Using Telephone Etiquette to Make a Positive Impression

A common reality when being part of a business is being on the phone constantly. Whether speaking to clients or business partners, professional telephone etiquette is the key to leaving a positive impression on everyone interacted with, and demonstrating the organisation’s professionalism.

Most commonly, phone conversations are the first form of communication a customer has with a business. So, the first impressions given to customers over the phone can affect the long-term reputation of the business, both positively and negatively.

To help give a lasting, positive impression of your organisation over the phone, Select Training and Management Consultancy L.L.C. will provide advice for professional telephone etiquette.

The Ways of Listening

A huge aspect of telephone conversations, as well as other interpersonal communication, is listening. There are three levels of listening: passive listening, surface listening, and active listening. With telephone conversations, especially in a business setting, only active listening is effective. The one-to-one situation and the need to replace body language and eye contact mean that in order to get the most from a telephone conversation, both parties must be active and involved throughout. Below, Select will explore each level of listening in further detail:

  1. Passive listening:

The passive listener fakes attention rather than being genuinely interested. They make the occasional grunt, ‘yes’, or acknowledgement, merely to indicate to the person that they are still there. If challenged, they often have not heard what was being said and certainly have not comprehended it. The passive listener occasionally hears something that is of interest to themself and tunes into the conversation only to wait for a chance to have their say, without real concern for what the other person is saying. Once they have had their say, they tune out of the conversation and continue to listen only in spurts. The passive listener is very often doing something else while holding the telephone to their ear (typically, reading, opening letters, and/or rearranging the desk).

  1. Surface listening:

The surface listener is not as distracted as the passive listener and is, at a low level, tuned into the conversation throughout. However, this person is often hearing, but not comprehending, and failing to understand the nuances or subtleties of the message being given to them. The surface listener remains emotionally detached. Surface listening is characterised by the lack of interaction between the two people in the telephone conversation; the surface listener absorbs what is being said at a low level but does not react, comment, add to, or drive the conversation in any way. The surface listener will often agree to what they are being asked to do, but not having thought through their own commitments, will often not do what they have said they will. The surface listener often does not take notes, leading to a lack of follow-up on their part.

  1. Active listening (the right way to listen):

The active listener is involved in the conversation, commenting on what they are hearing, adding to it, and occasionally changing the direction of the conversation as both parties drive it forward. The active listener is absorbed in what is being said to them and understands it at an emotional level, picking up nuances and underlying meanings. The active listener is interactive, in other words, they will absorb something that has been heard and feed it back to the person who said it, in order to be certain they have understood exactly what is meant. If they have misunderstood it, they are ready and willing to listen to the correct version. The active listener occasionally takes notes of items for follow-up or matters to be put on file, and will read the notes back with the person to make sure it is correct and valid. The active listener will, when being asked to make a commitment, (to make another telephone call, to call back, to do some other act), carefully consider their work schedule and confirm or renegotiate requests. Having made the commitment, they are the most likely of telephone users actually to fulfil and meet those commitments.

The Telephone Army

There are many types of people on the telephone. In order to communicate with them effectively and professionally, you must be aware of the type of communicator they are, and how to deal with them. In order to do so, Select has divided these people into 5 categories; more specifically, 5 members of the Telephone Army.

  1. The ‘Yes’ Brigade:

The ‘Yes’ Brigade always says ‘yes’, always agrees with you, always promises things, but probably does not act on your call.

To deal with them, ask questions that challenge their understanding, to make sure that they cannot just be saying ‘yes’ while doing and thinking nothing about the points. Commit them to dates and times when they will confirm they have done the action they promise. Make a point of always telephoning back and challenging the people who have made a promise they haven’t met, so that next time they will know that you are the sort of person that they will either have to be honest with from the beginning, or be challenged by in the future. In some cases, it may be appropriate to follow up the telephone call by email or fax message, confirming to them what they have promised; once seen in stark writing, the promises seem somehow more solid and requiring commitment.

  1. The Conscientious Objectors:

The Conscientious Objectors will say “no” to almost anything out of habit. They are very depressing to talk to.

To deal with them, be positive and enthusiastic. Do not take “no” for an answer, but don’t get into arguments with them or they will dig in their heels. At any positive signs, act very warmly and encourage their interaction.

  1. The Know-It-All Consignment:

Characteristically, these people have loud mouths, and never admit they are wrong. They rarely listen to you, even if you get a word in.

To deal with them, try not to challenge their perceived self-image of their importance, or their expertise. Have your own facts at hand. It may sometimes help to make them feel important in order to get a short-term positive response. Do not, however, compromise your own assertive beliefs in yourself. Use permission questioning such as, “Could I suggest that we do such and such?”. This adds to a feeling of building something between yourselves that will make the person feel all the more involved in the solution you are attempting to generate.

  1. The Secret Service:

The Secret Service is like talking to a sponge: all you ever hear are “uhms” and “ahs”, and you never really know what they are thinking.

To deal with them, demand responses and leave silences that they have to fill in.

  1. The Rebels:

These people are not openly aggressive, but shoot from behind cover. They use innuendo and sarcasm.

To deal with them, you need to be subtle. Do not react with sarcasm of your own and never acknowledge innuendo. You do not have to accept their offered version of events, but challenge assertively with facts of your own. Break down their hostility with your own calmness and dignity.

The Mechanics

Another part of good telephone etiquette is to be aware of the practical and mechanical rules of telephone equipment. This will make the telephone conversations professional and as efficient as possible. Below are Select’s tips for understanding the mechanics:

  1. Know the machinery
  2. Leaving telephones and extensions ringing
  3. If an extension is not answered
  4. Leaving a call on hold
  5. Know alternative people to put the caller through to
  6. Announce people before putting them through
  7. Consider the needs of people at pay phones
  8. Consider the needs of the people telephoning from someone else’s office
  9. People phoning from hotels or conferences
  10. Pick up the telephone in the hand you do not write with
  11. Place a pad and pencil beside each telephone
  12. 12. Keep a pad and pencil with you


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