Professional telephone skills and etiquette

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Speaking professionally on the phone is an essential skill. A phone call may be one of your first contacts with a prospective employer when you’re applying for work. And for most professions, handling phone calls is part of the job.

For newcomers, handling phone calls can be nerve-wracking. If you don’t have a good command of English yet, you can be anxious about having the right words to say or whether your accent would get in the way of being understood. Listening can also be a problem. Many worry that callers would speak too fast or use words they are unfamiliar with. The key is to prepare. Here are a few simple steps to guide you and help you start speaking professionally on the phone:

Answering the phone

It is polite to answer the telephone after one to three rings. Start with:

  1. A greeting: “Hello” or “Good morning/afternoon”.
  2. Add: “Thank you for calling (company name).” This is a great way to introduce your company and assure the caller that they have contacted the right company.
  3. Introduce yourself.
  4. Ask why they called: “How may I help you?”

Initiating the call

If you are the one calling:

  1. Greet the person who answered and identify yourself: “Hi, I’m ______ or “Good morning, I’m ____”.
  2. Ask to speak to a particular person: “May I speak to ______?”
  3. If you don’t need to speak to anyone in particular but have a question or request, you can say: “I’m calling about _________”

During the call – What to remember:

It is always helpful to have a pen and a note pad ready in front of you during a call. Note down important points or jot down the caller’s message if the requested person is not around.

  1. Speak clearly. It would help to be cheerful and upbeat because no one likes to talk to someone with low energy. When speaking, the most important thing is to pronounce your words clearly (it doesn’t matter if you have an accent) and have the right volume.
  2. Smile. It will calm you down. Your voice will also sound more pleasant.
  3. Don’t eat or drink while on a call.
  4. Memorize. Memorize common English phrases to use to help you become more confident. (watch videos below)
  5. Spell it. Sometimes you may be asked to spell out a word or name (or number), especially if they are noting down a message. When doing this, it would be helpful to give examples since certain letters may sound the same when spoken. For instance, say P as in papa (not T as in tango). For numbers that sound the same, you may say 13 as in one – three (not 30).
  6. Be polite. Address them by their title, not the first name if you’re not familiar with them. Don’t be too direct. Use “could,” “would,” “may,” rather than “can” or “want.” Say “I’m sorry, could you please repeat that?” if you didn’t understand. Use thank you and please whenever appropriate. Listen well and always be willing to help.
  7. Ask first. If you need to put a person on hold, be sure to ask their permission first.

Do you want to practice? Watch these videos from Learn English with Emma. You will learn common English phrases to say when you are on the phone:

Other telephone etiquette tips to remember:

  1. Record a professional voicemail message. If you are a job-seeker, your voicemail is another channel where your prospective employer will get a glimpse of your personality.
  2. Inform the person on the other line when you’re on speaker phone. Calls are assumed to be private. They may not appreciate it if other people are listening in, especially when they were not informed.
  3. Don’t leave long voicemails.
  4. Return calls as soon as you can (check messages daily).

Cellular phone etiquette:

  1. Respect quiet zones. Place your cellphone on silent mode when attending a meeting, conference, mass, or any other formal or solemn activities.
  2. Don’t answer your phone while in a meeting or interview (unless it’s urgent).
  3. Don’t place your phone on top of the table while in a meeting.
  4. Set a professional-sounding ring tone.
  5. Watch the volume of your voice when talking on the phone in public. It’s terribly impolite and annoying when someone broadcasts a phone conversation loudly.

Sources: Telephone Skills, Office Skills. org; EngVid

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Community Resources

Professional telephone skills is part of English Online’s multi-week session on Workplace Communications. Check our calendar for schedules.

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