How to use your telephone

Five phone faux pas – and how to actually use your telephone

Colleen Clarke|

Although the telephone is becoming less and less an instrument of (vocal) communication, it is still the one tool that allows the receiver to hear your tone of voice. The phone can convey your enthusiasm or lack thereof and your general mood. Today, I am on a mission to bring telephone conversations (or even personal visits) back into the workplace so there is some human contact. What a pleasure it is to hear a live person with a cheery voice say, “Hey, Colleen, how nice to hear from you!”

Let’s clear up some of the biggest problems with people’s use of the telephone right away. Because one end of the conversation is physically separate from the other, some people let their manners hit the snooze button and ignore some very basic rules of civility when communicating by phone.

Five of the most annoying transgressions:

  • Putting someone on speakerphone without warning them
  • Ignoring live customers in front of  you in order to deal with one who interrupts by phoning in
  • Continuing to type and / or work on other projects while on the phone
  • Eating or chewing gum while on the phone
  • Leaving voice-mails where you speak so quickly that your name and/or phone number are impossible to make out

The list goes on, but you get the point. It is important to realize that you are communicating with a live person on the other end of the phone and to treat them with all of the courtesy that you would if they were standing in front of you. Also, outstanding phone manners can be a marketing tool for your personal brand, and give you a leg up in your career moves. Here’s how.

When you are the caller:


  • Get yourself organized and know what you are going to say to the person or their voice mail. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Sound professional and confident by using a strong voice that rises and falls throughout the sentence, emphasizing certain words for effect.
  • If you will be referring to certain materials, have them ready. If you are leaving a message, tell the receiver what materials they might need to gather up and refer to when you do connect.
  • Use the receiver’s name and then immediately identify yourself and your company. Say your name articulately and slowly, especially if it is a difficult name. Don’t run your last name into your first name.
  • In the same breath, explain the purpose of your call and then ask, “Is this a good time?” suggest a positive, not a negative response such as, “Did I get you at a bad time?” With a possible, “Well, now that you mention it…”. If the person is busy, suggest or ask for a telephone appointment.
  • When using a speakerphone, tell the person you are on a speakerphone and mention if others are in the room with you; introduce them if necessary.
  • Disengage once the business is concluded, end with a positive statement and then say goodbye. If you indicated you would email or fax something, provide information or a resource, do it now!

Leaving a Message


  • When you leave a message, be upbeat, succinct, and articulate and repeat your phone number at the beginning and end of the message. Speak slowly. You might want to leave the time of your call and whether there is a sense of urgency in returning the call.
  • When I am connecting with someone for the first time I will often leave a voice mail and send an email indicating that I am unaware of their preference for receiving messages.
  • Once you leave a message with your phone number, wait a few days before calling back. Leaving a message puts the ball in their court, and it takes away any control you had for repeat call backs, at least immediately.

Your Voicemail

  • You’ll have to check on company policy for this one: please, please please if you are away on a holiday or a business trip leave that message on your voice mail and when you are expected to return. How many times can a person call back thinking you are just out to lunch?
  • Always leave your name on your voice mail, be it landline or cell phone. Recruiters for instance, have repeatedly told me that they do not leave messages on voice mails that don’t have your name on them. Don’t assume all callers will know the sound of your voice.
  • A lawyer friend of mine always mentioned,”your call is very important to me and I will try my best to get back to you within two hours (or a certain time frame).” His tone was always genuine and you knew without a doubt he would get back to you.

Taking a Call


  • As the Deputy Consul General Director for the British Consulate shared with me, “when you pick up the phone, SMILE!” You can actually hear a smile in the tone of someone’s voice.
  • Bell Canada advises not to say, “Colleen speaking” since saying that you are speaking is redundant because the caller knows you are speaking. Many business professionals merely say their first and last name, with the proper upbeat inflection.
  • If people ask if you have a moment to talk, be truthful. Ask what the call is about to better determine how much time you might have to give to the call or say, “I’m about to go into a meeting but I have 5 minutes right now. Is that enough time?”

This article wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t get my two cents in about a couple of my own personal recommendations. Firstly, might I suggest that if you want someone’s company at an event, including trying to set up a lunch date, use the telephone!

Secondly, when someone does you a favour or takes you to lunch, a personal call the next day is appropriate. So few people do this anymore that it will be noticed when you do it. Thanking someone for time spent with you surely warrants more than a 15 second typed email message.

I’m worried that the upcoming generation won’t know how to use their voices as they carpel tunnel their way through the communication process. ____________________

Colleen Clarke, Career Specialist & Corporate Trainer

Author of Networking How to Build Relationships That Count, How to Get a Job and Keep It

Co-author of The Power of Mentorship; The Mastermind Group

Category: Job Search Strategies,