Business Communication Etiquette Part II: Phone Calls


Just as there are standards of conduct for email, there are also guidelines for phone conversations. Face it, in the business world you can’t spend 2 hours having a conversation via text message that would take 10 minutes on the phone.

Answer The Phone Professionally

Let’s start at the very beginning, how to answer the phone. There is nothing more awkward than answering the phone with a “Yello?” and having the guy on the other end go “Um, hi, is this Don?” Answer the phone in a manner that lets your caller know who is speaking. A good rule of thumb is to state your name and possibly your department. “Good Morning, this is Don” and “Sales Department, this is Don” are both good options. I’m not saying you have to answer the phone like a ’60s secretary, but “Hey dude, what’s up?” tells the caller not only are you young, you’re dumb too. Internal calls can be more casual, but be wary of being too casual with someone who ranks higher than you do.

Avoid Filler Talk

This one is difficult because of our natural inclination to fill dead space in the conversation. We get verbal diarrhea in an instinctive attempt to avoid long awkward pauses. You know what’s worse than long awkward pauses? That guy who keeps talking just to hear himself talk – particularly if you have a legitimate point or question to bring up. Avoid repeating yourself too. If you have certain things that you absolutely want to make sure people don’t forget, send out a meeting agenda prior to the call or a follow-up email afterward. If by the time I hang up I’m screaming at you in my head to shut the fuck up, you’re doing it wrong. I’ve got shit to do.

Have An Agenda, Get Through It, And Hang Up

If you’re not on a conference call, your “agenda” may consist of asking Bob if he had a chance to run those numbers for you and that’s it. That’s fine, but the point is know what you need to discuss and get it done. If you earn yourself a reputation for having pointless meetings, sooner or later people will find any reason possible to avoid your meetings. Worse than that, they’ll come to your meetings already pissed off because they think it’s going to be a colossal waste of time. At some point, you will have to call that guy in the office who rambles on about shit that has nothing to do with why you called and it will piss you off. DISCLAIMER: If you don’t know someone in your office like that, it’s probably you. Just sayin’.

Extra Credit

Want to really set yourself apart from the greenhorn sitting next to you? Get yourself a recorder (or a recording app on your phone) and actually record yourself talking on a business call. Later that day, play it back and listen to yourself and how you sound on the phone. Listen for words like “um,” “uh,” “like,” and “you know.” Listen for phrases that you repeat way too often. In college, I occasionally had to listen to a professional who, in the course of a 10-minute talk, said the word “Um” 85 times. No joke. I counted. Everyone naturally has words and phrases that we favor and use more often than others, but you don’t want to make an ass of yourself by calling the Chief Information Officer “bro” in front of everyone.

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Spaceman Spiff

Now a graduate with a few years of business "experience", Spiff didn't exactly turn into the interplanetary explorer extraordinaire he had hoped to become. Instead, he spends his days as a cynical desk jockey, moonlighting as a Contributing Writer for PGP and marching ever closer to the big 3-0, which has only fueled his transition from quarter-life crisis straight into thrisis.

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