Telephone Communication Tips

Today is Thursday, so this post is on dynamic communication.

I came across a great book the other day: “Do It Right: The New Book of Business Etiquette” by Valerie Sokolosky.  Ms. Sokolosky is the author of seven other books, including “Monday Morning Leadership for Women.”  She leads workshops on the changing needs in the global marketplace.

There is a chapter in “Do It Right,” called “Techno-Etiqutte and Written Communications,” that has some great common sense advice on becoming a dynamic communicator.  Here’s what Ms. Sokolosky has to say about telephone communication.

Top Ten Telephone Do’s and Taboos:

  • Identify yourself and your company and move quickly to the point.
  • Ask if the person has time to talk.  If not, request a more convenient time.
  • When leaving a phone message, state your name, company, day and time of your call, along with a call back number.  Give your availability or ask for a telephone appointment convenient for them.
  • Be clear and concise about the information you need in their return call.
  • Ask permission before putting someone on hold.
  • When answering for someone else, say, “May I ask who’s calling?” rather than, “Who is this?”
  • Keep a notepad by the phone to document conversations.
  • Summarize when closing a conversation.
  • Never hang up after dialing a wrong number without apologizing.
  • Transfer calls by explaining why the transfer is necessary, saying “Ms. Jones handles that area.  Let me transfer you.”  Then tell Ms. Jones the context of the call before transferring.

In addition to these tips, Ms. Sokolosky has a few other things to say about using the telephone to communicate effectively.

  • Put a smile in your voice.  If it helps, keep a mirror at your desk.
  • Speak on the phone like you would speak to another person in the room.  Use the same volume, speak clearly and slow enough for the other person to understand what you’ve said.
  • It’s not productive to carry on a conversation and read e mails at the same time.  When communicating – using any media – it’s more effective to focus on one task at a time.

All of these tips are great common sense advice.  I particularly like the last one.  Too many of us multitask too much these days.  I agree with Ms. Sokolosky.  The person with whom you’re communicating – in person, or on the phone – should get your full attention.  Anything else is just rude.  If you don’t have the time for a conversation because you have to respond to an e mail immediately, ask the other person if you can call him or her back.

Besides being rude, multitasking while on the phone will create other problems.   In most cases you’ll do a poor job on both the e mail and the phone conversation.  So why risk it?  Do one thing at a time, and your communication will be better for it.

I also like Ms. Sokolosky’s point “Ask if the person has time to talk.  If not, request a more convenient time.”  Again, I think this is good manners and good communication practice.  By asking the other person if he or she has time to speak with you, you are demonstrating that you know his or her time is valuable.  And, you are providing him or her with a gracious way to ask if he or she can call you back.

Besides that, it also will enhance your communication.  When the other person is rushed or distracted, it is difficult for him or her to focus on your conversation.  When this happens, communication suffers.  There have been many times when someone didn’t follow through on something, and when I asked “why?” they said, “Sorry.  I had a lot on my mind when we spoke.  I just plain forgot.”

The common sense point here today is simple.  The telephone can enhance or hinder your communication.  If you use your common sense while on the phone, you’ll come out ahead.  Telephone communication is just like face to face communication, as it is in real time.  Therefore, as Valerie Sokolosky suggests, speak clearly, not too loud and not too soft, and speak slow enough to be understood.  Also, because the other person isn’t there and you can’t see his or her reactions to what you say, make sure you take the time to ensure that he or she understands what you’ve said and what you’ve agreed on.  A little time spent clarifying telephone communications can help you avoid misunderstandings down the road.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense and to subscribe to my weekly newsletter “Common Sense.” 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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