Are Your Telephone Manners Killing Your Business?

I dial a number. A voice answers, “Mountain Pine Company.”

“Is John there?” I ask.

“May I tell him who’s calling?”

“This is Bill Byrne.”

“One moment, please.” After holding a minute, Miss Manners comes back to the phone. “I’m sorry, John can’t come to the phone right now. May I have him call you?”

I say, “Thank you, I’ll call back later.”

What just happened?

Was John in a meeting? Or didn’t John want to talk with me? I don’t know the answer. This scenario leaves me with uncertainty as to why John wouldn’t come to the phone. It offends me.

It offends me because, for whatever reason, John didn’t come to the phone after he knew who was calling. I just received a telephone rebuff I took personally. It’s OK if John really couldn’t take the call. But he knew it was me, and maybe he just chose not to answer. How do I know the difference?

The “May I ask who’s calling” syndrome is telephone manners at its worst.

Getting the caller’s name is more often a method to support self-importance than necessary call screening. In my experience, important people don’t ask who is calling. They pick up the phone and away we go.

Our telephone answerers at VistaComm don’t ask who is calling except in the most unusual circumstances. We expect everyone in our organization to be fully accessible to all callers. No games—no ego-building.


Poor telephone manners are amplified by using the above verbal gymnastics, then picking up the phone without acknowledging the caller’s identity. Why in the world would you ask for a name and then be so self-important you don’t acknowledge it when you answer? The caller’s most important possession is his or her name. Use it!

One way I could have taken leadership in diffusing this problem is to have removed the need for the “Who’s calling” question by giving my name. “Good morning, this is Bill Byrne. Is John in?” The game’s over before it starts, and many receptionists no doubt appreciate the courtesy.

Good leaders have a distinct preference to reduce barriers.

It may be an open door or an open telephone. Aloofness and inaccessibility are as negative on the telephone as in person. The payoff of “May I tell him who’s calling” is minimal while the risk to personal and customer relationships is considerable. Consider how your telephone manners impact the caller’s feelings. Remove the barriers.

Effective communication on the telephone is just one aspect of your current position that may be causing you confusion. On a daily basis, we interact with clients who have various needs for effective communication in all aspects of their business. We’re committed to passing on to you our best business practices. Follow us on social media or subscribe to our blog to continue to learn more best practices in business and marketing.