Talking on the telephone
Nowadays, even with e-mail
and the internet, the
telephone is still probably
the most common means of
communication in business,
and used efficiently it has
two advantages.
Advantages of the
It is fast
It allows people to converse even
when they are unable to meet.
It is a great leveler: status, physical
appearance and surroundings
don’t show
It is a great focuser: it removes the
social and emotional distractions
of face-to-face encounter
Telephone problems
The telephone, for all its
convenience and speed, also
has the power to convey
rapidly a poor impression of
the efficiency of individuals and
the organizations and create
considerable confusion and
Certainly telephone calls seem
cheaper than sending a letter.
Many organizations calculate that
the average cost of sending a letter
taking into account the staff time
involved and the overheads as well
as postage/courier, is about 25Rs,
which would buy quite a lot of
telephone time even at current
We have all suffered from the irritating waste
of time caused by bad telephone manners:
Trying to get a line
The person required not being available
Being left hanging on( albeit to the sounds of
the latest popular classic tunes) by an
operator who appears to have gone to lunch
Being passed from department to
department (or even diverted from phone to
phone without our knowledge!) in an effort to
find someone who can answer the query
Wrong or engaged numbers
A caller who has all the time in the
world to chat when we are busy
Of late get plugged on to CRM software
who will keep on giving you instruction
to keep on dialing without ever getting
to a live person on the other side
Any of these time-wasters can take
longer than it takes to write or dictate a
First impressions count
But the telephone can exact other
costs. Frequently, the first contact a
caller has with an organization is with
the person who answers their first call.
That person, either through a lack of
courtesy, lack of knowledge about the
organization, or how to use the
telephone itself can, however
innocently, create an initial bad
impression of the organization which is
difficult to correct.
The faceless voice
Perhaps the principal cause of
much of this apparent
inefficiency is that although the
standard telephone allows oral
communication, it does not
transmit visual communication
(non-verbal messages like facial
expressions, gestures and
postures) which are important
giving way to problems like:
Words are missed
Words are misheard
The message is misunderstood
because, the visual cues and
feedback are missing
The conversation somehow
doesn’t seem so immediate
Not only does this lack of visual
communication cause messages to be
received incorrectly, but it can also cause
messages to be transmitted incorrectly by
putting callers at what they feel to be a
psychological disadvantage.
Many people have developed a positive
dislike of the telephone because they cannot
see the person to whom they are talking, with
the result they lack the confidence to make
and answer calls clearly and efficiently.
The proliferation of the answering machines
has, for many people, made this fear even
Given the importance of the
telephone in modern business
operations and the prevalence of
bad telephone habits (of which we
are all guilty at times) , it is
surprising that very few books or
courses on business
communication offer more than a
paragraph or two on the subject of
telephone technique.
For this reason, this is just an
attempt at correcting the
balance somewhat by:
Providing guidance on making
and answering calls efficiently
and therefore
Cutting the cost of telephoning
Picking up verbal clues
The telephone is not merely a secondrate communication channel
For most purposes, a telephone
conversation is as effective as a faceto-face meeting
Indeed, given the saving in travel time
and costs and the facility of audio- and
videoconferencing, it is set to replace
most meetings
Being a verbal detective
Trust your intuition when picking up
clues about the other person’s
personality, feelings and mood
Stay relaxed and allow ideas about the
speaker to drift into your mindunforced impressions can prove to be
remarkably accurate
Look out for hesitations, self- mocking
comments and other clues about the
speaker’s state of mind.
Check your hunches by replaying your
impressions to the caller, use
‘reflecting back’ phrases like ‘what you
seem to be feeling is…’
Use ‘anticipatory feedback’ to guide
your conversation: imagine the other
person’s response to a statement you
are about to make and then modify
what you actually say to achieve the
intended result
Basic telephone rules
Be brief: but not at the expense of
making yourself clearly
understood and not to the extent of
being abrupt and discourteous.
Lack of telephone confidence
often causes people to talk for
longer than they would face-face
Be courteous
This is specially important when
telephoning to avoid creating a bad
impression which is so difficult to
Your tone of voice is crucial in
conveying a courteous, cheerful
impression as the words you use
Remember too, that even if you are not
yet using a video phone, your facial
expressions affects the tone of your
voice. Smile!
Be resourceful
Don’t be clueless.
Always think of ways in which you can
be most helpful.
If you are taking a message for
someone else, use your local
knowledge to suggest helpful ways of
getting the caller and recipient of the
message in touch with one another so
that the caller can judge in an informed
way what they want to do.
