecting Art Vandelay to HE Pennypacker. Rather than running around the office and trying to locate Peggy Sue, you can instantly transfer the person on the phone to the individual they wish to speak to.

10. Adopt the 7 Cs of Communication

Are you not much of a communicator? We don’t blame you.

It is hypothesised that a lot of us are horrible verbal communicators because we don’t practise it enough. Think about it: we text, send tweets, use emoticons and write as if we are from the Stone Age – sorry to the Neanderthals!

You can easily rectify this matter by adopting the seven Cs of communication:

  1. Complete – convey all the facts
  2. Concise – use the least possible words
  3. Consideration – think about the person on the other end
  4. Clarity – ensure the other party understands
  5. Concrete – be clear and exact, not vague and convoluted
  6. Courteous – be polite, enthusiastic and impartial
  7. Correct – guarantee that you are right in every way possible.

Write these down, place them next to your monitor and embrace them!

There are many tips to incorporate into your telephone strategy, from being professional to maintaining a proper demeanour to having an impeccable manner with each phone call.

Indeed, it might not seem important in this day and age about using the telephone, mainly because we have cloud platforms, instant messaging, Facebook and texts. That said, a lot of offices are starting to realise that they need to streamline day-to-day operations and improve efficiency, which includes being more verbal.

More talk, less emoji!

Did we miss anything out? Let us know in the comments section below.