Phone Etiquette: 5 Things NOT To Say On A Work Call

Learn the rules of phone etiquette. Here’s our list of what NOT to say when answering a work call.



While desk phones are slowly becoming a thing of the past, the rules of phone etiquette are still intact no matter how (or where) you accept a call. Whether sitting at your desk or talking on-the-go, here’s our list of what NOT to say when answering a work call.

1. “I Don’t Know.”

Even if you genuinely don’t know the answer, word it differently by saying, “That’s a good question, let me find out for you.” If you have a coworker who could provide the answer, offer to connect the caller with them. Be sure you use the phrase, “I’m going to connect you with…” instead of the phrase “I’m transferring you to…” to give a more positive feeling.

When the call involves research, assure the person you’ll respond by a specific time. If that deadline comes and goes before you have an answer, communicate with the caller by saying, “I don’t have an answer yet, but I’m still researching it.” Be sure to communicate to let them know status and that you haven’t forgotten.

2. “We Can’t Do That.”

Hearing this roll off someone’s tongue instantly puts up the defenses. Instead, answer in a positive way by saying, “Let me see what we can do.” Show the caller you’re interested in finding a solution that works for both of you instead of just stating what you can’t do.


3. “You’ll Have To…”

This is another phrase that triggers the defenses. If you need the caller to do something, start off by saying, “Here’s how we can help you” and progress to “Are you able to” or “I need you to” and then complete the request. Sometimes the way you phrase something makes all the difference, even if it’s ultimately the same message.

4. “Just A Second”

Never in the history of saying “just a second” has it really only taken a second. While this is fine to say around your friends, give a more honest estimate of how long it will take when on a work call.

While on the subject, be sure to use proper English and avoid unnecessary jargon, slang, and acronyms. To keep things in check, ask yourself if your mom would have to look it up in the urban dictionary. If so, it shouldn’t be used in a professional work call. And if reading “your mom” just triggered a slew of jokes in your mind, be even more cautious about your phone call jargon.

5. “No.”

There are times when the answer is no, but your job is to find a way to state it as positively as possible. Examples may include, “I wish we could” or “The idea is great, but it’s just not an option right now.” Speak calmly and empathetically, as nobody wants to be told no.

While talking on the phone at work looks differently in today’s office than it did 10 years ago, it’s still important that you focus your attention on the caller, you’re prepared to take notes, and you use the caller’s name during the conversation. For more tips on proper workplace conduct, please contact your certified HR expert.

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