Phone Etiquette - 12 Tips
Phone etiquette may seem like the kind of thing that has more or less become redundant, not only because the technology we use to communicate with has changed over time, but also because the culture regarding how we communicate has changed as well.
Nonetheless, phone etiquette is still a very important thing for a variety of different reasons, especially in a business context.
Here’s a more in-depth look at phone etiquette for your small business.
Why the phone might matter more today than ever before
It might seem as though the phone is an old-fashioned technology that is well in the process of being phased out, and will soon become redundant.
After all, most professional communications are handled by email, and an increasing number are being handled by instant messaging services such as Slack.
In the minds of many business owners, these forms of communication are superior to picking up the phone and having a chat, or even using a more modern and sophisticated system such as video conferencing.
For one thing, instant messages and emails can be sent at the drop of a hat, without requiring direct input from the other party. They can then be responded to when the person on the other end has had time to compose their thoughts appropriately. Instant messages and emails also create a “paper trail” which can be useful for tracking accountability, sharing documents, and more.
Then, there’s also the simple fact that instant messaging services can be utilised throughout the working day without seeming to disrupt the flow of the productive endeavours being undertaken.
So, taking all of that into account, what’s the point of using the phone at all, much less observing specific phone etiquette?
Well, the simple fact is that many of the “benefits” that are associated with instant messaging and email are actually in many ways downsides.
In his book “Deep Work,” the academic and writer Cal Newport points out some striking findings that suggest that the “constantly available” nature of the modern office worker – and a reliance on instant messaging services in particular – actually severely diminishes people’s ability to enter into a state of peak focus and productivity. What Newport refers to as “Deep Work.”
It turns out that even just glancing at your phone, or at a messenger app, for a few seconds might negatively impact your ability to focus for as much as the next half an hour.
Psychologists have also found that text-based communication can frequently and easily lead to misunderstandings, confusion, and a variety of negative outcomes. This makes sense when you consider that a major part of all human communication is done non-verbally, through things like tone and inflection of voice, and body language.
The truth is that the phone might matter more today than ever before, because workplaces are now more caught up in text-based communication than ever before. Being able to pick up the phone and make a quick call can help you to not only address an issue you might be facing more directly and succinctly, but it might also improve your professional dynamics, and help to build rapport.
What is the point of phone etiquette, anyway?
Everyone is obviously aware that it’s not good to be outright rude and obnoxious, but considering the fact that the world today is in many ways a lot more “casual” than it was even just a few years ago, you might be wondering what the point of “phone etiquette” is, anyway?
The first thing to keep in mind is that phone etiquette doesn’t necessarily mean speaking like a gentleman or lady from the 1950s. What it does mean, however, is abiding by certain tried and tested standards that help to smooth communication, reduce tension and conflict, and that can significantly increase the chances that you and whoever it is you’re speaking to will come to a mutually beneficial conclusion to your conversation.
In business, the ability to negotiate, cooperate, and get on well with other people – and especially to communicate effectively with them – is essential for any degree of long-term success whatsoever.
Good phone etiquette can help to protect your professional reputation, can ensure that you “get what you want” more reliably, and can help to ease tensions that might otherwise exist in your professional life.
What are some of the key benefits you can expect to experience after improving your phone etiquette?
To summarise the benefits of improving your phone etiquette:
When your phone etiquette has improved, you will likely have a more harmonious dynamic at play both within your company, and between your company and your professional contacts outside.
When your phone etiquette has improved, you will typically be able to cut through a lot of the “white noise” and complications that can act as hurdles along your way.
When your phone etiquette has improved, you will be a more concise and effective communicator in general.
12 tips for improving phone etiquette
Here are 12 straightforward and actionable tips for improving your phone etiquette at once; although as with any other skill, developing your phone etiquette will take time and practice, and will be a matter of instilling the right habits and reinforcing them consistently.
(1) Introduce yourself at the beginning of every call
Perhaps the most common source of confusion in any phone call is the confusion that surrounds the simple question of who exactly you are speaking to, and why.
If you make a habit of picking up the phone without introducing yourself, you will likely set the person on the other side on the back foot at once, and will introduce an unnecessary element of doubt and confusion to the call.
Instead, get into the habit of introducing yourself at the beginning of every call, whether you are the one initiating the call, or are on the receiving end. It’s a good rule of thumb to go with the time-tested formula here. If your name is Jack, for example, simply answer the phone with “hello, Jack speaking.”
