100 polite telephoning dos and don'ts

Summary: One hundred tips for how to be more polite and avoid being rude on the telephone in English

By: | Audience: All | Category: Telephoning | Topic: Vocabulary

First Published: 8th Sep. 2020 | Last Edited: 14th Sep. 2020

This article gives exactly one hundred pieces of advice on how to make formal calls without unintentionally being rude. Note that most of the tips are specific to more formal situations, so might be different for casual calls. Over 400 pages of practice materials for both formal and informal calls are available at https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/telephoning/ and https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/teaching-telephoning/.

 

Things to do to make your call polite/ formal include:

  1. Be careful with intonation and stress so that you sound interested, open and friendly when you say “Hello?” etc
  2. Use formal opening greetings (“Good morning/ afternoon/ evening”) both when you are the receiver (“Good morning. ABC Limited…”) and when you are the caller (“Good morning. May I speak with…?”)
  3. Give information about who you are when you answer the phone (“Good morning. ABC Limited. Trucks Division. HR Department. Alex Case speaking. How can I help you?”)
  4. Offer help at the end of the phrase when you answer the phone (“Good morning. ABC Limited. Alex Case speaking. How may I help you?/ How can I help you?/ How may I be of assistance?”)
  5. Answer the phone the normal way even when you know who the other person is because their name came up on your screen (not “Hello, Mr Case. How can I help you?”, which seems too sudden for a formal call)
  6. Use your full name when you talk about yourself (“This is Alex Case from ABC Limited”, “My name is Alex Case. I’m calling from ABC Limited”, etc)
  7. Use the other person’s title and family name to address them (“Good morning, Mr Case. How may I help you?”)
  8. Repeat back the other person’s name when you find out who they are (“Good morning, Mr Case. How may I help you today?”)
  9. Thank the other person if there is something special that you can thank them for (“Thanks for your message”, “Thank you for getting back to me so quickly”, etc)
  10. Apologise if you are phoning early, late, many times, long after they left you a message, from somewhere noisy, after a phone call that was cut short, etc (“I’m sorry to trouble you again but…”, “I’m sorry to call so early in the morning”, etc)

 

  1. Use “may” or “could” and avoid “you” in requests to speak to someone (“Could I speak to…?”, “May I speak with…?”)
  2. Start negative answers with giving bad news phrases (“I’m afraid…”, “I’m sorry, but…” or possibly “Unfortunately,…”)
  3. Give detailed reasons for negative answers (“I’m afraid he’s abroad on a business trip all week”)
  4. Use “Of course” or maybe “Certainly” for positive answers to requests (“Of course. Does he have your number?”)
  5. Use “Yes, please” for positive responses to offers (“Yes, please. Could you tell him that I…?”, etc)
  6. Use “No,…, thanks” for negative answers to offers (“No, that’s okay, thanks. I’ll just call again later”, “No, that’s all for now, thanks”, etc)
  7. Give soft answers to “Does she have your number?” like “I think so, but shall I give it to you just in case?” and “I’m pretty sure she does”
  8. Give a reason if you don’t want to leave a message (“No, that’s okay, thanks. I’ll just phone again later”, “Actually, it’s quite urgent. Is there anyone else who could help me?”, etc)

 

  1. Mainly use “Just a moment” to ask people to wait
  2. Say “Please hold (the line)” or “I’m putting you on hold” if you will use the “hold” button (and so the caller might hear music)
  3. Use someone’s name to check if they are still there after holding the line (“Mr Jones?”)
  4. If the other person should speak next after the wait (for example to dictate a message), say “(Okay). Please go ahead”
  5. Say “Sorry to keep you waiting” or “Sorry to have kept you waiting” if they have waited for a long time

 

