What is Telephone Etiquette?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Telephone etiquette refers to a set of rules that apply when people make calls to others or when they are receiving a phone call. There are slightly different rules for a variety of situations. and making and receiving personal calls is not the same as making/receiving business calls. Within this set of rules, there can be additional differences, especially for business calls where companies may want callers or receivers to say certain things.

Golfer using a cellphone while on a golf course.
Golfer using a cellphone while on a golf course.

For personal calls, the caller should identify him/herself when not recognized right away. When calling a friend or relative, for instance, after the initial “Hello,” the caller should come up with a greeting and identification, such as “Hello, this is John.” Sometimes, a last name is needed if the person being called is an acquaintance or a business representative.

Woman speaking on a phone during a meal.
Woman speaking on a phone during a meal.

Etiquette says that next should come a request for something, such as speaking to someone else in the house. Variations exist on this, like “May I speak to Horatio,” or “Is Horatio available?” If Horatio is not available, it may be necessary to leave a brief message, but it should be one easy to write down. Sometimes, the only thing necessary is to leave a phone number.

Couple using smartphones during a meal.
Couple using smartphones during a meal.

Even this simple telephone etiquette takes a while to learn. It’s a good thing to teach children, as they often don’t know it, can’t identify themselves, and won’t leave any form of concrete message. Children should also be taught how to answer a phone, and all people can benefit by following some standard etiquette concepts:

Proper etiquette dictates that phones should be shut off at a movie theater.
Proper etiquette dictates that phones should be shut off at a movie theater.
  • Individuals should pick up the phone promptly with a salutation like “Hello,” and not “Yeah” or “Go!”
  • They should be prepared to take a message and always have pencil or pen and paper handy.
  • If the call is undesired, as from a solicitor, the person should inform the caller in an even tone that there is no interest for the product or service, say goodbye, and gently hang up.
  • Alternately, individuals can screen calls and let unwanted calls go to voicemail.

Business telephone etiquette is similar in many ways to home phone calls and reception, but the business should be even more vested in remaining polite, since poor phone manners can have a negative effect on the company's reputation. Calling out from a business is similar to a personal call. The person should begin with a greeting, identify himself, and identify his employer. He should then make state his business or request to speak to someone.

If a message needs to be left, it should include the nature of his business and his contact information. This isn’t always possible because, due to privacy laws, certain businesses can only talk to the person they are trying to reach. When such is the case, simply trying back later or leaving contact information may be the most a caller can do.

When receiving the business call, a businessperson should also attempt to be polite, understand the caller’s needs, and take a message if required. In both businesses and personal calls, when the requested party cannot come to the phone, it's best for the person who answers to not give a reason. The person usually shouldn't say that the unavailable person doesn't want to speak to a caller or that he or she is somewhere else — be it in the bathroom or at a doctor's appointment. A simple statement that the person isn’t available is enough.

Every phone call is an attempt at communication between two people; it’s a method for imparting and receiving information. When telephone etiquette isn’t observed, communication may be more difficult. In general, people are asked to keep their language more standard, as opposed to using slang; to be polite to each other; and to make it clear who caller and receiver are. While it may be okay from time to time to depart from etiquette, especially when calling friends, it's often best to stick to established etiquette.

Professional telephone etiquette calls for standard language and a polite demeanor.
Professional telephone etiquette calls for standard language and a polite demeanor.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@Kristee – I think it's only okay to talk on your cell phone in a store if you are somewhere in the middle of the store and not near the checkout counter. Some clerks are really annoyed by customers who talk while checking out, and in some stores, they put up signs that say that if you are on your cell phone, you are not in line.

As far as public restrooms go, I think it's weird to be in a stall and hear someone talking on their phone in the next stall. I once heard a lady on the toilet calling to order a pizza, and it was just so strange! It made me lose my appetite.

There is one thing that always annoys me. If I'm eating at a restaurant with a friend or a date and they take a phone call at the table, I get upset. I think that basic dining etiquette should dictate the phone etiquette in this situation.


Now that everyone basically uses cell phones, I think there are new etiquette laws that haven't yet been made common knowledge. I know what annoys me, but I wonder if there are any basic rules about talking on a cell phone in public.

For example, if you are in a store, should you refrain from talking on your phone? What about if you are in a public restroom?


I think that there is a special phone etiquette when you are starting to date someone new. When you call them, if they don't answer and don't return your call even though you left a message, you should leave the ball in their court. Otherwise, it starts to look like you are a stalker.


I had a habit when I was young of calling my friend's houses and asking, “Is so-and-so there?” My mother told me that this was improper etiquette.

She said that instead, I should be asking, “May I speak to so-and-so?” I didn't get it then, but I did it anyway, and it resulted in my friend getting to the phone faster.

Many times, if I would ask a friend's parent if the friend was home, the parent would say, “Yes, would you like to speak with her?” So, that was an extra step that I could eliminate by rewording my greeting.


If it were critical, they'll contact you somehow. Say I don't recognize a number, if they don't leave a message, it wasn't critical.


For those who don't know, now you know.


How about a situation where you are in an office, the phone is ringing, and no staff around to pick up the call? What if the call was an attempt to give you critical information? Thanks.


Subway11-I also wanted to say that if you call a number and do not recognize the voice on the other line, instead of hanging up you should tell the person answering the call that you have a wrong number and apologize for disturbing them.

This way the person receiving the call does not think it was a crank call, just a misdialed telephone number.


Crispety- I wanted to add that it is improper telephone etiquette for either party to eat or chew gum while talking on the phone.

This crunching noise is rude and detracts from the conversation at hand. Sometimes it is difficult to understand the person eating and this faux pas should always be avoided.

Also, I think that you should speak in a normal tone of voice and not shout or participate in foul language when you encounter difficulty in a situation. Remaining respectful will always yield the best results.


BrickBack- I totally agree. I hate when I call somewhere, and they immediately put me on hold and never get back to me. Sometimes they even disconnect me which is really frustrating.

I feel that telephone conversation etiquette should revolve around the customer. For example, an employee should always ask if there is anything else that the employee could do for the customer, or ask if the customer has any other questions.

This gives the customer an opportunity to ask additional questions without feeling like they are bothering the employee. Telephone etiquette skills require that the caller be thanked.

Some companies offer the thank you as a part of the initial greeting and some offer it at the end of the conversation. It does not matter when the thank you is offered, but it should be offered no matter what.


Proper professional telephone tips include answering the call on the first, but no later than the second ring.

Telephone etiquette tips include speaking slowly and offer a pleasant greeting. If this is a business call the employee should include the business name along with the employee’s name. This encourages more personal dialogue. This is offered in most telephone etiquette training.

Also, when the caller speaks the employee should listen and never interrupt. If the employee must place the caller on hold, proper telephone etiquette dictates that the employee should ask if it is acceptable to be the caller on hold.

Call center telephone etiquette also requires that the employee return on the line after a period of one minute. Even if the caller will have to remain on hold, you should always give the caller the heads up and keep them informed regarding their situation. This is demonstrating telephone etiquette skills.

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