Diana Kelly Levey

Mistakes You’re Making On Work Calls

freelance writer on a work call

January 5, 2018 | Categories:

These communication errors you’re making on business calls could hurt relationships, cost you money, and make you come across as less than professional. Career experts discuss proper phone etiquette in a modern world.

You’re not prepared for why you’re on the call.

Have you ever been in a meeting or on a conference call and not sure why you’re there? So you simply dialed in and sat there, mostly in silence while the other person ran the meeting? “Many people don’t know why they’re in a meeting or on a call, they do not know what the agenda is, and so they’re not prepared to contribute,” says Sarah Kaler, co-founder and CEO of Soul Powered, a women’s leadership and education and research company who has been developing business leaders for over 15 years. When you don’t know what the agenda is, you’re not able to fully prepared in advance in a way that will add value and make meeting productive and efficient, says Kaler. In order to maximize your time and everyone else’s on the call, request information via email from the call initiator to get a sense of the purpose and desired outcome of the call so you’re prepared.

You’re not primed to take notes.

If you’re on a work call, always have a pen and paper, or a tablet ready, says Etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer, founder of Access to Culture Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. “When the caller is about to provide an important phone number or address, and you aren’t ready, it’s mistake that speaks volumes. Don’t make them listen to you shuffling around trying to find a piece of paper. Always be prepared–you never know how important having pen and paper or a charged tablet may be for your business counterpart.”

“Taking notes is incredibly helpful as it gives you something to refer back to and follow up with questions you may have on your mind,” says Vicki Salemi, Career Expert at Monster. Stay focused. Block out everything else and stare at a blank wall if you have to in your office or your office-on-the-road. Stay engaged in the call; ask questions. Taking notes is one way to alleviate problems because you’ll have something to fall back on after the call concludes.

You’re typing and responding to emails.

If you’re a journalist or plan to take notes on a keyboard during the call, let the person on the call know ahead of time. “Although the person you’re speaking to may not say it, the click-clacks on your keyboard are definitely discernible,” says Schweitzer. Otherwise, they might think you’re checking emails, commenting on social media, or not paying attention. “Don’t embarrass yourself by sending the message that your email is more important than the person on the call. Your email will still be there after the phone call ends,” she says. (Here’s why constantly checking email zaps your progress.)

You forgot to turn off notifications.

Ever jump on a work call on your cell and then your partner starts texting you message after message that’s pinging through? Yes, the caller on the other end can hear that. “There are more distractions than ever in our world,” says Kaler. “It’s so important to get present when you’re over the phone, especially. Take the time to eliminate those distractions, whether that’s Slack, Facebook, Twitter, or notifications on your phone.” Taking personal responsibility for turning those off and getting present on the call, she suggests.

You’re not listening.

Ever zone out on a conference call and then realize your name is being called and you don’t know what’s going on? (Bueller? Bueller?) Sometimes you’re asked to speak up on a call, but when you’re not listening you could miss the context, says Salemi. The classic “Sorry, I had you on mute! Would you mind repeating the question?” cover up can only go so far. “If you miss the background of the discussion, your answer could miss the mark and leave you looking clueless or bad at your job. It can happen to the best of us, but it shows your client and/or colleagues on the line that a work call isn’t a priority,” she says. These are the signs that you’re a terrible listener.


You didn’t tell the caller that they’re on speaker.

If you wish to take notes during a client call, ask if you may place the caller on speaker, suggests Schweitzer. Address this in the beginning, before they hear an echo and ask, “Am I on speaker?” If there’s another person present in the room with you and you want to put the call on speaker, let them know you’re not alone, advises Schweitzer. Being honest an upfront will help the caller feel like they know who’s hearing what they’re saying on the call. If you’re recording a call, check your state guidelines on whether you need to let the caller know this. Personally, I let every source know when I’m recording the conversation as a professional courtesy.

Read all 12 Career-Killing Mistakes to Avoid When On a Work Call on Reader’s Digest.

Consider freelance writing as a side hustle? Check out my Freelance Writing Course on Teachable. It’s self-directed so you can read the materials on any device and complete it on your own timeline. There’s even a 30-day money back guarantee.

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