  1. Apologise if you need to check something (“Sorry, I couldn’t quite catch…”, etc)
  2. Use requests language for checking/ clarifying questions (“Sorry, could you spell your family name for me?”)
  3. Use language like “a little” and “just” to make requests seems small (“Sorry, could you say that again a little more slowly?”, “Sorry, could you say the last part just one more time?”, etc)
  4. Reply to “Can I check that back?”/ “Can I read that back to check?” with “(Of course). Please go ahead”
  5. Use “actually” to correct anything that they’ve got wrong (“Actually, it’s K, not C”, etc)
  6. Use indirect questions/ embedded questions to ask for information (“Could I ask wh…?”, “I’d like to know if…”, etc)
  7. For special requests like asking for someone’s mobile number, use more polite requests language like “Could I possibly…?”
  8. Use giving bad news language to report problems and complaints (“Unfortunately, … doesn’t seem to be working”, etc)
  9. Use long polite words to make arrangements (“if you are available”, “if that is convenient with you”, etc)

 

  1. Make the ending smoother and longer by checking that they are finished (“Can I help you with anything else?”, “Is there anything else that I can help you with?”, etc)
  2. Make the ending smoother and longer by giving reasons for ending (“So, I think that is all for now, thanks”, etc)
  3. Use transitions phrases to move between different parts of the call (“Well,…”, “So,…”, “Okay,…”, etc)
  4. Finish taking messages by reassuring them that the message that they have left will get to the right person (“I’ll make sure that she gets your message”, “I’ll pass your message onto him. I’m sure he will get back to you soon”)
  5. At the end of longer discussions, end by saying something nice about the conversation, give a reason for ending, and mention future contact (“Well, that was very useful, but I have a meeting in ten minutes, so I’ll email you for more details later today”, etc)
  6. Use “actually” or apologise if you haven’t finished when they check if you have finished or not (“Actually, there was just one more thing”, “Sorry, before you go, could I also check…?”)
  7. Offer more help if they might need it (“If you need any further information, please do not hesitate to call again”, etc)
  8. Make a positive mention of any future contact (“I look forward to your email”, “I look forward to doing business with you again soon”, etc)
  9. Thank the other person at the end of the call (“Thank you for calling”, “Thank you for all your help”, “Thanks again for letting us know”, “Thanks for your understanding”, etc)
  10. Apologise again if there is nothing to thank you for (“I’m sorry that I couldn’t be more help”, “Once again, please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused”, etc)
  11. Use “Thanks anyway” to finish a very short call when they weren’t able to help you at all (“I’m really sorry. We don’t stock those kinds of products anymore” “Oh, okay. No problem. Thanks anyway”)
  12. Close with “Goodbye”

 

Things not to do when trying to be polite on the phone in business calls etc include:

  1. Don’t answer the phone with “Yes?”
  2. Don’t answer the phone with just your name
  3. Don’t answer the phone with things translated from other languages like “Speak to me”
  4. Don’t answer your work phone with “Hello?” (which is for answering your home phone)
  5. Don’t use the other person’s first name (as you would in a casual call, so not “Hi Alex”, and not “Good morning Alex Case” X)
  6. Don’t answer the phone with the other person’s name (as you might with “Hi John, how’s it going?” if their name comes up on your screen in a friendlier situation) unless it is a scheduled teleconference or shortly after another call
  7. Don’t refer to yourself with just your family name (so not “Good morning. ABC Limited. Case speaking. How may I help you?” X)
  8. Don’t use your title when you talk about yourself (so not “This is Mr Case” X or “This is Mr Alex Case” X)
  9. Don’t ask for their name before you need to know it, and definitely not straightaway (so not “Good morning. ABC Limited. Alex Case speaking. Who’s calling, please?” X)
  10. Don’t give your name when they probably don’t need it (as they might be embarrassed when they have to ask you to repeat it later, so not “Good morning. My name is Alex Case. I’d like to ask about train times to…” X)

 

