Business Etiquette: The Art of the Telephone

While a lot of today’s business is conducted through email, social media and even texting, the telephone remains a stable medium of transacting business.  The cell phone and smart phone have become critical components for how we work today, and basic rules of etiquette apply to the use of these wireless phones as well as traditional office phones. 

Direct conversations are a great way to improve communication and build relationships.  To help you maximize your business and professional relationships on the phone, I’ve outlined a few tips:

Placing Business Calls:

Many phone calls are either warm (someone you know) or cold (someone you don’t know, often associated with prospecting new business) and depend upon making a good impression quickly.  Either way, you can take specific steps to make the call as successful as possible:

           Prepare:  write down any questions you wish to ask and specific topics you want to cover.  Even if an items seems minor, it’s easy to forget something once the conversation starts rolling.  Have paper and pen handy to take notes and access to your calendar in case you need to make future plans for meetings, projects or deadlines.

           Introduce yourself:  when your call is answered, identify yourself and your company first, giving your first and last names.  Next, quickly explain why you’ve called and ask if this is a convenient time.  If the person says they’re busy, ask when you might call back.  Don’t rely on them to call you back because they may not do so and you may not be prepared at an unscheduled time.               

                What if you’re put on hold? If you don’t have time to wait, simply leave a message (your name, company, brief reason for the call).  If you’re on hold three minutes, it’s perfectly proper to hang up and call back later. 

               What if you dial a wrong number?  Don’t just hang up.  Admit it and apologize.  “I am sorry.  I must have dialed the wrong number.  I was trying to reach 512-555-1234.”  That way you don’t make the same mistake twice.

Answering calls:

How you answer the phone is critically important – you never know when it may be the first call from a potential client or senior partner.  Your attitude and demeanor in answering the phone contribute to their impression of you and your firm, and you want it to be positive. 

                Answer with your full name: “Hello, this is Tori Keith.”

                Sound pleasant and calm, no matter how stressed you may actually be.

                Answer by the third ring.


                End a call as you would an in-person meeting.  Wind things down with a conclusive statement of what’s discussed.  “I’ll have the memo to you by noon Monday.”  Then sign off with a polite acknowledgement and positive note: “Thank you for calling” or “It’s been nice talking to you.”

Leaving a voice mail:

Remember that the person receiving the message will be writing down your name and number, so clearly state your name, firm, number and leave a short message identifying the reason for your call.  A good rule of thumb is 40 seconds.  Anything longer risks getting deleted or ignored.  Repeat your name and number at the end of the message too, as sometimes a message will cut out or be hard to hear.  You don’t want your recipient to have to replay a message five times to get the call back number, or worse, never get at all.


Immediately tell the person on other end that you’re using a speakerphone and identify any one else present.  Tell the person why you’re using one: to take notes or include others in the conversation.  Other participants should introduce themselves so that the person on the other end can begin to link voices to names.  It’s also helpful for each person to identify themselves when speaking “This is Tori.  I and I agree with that idea.”

Avoid using a speakerphone if you work in an open space or cubicle.

Other notes:

  • Return calls same business day or at least within 24 hours.
  • Avoid eating or chewing gum.  It’s distracting and can the sound can be magnified over the phone.
  • If you are on a conference call, use the mute button until it’s your turn to speak.
  • Use your "do not disturb" feature so no imcoming calls will interupt.



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