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Telephone Manners

Jan 2007
On the Call

After establishing contact with the party you're trying to reach, you should be ready to use the time as effectively as if you were in a face-to-face meeting.

The speakerphone – friend or foe?

Speakerphones are a great tool for communication via the telephone, but they must be used wisely. Some people prefer to use a speakerphone even when no one else is listening in so that they can take notes during the conversation without having to juggle a phone receiver. If you're one of those people, make sure you inform the people on the line with you that you are using a speakerphone, and if they seem apprehensive, explain why it is necessary.

Speakerphones are also useful for conference calls. If you are leading a speakerphone meeting with a number of people, allow each person to introduce himself or herself, to help the listeners match a name to a voice.

"In conference calls, always identify yourself by name and never rely solely on voice recognition," said Lena Bottos, compensation market analyst for "Always preface your comments with an introduction."

Silent partners

Conference calls provide unique opportunities for colleagues to communicate with one another. For example, it is not unusual for conference calls to include one or more silent listeners, who may or may not be introduced. Their objectives vary considerably, from training and monitoring to evaluating and getting strategic insights. Never assume your business telephone call is a confidential conversation between you and the people who introduce themselves on the other line.

Another silent strategy for conference calls is to use email, whiteboards, or instant messaging software to communicate with other participants on the call. This can be advantageous, for instance, when a silent partner wishes to prompt a speaker to say something in particular. If you are using such signals, however, be careful not to distract the other party by the sound of typing, nor to alienate the other party with your surreptitious strategizing.

Tolerant neighbors
When using the telephone at work, don't forget about the people around you who aren’t taking part in the conversation. If you can, shut your office door or warn your cubicle neighbors before making speakerphone calls, as a person's speaking voice tends to increase in volume when using remote technology.

Headset etiquette

In many offices, people whose job involves considerable telephone work use a special hands-free headset-type telephone. This technology frees these workers to walk around the office with the ergonomically friendly device.

If you use this type of telephone, be careful not to bring your conversations into parts of the office where they do not belong. Many office workers can relate stories of coworkers walking up and down the halls seeming to talk to themselves. Be sensitive to the acoustics of the area in which you are conducting business, and to your coworkers' work spaces.

If you work with people who use hands-free telephones, develop a way of ascertaining quickly whether they are on a call before beginning a conversation with them.

When to say no

Learn how to use the "do not disturb" function on your phone, or lower the ringer if you to have a meeting in your office that you don't want to interrupt. A ringing telephone can create quite a disturbance in a sensitive meeting. Also, if you want to focus on a particular project - say you've got a deadline and you're not expecting any important calls - you can disable your ringer so that your calls go straight to voice mail.

However, don't hide behind your voice mail. Technology makes it quite feasible to keep people at bay indefinitely. But if people begin to think you never answer your phone, they will stop calling, which could adversely affect business relationships.

Have a nice day

At the end of each call, thank your caller or the person you called for his or her time, and hang up with a pleasant goodbye.

- Regina M. Robo, News Editorsalary_logo.gif

Resources and related reading

Letitia Baldridge - Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette
Judith Martin - Miss Manners Guide for the Turn of the Millennium
Peggy Post - Emily Post's Etiquette
Peggy Post and Peter Post - The Etiquette Advantage in Business

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