  1. Don’t use direct questions to ask for names (so not “Who are you?” X, “What’s your name?”, “Are you John?”, etc)
  2. Don’t thank the caller vaguely when there is no special need to (so not “Good morning Mr Smith. Thank you for calling” X or “Thank you for your support always” X)
  3. Don’t ask casual small talk questions in formal situations (so no “How’s it going?”, “How are you doing?”, etc, as you would with friends)
  4. Usually don’t ask any small talk questions in formal calls
  5. Don’t make insincere apologies about things which you can’t know are true (so not “Sorry to interrupt you”, “Sorry to disturb you”, etc)
  6. Don’t use the more casual “ring” instead of “call” (so not “I’m ringing about…”)
  7. Don’t usually use forceful phrases to ask to speak to someone (so not “I need to speak to…”, etc, unless it really is true)
  8. Don’t use informal asking to speak to someone phrases like “Is Alex there?”
  9. Don’t use informal asking people to wait phrases like “Just a second”, “Just a mo” or “Just a sec”
  10. Don’t ask people to wait with imperatives like “Please wait” X and “Give me a second”
  11. Don’t use “Please hold on” to mean “Please hold (the line)” (as “hold on” is a phrasal verb, something which is generally casual, and it just means “wait” more generally)
  12. Don’t say “Hello? (Hello?)” after putting someone on hold
  13. Don’t say “Sorry to keep you waiting so long” when it’s not really so long (as then there won’t be something more extreme to say if they really do have to wait so long later)
  14. Don’t ask direct questions about the purpose of the call like “What’s it about?” X and “Why are you calling?” X
  15. Don’t ask for the reason for the call if you don’t really need to know it (as they might think that you are checking if they are important enough or not)
  16. Don’t give vague reasons for not putting someone through like “He’s not available” X and “He’s not here” X (as it sounds like you can’t be bothered explaining, or even like it’s a lie)
  17. Don’t use “want to” for offers (so not “Do you want to leave a message?”, etc)
  18. Don’t use “want to” for requests (so not “I want to speak to…”, etc)
  19. Don’t use the imperative in giving messages (so not “Please tell him that…” X)
  20. Don’t use “tell him to” in messages (as that means “order him to…”/ “command him to…”)
  21. Don’t use the imperative in checking/ clarifying questions (so not “Please repeat…” X)
  22. Don’t use casual asking people to repeat phrases like “Say again”
  23. Don’t use direct negative answers to correct someone (so not “No, that’s wrong. It should be…” X etc)
  24. Don’t say “I see” to mean “Okay, got it now, thanks” (as “I see” can sound like you are unhappy if you aren’t really careful with the intonation etc)
  25. Don’t ask “Do you understand?” to check if they got what you are saying (as it can sound like you are checking if they are intelligent enough or not, or that you are an angry teacher explaining a punishment)

 

  1. Don’t listen in silence when the other person is speaking
  2. Don’t use the same active listening sounds or phrases over and over while the other person is speaking (so not “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” or “Sure. Sure. Sure. Sure”, as it sounds like you aren’t really listening)
  3. Don’t use flat intonation when you say “Really?”, “Oh no”, “That’s interesting”, etc
  4. Don’t use the casual expression “Sure” for positive answers in formal situations
  5. Don’t use “Please + verb” (= please + imperative) for requests in the body of the call (so not “Please send me…”, etc)

 

  1. Don’t suddenly end, for example by going straight from the body of the call to “Thanks for your call”
  2. Don’t give very general reasons for ending the phone call like “Well, I have something to do” X, “So, I am very busy” X or “Well, I have to get going”
  3. Don’t finish a long phone call with just a reason for finishing (without saying something nice about the call)
  4. Don’t use “Anyway” instead of “Well…” etc for transitions (as it can sound like you think the other person is off topic or going on too long)
  5. Don’t use casual checking that they have finished phrases like “Is that all?”, “Is that it?”, “Anything else?”
  6. Don’t use casual saying you are finished phrases like “(No,) that’s it”
  7. Don’t sound unenthusiastic about helping more (so not “Can I help you with anything ELSE?”, etc)
  8. Don’t wait for the receiver to say “Can I help you with anything else?” if there is silence and you know that you are finished
  9. Don’t answer “Can I help you with anything else?” with just “Yes, I…” or “No”
  10. Don’t just say “Thanks” when they have given you a lot of help
  11. Don’t just say “Thanks for your call” when it’s the caller who helped the receiver
  12. Don’t say “Thanks for your help” if they couldn’t help at all
  13. Don’t end with “Thank you in advance” (because it sounds like you are saying “Don’t forget!”)
  14. Don’t end phone calls with “Thank you for your cooperation”
  15. Don’t use “You’re welcome” etc when you could thank them back instead
  16. Don’t end with “Bye bye”

Copyright © 2020

Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com

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