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Telephone Etiquette

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Does anyone use the telephone anymore? Apparently not, if you're between the age of 15 and 29. I can't tell you the number of times I've tried to leave a message for my 17-year-old niece, only to find her voice mailbox full. When I ask her about it, she says she never checks messages. Okay?

For those of us over 30, talking on the telephone, both calling and receiving, is part of everyday life. Like email, rules matter when it comes to the phone, antiquated as it may be. If you have a land line, as I do, chances are most of your calls are donation requests, but manners do matter at all times.

If you're in the business of talking on the phone daily or simply want to call your neighbor to borrow a cup of sugar, here are some guidelines for telephone etiquette:

• Treat every call with equal importance, because every time you make or receive a telephone call, you're making a verbal impression.

• Always begin a call by giving your name and/or that of your company.

• Use good posture and sit up straight with your feet on the floor. Believe it or not, you will have more energy, and this will help your voice convey confidence and clarity.

• When your phone rings, answer it promptly, before the third ring if possible. This shows efficiency and tells the caller he or she is important. to you.

• If you're answering someone else's phone, give their name first, then yours: "John Grott's office, Lisa Mirza speaking."

• If someone calls you on another line while you're on an office phone, tell the caller you will call him or her back. The person you called always has priority.

• In the office, avoid phrases such as "He hasn't come in yet" or "she's out for coffee." A simple "Ms. Mirza is out of the office" or "she is away from her desk" is acceptable.

• If the person is in but on another line, ask the caller if he or she would like to wait on hold, but check back with the caller every 20 seconds or so. Avoid leaving the caller dangling on a silent phone.

• When you take a message, be sure it's accurate. Note the date, and be sure to take the caller's name and phone number.

• Listen carefully, speak clearly, and be friendly.

• Follow through on all calls. If you promise information, try to call back promptly or have someone else call for you if you can't return the call promptly.

• Time your call so it does not interfere with someone else's job. In other words, don't make calls first thing in the morning or at closing time.

• If you leave a message for someone, be sure and state your name clearly (spell out if difficult), give your phone number slowly, and always give a good time to return the call.

• If your call concerns answering a question asked during a previous conversation, leave the answer on voice mail if the person is not available.

• Take time to end all calls on a positive note. A good ending will go a long way. and thanking the caller for calling is the best way to close a conversation.

• Always hang up after the caller does.

• A voice-mail message should be informative yet brief. A simple but short message might go something like "This is Lisa Mirza of The AML Group. At the sound of the tone, please leave your name and number and a good time to return the call."

• For security reasons, it's best not to give detailed information, especially if you work from home or travel quite a bit.

• Avoid amusing or musical messages, even if you're an actor.

• If you must be away for a long period of time, change your voice-mail to reflect your schedule.

• The golden rule applies to telephones. Speak unto others as you would have them speak unto you.

Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (www.AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.