Corporate Telephone Etiquette: A Wake Up Call for Millennials

12/12/2017 10:45 am ET
Daniel Foster

If you’ve seen the 2003 holiday comedy film Elf, you know that Will Ferrell's character answers an office phone with, “Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?” This scene is so popular that it’s earned it’s very own Holiday: December 18, National Answer the Phone Like Buddy the Elf Day.

Buddy, having grown up in Santa’s workshop believing he’s an elf, has a valid excuse for his poor phone etiquette. However, Millennials in the professional world are not as easily absolved of poor telephone manners. In an era when everyday communication methods involve GIF keyboards, Snapchat filters, and group messaging, young professionals are poorly trained on verbal telephone conversations. If you fall into this category, consider these five guidelines for corporate telephone etiquette.

  1. Tone of Voice When speaking on the phone, your tone of voice sets your conversation partner’s first impression of you. During business phone calls, your goal is to come across as enthusiastic, yet serious. Try smiling while you speak – you’ll sound friendly and approachable.
  2. Informative Greetings When the telephone rings at your desk, pick it up promptly and greet the caller with information about who you are and what you do. Consider answering with something along the lines of, “Hello, [your first and last name] with [your company and department] speaking.” If you’re in the transition process, or if you provide your cell phone number to business partners, consider answering your cell phone with a professional and informative greeting when an unsaved number calls: “Hello, Sarah Silvers speaking.”
  3. Technological Competence When we speak of technological competence, Millennials are often quite adept. However, a 22 year old at their first office job with their own desk telephone might be unfamiliar with important features. Crucial features include how to transfer a call, place a call on hold, and retrieve a voicemail message. Before you find yourself in any of these situations, ask for training on these functions. Ask before it’s too late. These questions are welcome during your first week; however, asking two months into the job hurts your reputation.
  4. Give Your Full Attention A productive phone conversation requires concentration. Millennials are the generation of multitaskers, so resist the urge to type that concluding sentence on your post or scan a new email while you’re speaking on the phone. When you’re distracted, you can’t truly listen to the person on the call. Listen actively and avoid interrupting your colleague.
  5. Graceful Goodbyes When you’re not used to speaking on the phone, the “goodbye” part seems daunting or awkward. Follow the suggestions of the experts; thank your colleague for their time, smile, and conclude with, “Thank you for your time. Bye for now.” Or try, “It was a pleasure to visit with you. Let me know if I can answer more questions. Goodbye.” Invite them to call if they need anything else.

Telephone conversation aptitude is an important professional skill. You’re likely to gain more intelligence from a phone conversation than an email, especially if you need a favor or are trying to make a new contact. A voice humanizes all of us, and a phone conversation is much more difficult to ignore than an email. So, use the office telephone as an asset. Our best advice for Millennials on December 18 is to refrain from participating in National Answer the Phone Like Buddy the Elf Day, especially if it’s your boss calling.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary seriesConfucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

Photo Credit: Daniel Foster, Flickr

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