If the caller has been put through
to your department but no one in
your department knows anything
about the matter, think quickly,
who else in the organization might
know something and be able to
If you are really unable to help,
sound sincerely concerned, not
Speak clearly
Enunciate and articulate your
words particularly clearly to
counteract both the poor acoustic
quality of the telephone line and
the absence of lip movements to
help the listener.
When giving names and numbers,
if there is any ambiguity use the
phonetic code used by all
emergency services to clarify
A for Alpha
B for Bravo
C for Charlie
D for Delta
E for Echo
F for Foxtrot
G for Golf
H for Hotel
I for India
J for Juliet
K for Kilo
L for Lima
M for Mike
N for November
O for Oscar
P for Papa
Q for Quebec
R for Romeo
S for Sierra
T for Tango
U for Uniform
V for victor
W for Whisky
X for X-ray
Y for Yankee
Z for Zulu
that 5 and 9
sound similar.
Spell them.
Speak more slowly
When you are talking on the
telephone it is a good idea to slow
your speech down.
When your voice is being
mechanically transmitted, the word
seem to move together faster.
That is the reason TV announcers
often speak at a slower than is
normal in everyday conversation
Remember too that someone may
be trying to take notes as you talk
This is particularly important when
talking to an answering machine.
Don’t rattle off your phone number
at a rate of knots- remember the
poor person on the end trying to
write it down.
Building a positive
telephone personality
Don’t worry what you look like
when you’re on the phone; use as
much as little body language as
you wish
Focus your concentration on what
you’re saying and what is being
said to you
Mirror positive feelings in your
facial expressions; if you smile
while you speak, you’ll put a smile
in your voice
Try to relax; stretch to loosen your
muscles and breathe evenlytension can feed straight into your
voice and create a negative image
Don’t use specialized language
(company or professional jargon):
what’s jargon to you may be a
foreign language to the other
Avoid clichés that say one
thing and clearly mean
something else
Remember, when you tell a
lie your voice rises
involuntarily; on the phone
this easily detected
Punctuate your conversation with
‘you’, ‘your’ and the person’s name
Replace some of your body
language (head nods, quizzical
expressions) with verbal
equivalents: ‘yes’, ‘of course’, I’m
not sure I understand that last
point. Could you…
Switch board operators
Although telephone operator
training was at one time standard
practice in business some
organizations seem to put their
least able employee on the switch
The operator is typically regarded
by callers as the representative of
the whole organization.
Qualities of the switch
board operator
Verbal intelligibility
These qualities are just as essential
in anyone who is allowed near a
business telephone
Help the operator
The good switchboard operator is
indeed an organization’s
ambassador: they welcome your
callers, introduce you, apologize
for your absence or try to get you
on another line, often take
messages- and are frequently
blamed for your shortcomings.
Seven points can help the operator
Making your system work
Understanding how the
telephone system used in your
organization works.
Giving the number you want(
including the STD)
Not disappearing immediately
you have asked her to ring a
number for you
Answering the phone after the first
ring( when they call you back)
Acting upon the messages without
Telling them in advance when you
are likely to be absent
Providing your potential callers
with your direct line number so
that they don’t have to go through
the operator
Making a call
1. Answer the six questions of
effective communication- Why?
Who? Where? When? What?
2. Make notes of what you want to
achieve, the main points/ queries
you must include and any dates,
facts, etc. you may need to refer
3. Have ready any files,
correspondence, etc. which you
may need in the course of the
conversation; don’t keep your
receiver waiting while you ferret
around for the relevant papers or
turn your computer on and find the
right screen
4. Have ready a plain piece of paper
for your own notes
6. Know the name of the person to
whom you need to speak;
sometimes this may be impossible
but, atleast, keep a personal
telephone directory of names and
numbers you ring regularly.
7. Dial the number carefully( or tell
the operator clearly); wrong
numbers are the most common
cause of frustration and timewasting, but are usually the fault of
Give a greeting (‘good morning’,
etc.); state your name (and
organization) and the name of the
person to whom you want to
Wait patiently to be put through;
you may be put through to a
secretary or the department
telephone, in which case you will
have to go through step 1 again
If you are cut off, replace the
telephone receiver, wait for a few
seconds and ring again
Keep it short: most calls can
achieve their purpose in 20
seconds- 20 seconds… time to run
200 yards! Time for a jet to fly 4
State your subject/ query clearlyenough to put the recipient in the
Refer periodically to your notes
Pause occasionally to get feedback
that your message is understood
Spell names and addresses; repeat
Take notes, especially the name
and number of the person to whom
you are speaking
Summarize main points of a long
conversation at the end and always
conclude by confirming any action
required or date to be met
If you have to leave a message for
someone else, help the person
who answered the phone to take
the right message; don’t just
ramble on making them to get the
gist of it; tell them which are the
main points to write down
Be polite: thank the receiver for
their help, even if you haven’t got
the information you wantedfostering goodwill is not just a part
of being courteous, but will help
future relations.
