Expert Commentary: Telephone Etiquette

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In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell spoke his first words, "Come here Mr. Watson," into his new invention the telephone.

Today, you can make and receive calls without even having to touch a button and talk to two or more people from all over the world at the same time. There are telephones in cars, airplanes, and of course, phones that you can carry with you everywhere that you go. With telephones playing such a vital role in human communications it is often our first opportunity to make an impression.

There are a few rules of thumb to make sure that your first impression given on the phone is your best. You always want to answer your telephone with a cheerful voice to project a favorable image to the caller. This will set the tone for the rest of the conversation. Although Alexander Graham Bell proposed the correct way to answer the phone was, "Hoy, hoy", Thomas Edison voted that a simple "hello" would do the trick.

Many people choose a more formal greeting when answering the phone such as, "Roberts residence, Mrs. Roberts speaking". This greeting is great for letting your caller know that they have reached the person that they have intended to call. This also cuts out on any unnecessary questions; the caller will not have to ask for someone or confuse you with someone else. But some stick to a simple "Hello" for security purposes, which is also perfectly accepted.

Demands are never good manners. You would never want to ask someone, "Who's calling?" or tell them, "Hold Please", instead you would want to rephrase these into polite requests like, "May I tell her who is calling?" or "Would you mind if I put you on hold?"

Keep in mind that wait time for someone on hold should never be over a minute. If the wait time is any longer than that then request the callers name and number and ask if they could call them back. Never ask for the caller to call back later, they already have made the effort to call, now it is your turn.

When taking a message, ask for the spelling of the caller's name and phone number. An important part of the message is asking for a good time to return the call, this will eliminate the infamous, "Phone Tag" situation. Make sure you put a date and the time of the call on the message in case the message gets shuffled in with some other papers accidentally. Don't ask what this is regarding - it's none of your business on social calls. Then, repeat all of the information back to the caller to confirm the message is correct. Last but not least, give the message to the intended recipient or put it in a prominent place where they will easily see it.

When calling someone yourself, you would always state your first and last name unless it is a family member or close friend. Also, for a business call, tell what business you are calling from so the person that you are calling can identify you. Next, ask if it is a convenient time to talk. Remember, calls are interruptions to our already busy day, so don't just start talking. Then, state the reason for calling, getting to the point within no more than one minute of small talk. Of course, calling at a descent time is also important, never before 7am or after 9pm.

These days you will be just as likely to leave a message on a voicemail answering machine as you would live with a person . This is a great thing to have because it cuts out any miscommunication that may occur with a written message. The problem is few people use it well. The main thing you need to remember throughout leaving the entire message is that you speak slowly, clearly, and loud enough so that your message can be interpreted easily when it is played back.

You will want to state your first name, last name, and where you are from so the person can identify you. Leave a short, to the point message about why you are calling them and what you need from them. It is vital that you leave a number for them to call you back remembering that they will likely be writing it down as you say it. The easiest way to leave your number is by pausing after the first three numbers: 555 pause 8282. If you are calling someone out of town make sure you leave your area code pausing after those three numbers. Always let them know a couple of good times for them to call you back when you will be available to speak with them.

You cannot project body language or facial expression over the telephone, all you have is tone of voice and the words that you say to get your point across. Use them wisely.