Telephone in English: How to Avoid Sounding Rude on the Phone

By 22 January 2018 Video lessons 17 Comments
Telephone in English

Hey there, and welcome to Speak English with Christina, where you’ll have fun becoming fluent in American English. I’m your English coach Christina and (ring ring, ring ring). Ah, hold on.
Watch this episode now!

Sorry, um, yes, this is Christina….. Um, yes, could you please call me back later, I’m a bit busy right now….Thanks bye… Well, that guy wasn’t very polite. I’m sure he didn’t mean to be impolite, but on the phone,  well, sometimes you’re not sure how to be polite and you accidentally sound rude. We’ll change that today.

Let’s go!

Being polite on the phone is important because the other person can’t see you. So only your voice and your words communicate your personality.

It’s so important that, when you join my Get The Job course, you get a bonus 20-page guide on how to succeed in your phone & Skype interviews. I’ll put a link below this video so you can get more information.

For now, let’s look at 3 ways to avoid being rude on the phone.

Make small talk

Sometimes, at the start of a phone conversation, a little small talk is expected. Not always, it depends on the person, the situation, etc. so you have to listen and react appropriately.

For example, here’s a situation where you should NOT make small talk:

Geraldine: Hey, Christina, it’s Geraldine. how’s it going?
Christina: Good, good. Um, sorry Géraldine, I really gotta go in like 2 minutes. What can I help you with?
Geraldine: Oh, don’t worry, I just had a very quick question for you…

If the other person says they don’t have time, you should be quick. Or offer to call back later. You can say “Do you want me to call back at a later time?”

But here’s a situation where small talk is polite and expected:

Christina: Hey, Géraldine, this is Christina from the Chicago office. How are you today?
Geraldine: Good, thanks. We just got back from a weekend in mountains.
Christina: Oh that sounds nice! I imagine it’s very pretty!
Geraldine: Yeah, really nice! So, what can I help you with?

Since Geraldine initiated a little small talk, it’s polite to continue, and to show interest in what she says.
The small talk doesn’t need to be long, just a few exchanges before Geraldine transitioned to the “business” subject. And if you want to be the one to make this transition, the key phrase is “So, what can I help you with?”

Ask politely

Sometimes, students feel that just adding “please” is enough to make a request polite. In fact, there are other things that make your request polite or rude.

Like what? The words you use. Saying “I want some information about your products please.” sounds direct and a little rude because of “I want.” A more polite form is “I would like some information about your products, please”, or ‘I’d like some information about your products, please.” I would like, or I’d like.

Also, there’s your intonation. I’ll say the same phrase, but with different intonations.

Which one sounds polite? “Could I speak to Fred Smith please?” “Could I speak to Fred Smith please?”

Listen again, to see which one has intonation that goes up then down?  “Could I speak to Fred Smith please?” (Listen to the video below to hear the intonations)

Your intonation goes up then down to sound polite when you ask for something .
I’d like some information please. – I’d like some information / please.
Could I speak to Fred Smith, please?” Could I speak to Fred Smith / please.

To make it easy, your intonation goes up on the word before please, and then down on please. And yes, “please” does add politeness, but like I said, it’s not the only thing that makes your request polite.

Asking for repetition

Using the phone in English is already stressful, and that means that you’re often concentrated on the #1 goal: understanding and being understood.

When you’re having difficulties understanding, you forget about paying attention to politeness. But it’s especially important when the communication is difficult, or when you don’t understand something.

Avoid saying “What?” too much. At the minimum, say “Sorry, what?” with your intonation going up. Other things you can say, that sound natural and polite include:

Sorry, say that again please?”
“Say that one more time, please.”
“Sorry, I didn’t catch the part about ….” and mention the general subject that you understood, like “Sorry, I didn’t catch the part about the project costs.”

And now you have 3 ways to upgrade your phone English, and sound more polite.

You’ll see, it can really make a difference in the relationship you have with your colleagues and clients. Watch the video to hear and practice the intonations, because they are just as important as the words!

Now, what about you?

What’s the hardest thing about using the phone in English for you? There’s no shame in this. The phone in a foreign language is scary!

So let’s continue the conversation in the comments!

And if you’ve got a phone or Skype interview soon, my course Get The Job will make sure that you have a better chance of succeeding.

Thanks so much for watching Speak English with Christina, and I’ll see you next week!

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