Telephone etiquette officially
requires that if you are the caller
you decide when the call ends but,
since not every knows this, use
your judgment.
Immediately, before you forget:
 Fill in your notes so that they will
be comprehensible at a later date.
 Date the note and file it
 Put any relevant dates for future
action or follow- up in your diary
 Pass on the results of your call to
any one concerned with he matter
Controlling the flow of
Be sure you understand exactly
what you want the call to achieve.
Take the initiative; this gives the
right to take the lead and choose
when to the end the call
Begin every call with a verbal
‘handshake’ by telling who you are
and why you are calling
Mirror the conversational style and
vocabulary of the other person to
generate rapport
Keep your line of argument simple:
state your case and persist until
the message gets through
Keep the conversation flowing by
asking plenty of questions, but
also be generous with information
of your own
Search for the areas of
agreement rather than points of
Use silence for emphasis and
to prompt the person to
Use alternatives when seeking
Gathering information by
In gathering information for the
preparation of a report, or merely as a
part of your day to job, you may need
to contact original or primary sources
of information, or someone else who
has access to secondary information
you need. Telephone calls are widely
used by business and industrial firms
who may need certain information very
quickly, and made correctly these calls
can be very effective.
1. Work out exactly what
information you need
2. Frame a series of increasingly
specific questions which will give
you what you want to know, e.g.
‘do you have the unemployment
figures for the Bristol area over
the last six months”?
‘does this include a breakdown
by age groups and sex”?
‘can you tell me the unemployment
figures for girls aged 16 to 25 for
each month since June?’
…..and so on, to the level of details
you need.
3. Decide which firm, individual,
office, government agency,
organization or business might
possibly have at hand the
information you need.
When you get through, be polite
but specific. Don’t say: I wonder if
you happen to have anyone there
who knows something about
unemployment…’ etc. instead say:
‘I need some information
concerning the unemployment
figures for the Bristol area over the
last six months. Can you help me?’
(Remember politeness and
courtesy can be conveyed in your
tone of voice.)
Then, depending on the response,
go on to ask more specific
question. If they can’t help say:
‘could you please give me the
name of someone who can?’
Don’t be discouraged if the first
place you try can’t help you; try
another place- you will eventually
get what you want if you keep
trying (providing that it is not your
telephone technique which is
putting them off!)
Make sure you are talking to the
right person; ask to speak to the
‘personnel manager’ or ‘the person
in charge of buying’ or whatever is
Write down the information
immediately- don’t rely on your
memory; read it back to the person
you are questioning.
Remember to say ‘thank you’.
Answering the telephone
In some organizations the job of
answering the telephone is given
to the most junior employee.
This is unwise as far as the
organization or department is
concerned, and unfair on the
junior, who through lack of
confidence and lack of experience
in the organization usually creates
a poor impression
However, more senior
employees may be just as
guilty: through laziness, apathy
or thoughtlessness they can
create equally poor impression
Anyone who answers a
telephone anywhere must be
courteous, helpful and efficient
Know how the telephone
system in your organization
works, especially how to
transfer a call. (being cut off
is probably one of the most
frustrating experiences- it
wastes time and creates a
bad impression)
Never answer a telephone without
a pencil and a paper
Keep near your own telephone:
A pencil and a pad
An internal telephone directory
An appointment directory (if
Stop talking to anyone else and
reduce any other noise before
picking up the telephone receiver
Think about the needs of the
receiver and give them (as fast as
possible) every thing they need to
know, e.g.
Announce your name and
department or section (in a
cheerful voice!)
If the call has come through the
operator, the receiver will already
have been given the name of your
If the call is directly from outside,
announce the name of your
organization first, and then your name
and the department (if relevant)
A common fault is to start speaking a
second or two before picking up the
receiver or, more commonly on the
switch board, before pressing the
button on the console. I have heard half
the name of more organizations that I
can remember e.g.’….oyce ltd.’ ‘Good
morning’ ‘…ons ltd.’..
Many organizations have a standard
practice of greeting a caller- know your
house rules, e.g.
‘Simmons, Personnel manager,
speaking’, ‘Mrs. Gandhi’s secretary
Don’t rush this greeting. Because you
have to say it so often it is tempting to
rattle it off, with the result that at best it
sounds completely insincere and
monotonous or at worst it is
incomprehensible to an outsider and
there fore pointless
Many people are amused or even
irritated by the common greeting:
‘Whittaker and company. Tracy
speaking. How may I help you?’
make it sound as sincere as
Be prepare to answer the query, or
take a message for someone who
can, or transfer the call.
