In the age of email, text, LinkedIn, and Facebook, the art of a simple telephone conversation is becoming lost in the mix.  In my short time at Mizzou Law, I am continually amazed at how little students, staff, and faculty use the telephone.  With few exceptions, most of the phone calls to and from my office have been with an older generation; Generation X and Millennials just aren’t comfortable with this method of communication anymore.

If you plan to secure a job in the legal field, chances are high that you will eventually have to talk to someone other than your parents on the telephone.  You will soon find yourself in situations which requires composure, professionalism, and an ounce of etiquette.  Here are a few tips for “appearing” professional on the telephone:

  • Answer your phone promptly.  I repeat: if you are available, answer the phone. 
  • Be certain your voicemail greeting is clear and professional.  Avoid music and other distractions.
  • When leaving a voicemail, speak slowly and clearly.  Give your name, phone number, time of call, and reason for calling.  If the purpose of the call can be accomplished in a simple message, be sure to do so.  Just be wary of leaving too-long messages; get to the point quickly.
  • If you are the caller: Immediately greet the other party, give your name, and explain who/why you are calling.  For example, “Good afternoon.  My name is Kate Busch and I am calling to speak with Mr. Anderson regarding my employment application.”
  • If you receive a phone call from an unknown source or a professional source: Answer with a greeting and your name.  For example, “Hello, this is Kate Busch.”
  • If you receive a phone call from someone you know:  Either answer with a greeting and your name, or greet the caller by name.  for example, “Hello, Mr. Smith.”
  • Try to refer to the caller by name at least once or twice through the conversation.  This lets the individual know they have your full attention. 
  • Be sure to notify the other party if you place them on speakerphone, or if others are listening to the conversation.
  • Avoid typing, emailing, looking at Facebook, reading, etc. while on the phone.  These behaviors are just as distracting as during a face-to-face conversation.
  • If you are in an office situation and answering the telephone for someone else, be careful not to give private information regarding an individual’s whereabouts.  “Mr. Smith is out of the office” or “Mr. Smith is unavailable” IS appropriate.  “Mr. Smith is at lunch” or “Mr. Smith is in a meeting” are generally NOT appropriate.  You may want to check with your supervisor about his or her preferences.
  • Towards the end of the call, be sure everyone is clear about To-Do items.  For example, if you are responsible for follow-up actions, say, “I will be sure to provide my report first thing Monday morning.” 
  • Always close the call on a positive note.  “Have a good weekend,” “It was a pleasure talking with you,” and “I look forward to talking with you again” are all appropriate closing statements.
  • Be yourself, but always be the most professional version of yourself.

I hope these tips are useful, and remember that practice makes perfect!  The easiest way to become comfortable on the telephone is by using it frequently.  The next time you want to make dinner plans with a friend, try calling him/her instead of texting.  If you want to make an appointment with someone, call them on the telephone instead of emailing.  You will be surprised how quickly your comfort level increases.