(2) Enunciate properly and don’t rush over your words
There are few more frustrating experiences when speaking on the phone, than having the other person speaking too quickly, failing to annunciate their words properly, and consequently being difficult to understand and follow in the conversation.
Take a deep breath, slow down, and enunciate your words properly and clearly whenever you are speaking on the phone. Aim to be understood, rather than to be quick.
(3) Before transferring a call, make sure that the person you are transferring to is available
If you have received a call at your workplace, and the person on the other end of the line wishes to speak to another member of your team, make sure that the person in question is available before transferring a call to them.
We all have a broad variety of obligations and duties to attend to over the course of any given day – and being ambushed with a call transfer at a deeply inconvenient time is not likely to put anyone in a good mood.
(4) Before initiating a call, make sure that you have the key points already plotted out in advance
Being vague and appearing confused or haphazard certainly isn’t a good look, and it in no way serves to instil confidence in whoever it is you might be speaking to.
A key point of phone etiquette is having a clear sense of some of the key points you wish to address, in advance of making your call. That way, you can keep the call focused and on point, while simultaneously increasing the likelihood that whatever it is you say will have the intended effect.
In business, in particular, you always want to have a clear sense of just where you stand.
(5) If you are expecting business calls on a regular basis, make sure that someone is available to take them
If you run a business where you expect to receive a significant number of calls on a regular basis – or, for that matter, if you actively encourage people to call you – it’s important that you ensure that someone is available to take those calls when you might be otherwise predisposed.
This might mean using a professional telephone answering service, hiring a personal assistant, or delegating the task of answering the phones to another member of your team when you are busy.
In any case, if someone repeatedly fails in their attempts to contact you during the day you may lose prospective customers, irritate partners, miss out on opportunities, and create a less than professional impression.
(6) Don’t be too casual, or too personal, on your calls
A key point of phone etiquette is, of course, maintaining a degree of formality above and beyond what you normally would in your personal life.
Even though many workplaces are today less “formal” than they used to be, there are always risks involved in being too casual, or appearing to get too personal, on your calls.
Often, being too casual or personal will make people uneasy, and may complicate and sidetrack whatever it is you’re trying to achieve with the call. You also open yourself up to the potential for many more faux pas when you’re too casual on the phone.
(7) Address your key points quickly, rather than drawing out a conversation
Unless you are calling a close friend or relative expressly for the purpose of catching up, it’s a good general practice to keep your phone calls concise, rather than drawing them out.
In a professional context in particular, everyone is busy, everyone has things on their plate, and everyone will tend to appreciate it greatly if you can hit your key points quickly and clearly, rather than getting caught up in excessive small talk, or beating around the bush.
(8) Wherever possible, only call when you know the other person will be available
This point isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s certainly a good common courtesy to only call someone when you know – or at least have good reason to believe – that they will be available.
In a professional context, it might be useful to send a short initial email asking when might be a good time for call.
(9) Adopt good posture when speaking on the phone
At first glance, your physical posture doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with phone etiquette. After all, if you’re speaking on the phone, the person you’re speaking to won’t see you or have any reason to feel like you’re being inattentive or overly casual if you are slouching your seat.
In fact, though, your posture has a lot to do with the tone of your voice, and your ability to project clearly, when speaking on the phone.
As a rule, when you’re sitting upright, you will tend to sound much more engaged and alert – and this is certainly a good thing.
(10) Begin each call with a positive greeting
At the beginning of each call, along with stating your name and your reason for calling, you should include a polite and positive greeting.
No one is likely to take it too well if you appear to disregard normal social niceties and conventions, and just drive straight into the point of your call.
A “good morning” never goes awry.
(11) Speak clearly, but not too loudly
While it’s important to enunciate clearly when speaking on the phone, you don’t want to accidentally end up shouting down the line, or speaking so loudly that you make the call physically uncomfortable for the person on the other end.
Speak at a normal conversational volume, and speak clearly.
(12) When the other person is speaking, listen to them without interruption
Interruptions on the phone might happen more easily than interruptions in a face-to-face conversation, simply because you don’t have the visual cues to tell you when there’s an opening for you to interject without being rude.
All the same, be mindful to let the other person speak, and to listen to them without interruption until they have concluded their thought.
A good phone conversation is a back-and-forth, no one is going to feel very well disposed towards you if you’ve been interrupting them.