If you are acting as a secretary you may
be expected to filter calls for your boss;
know whether:
They may wish to be unavailable
They want some people put straight
through to them( if so know who they
They want you to deal with certain
routine calls yourself( if so, know which
types of calls you should deal with)
You will therefore have to
ask for the name of the
caller and politely ask the
purpose of the call. But use
tact. Don’t be overprotective or you might
cause resentment in the
caller and your boss
Listen carefully to what the caller
has to say and take notes; they will
form the basis either of your action
or of a message if you have to
pass one on. Check that you have
the right facts in the message- do
not assume the eventual recipient
of the message will know what it is
all about
Don’t hesitate to ask the speaker to
slow down or spell names and
addresses if they are unclear, and
always read them back
Compensate for the lack of visual
communication: the nods of normal
conversation must be conscientiously
replaced by verbal equivalents, e.g.
‘yes, I see…’, ‘fine, I’ll let him know…’,
‘I’m not sure I agree with that…’, ‘really?’
But avoid using over- familiar or slang
expressions like ‘you’re not serious!’,
yeah’, ‘good god!’- and if the message
is for someone else, avoid speaking for
them, committing them or imagining
negative attitudes on their behalf,
unless you are authorized to do so; for
instance: ‘oh he’ll be over the moon
about that !(said either sincerely or in a
sarcastic tone of voice)
Don’t be distracted by anything
going on around you, or
someone else trying to attract
your attention never try to hold
two conversations at once.
Be just as keen as your caller
should be to save time and
Avoid asking the caller to ‘hold the line’
while you go on a paper chase; offer to
call back.
If you are cut off. Put the telephone
down and wait for the caller to call you
Before the call ends, repeat back the
main points of the conversation and
always read back any names,
addresses, numbers, dates and times,
to give the caller a chance to correct
any errors or omissions
Agree what happens next, if
you are taking a message
for someone else, e.g.
‘I’ll tell her that you’ll ring
again on Thursday morning’,
or ‘I’ll ask him to ring you
back as soon as possible.’
Telephone etiquette requires
that since the caller is
paying, they should be the
one to decide when the call
ends; however, since not
everyone seems to be aware
of this, be prepared to use
your judgment.
Dealing with difficult calls
Things to remember
Always volunteer to help rather wait to be
Always personalize the conversation by
introducing yourself and getting the caller’s
Always let the caller let off steam without
interruption until their anger is spent
Always show you are taking a serious interest
by playing back the details of the complaint
in your words
Always offer sympathy to the caller (‘I can
understand how annoying that must have
been’) but without overdoing it
Always encourage callers to voice all their
complaints before starting to deal with any of
Always finish by summarizing what you have
offered- and agree it with the caller
Always call the customer if there’s a further
problem; don’t risk angering the customer
Things to avoid
Don’t attempt to reason with someone
while they are still angry
Don’t suggest or agree a solution (or
take blame) until all the facts have
Don’t offer excuses or look for
sympathy; don’t dump the blame on
some third party (‘the supplier let us
down’) or unusual circumstances
(‘everyone had the flu’) –those are your
problems, not the customer’s
Don’t take the complaint personally; be as
objective as you can and avoid getting angry
Don’t assume the complainer is unique
(suggest that they are the only person to
have had a problem)- research shows that
every person who rings to complain, there
are six who don’t
Don’t agree to do something you are not in a
position to deliver; if necessary, offer to call
the customer back after you have taken
Fill in your notes so that they will
be comprehensible to you later and
particularly to the recipient if have
taken a message
Act on notes immediately, telling
anyone else who is concerned;
write any letters or memos now, if
possible, while the matter is clear
in your mind
If you have a message for
someone else, put the date and
time of the call on the message
and deliver it immediately or place
it in a prominent position on the
person’s desk if they are out;
remind when you return
Update any documents necessary;
write dates in your diary.
Be a good telephone
Don’t listen on ‘auto pilot’ or while
doing something else; make a
conscious effort to pour all energy into
Eliminate as many internal distractions
as possible; ignore what is going on
around you
Erase internal distractions as well;
stray thoughts about other maters
should be curbed as they occur
Take notes to keep your ‘eye on the
ball’; jot down your reactions as well
points of hard information
Demonstrate to the speaker that you
are paying attention by making regular
‘continuity’ noises; don’t let them have
to say: ‘are you still there?’
Keep a hold on your emotions; getting
emotional interferes with your ability to
listen carefully
thank you