Good phone manners are important both at work and at home. When you are on the phone with someone, your only interaction is verbal, so saying the right things is important to make the right impression.
If you are answering the phone at a job, your employer may have a specific way they would like you to answer the phone. If they haven't told you, take the initiative and ask - it will show that you care about your performance and how your company is perceived.
If your company doesn't have any standards for telephone procedures, follow the same standards that you would if you were answering the phone at home or at a friend's. Speak clearly, be polite, and offer to take a message or help out if you are answering the phone for someone else.
Here are some common practices that will make you sound polite, whether talking on the phone to a friend, customer, potential employer, or complete stranger.
Some people like to let people know who they've reached as soon as they pick up the phone. Companies and some individuals may answer the phone "You've reached the John Smith Corporation" or "Hello, this is John Smith." When in doubt, a simple "Hello" or "Hello, this is John" will do. Unless someone (such as an employer) asks you to answer the phone in a particular way, choose a style that's comfortable for you and polite to others. Just avoid answering the phone in a way that may make the person on the other end feel uncomfortable or put on the spot (such as, "What?" or "Who is this?")
If you answer someone else's phone or answer for someone who is not around, you should always offer to take a message. Again, this can be as simple as saying "I'm sorry, John's stepped out. May I take a message?" or "I'm sorry, he's busy at the moment. May I take your name and number and have him call you back?"
If the person who is calling asks you to help out instead and you don't feel comfortable or don't know the answer to their questions, it is always polite to say, "I'm sorry I don't know but I'd be happy to pass the message on to John." Just remember to pass the message on! If someone leaves a message, be sure to write down their name, phone number, time they called and the message - then be sure to give the message to the person they were calling.
Taking messages does no good if the person they are for never sees them. Set up a system for delivering phone messages. If it's at home, you might decide to put a notepad by the phone and write messages there, or put them on the refrigerator. If it's at work, you may set up a 'message box' or agree to leave messages in a certain place (on the bulletin board, in someone's inbox, etc.)
Wait until someone has finished their phone conversation before talking to them. If it's urgent and you need to use the phone or talk to someone who is on the phone, don't pick up the line and start talking. Instead, say "Excuse me, may I talk to you for a second?" or "I'm sorry, but I need to make an urgent call, do you mind if I use the phone?"
There are times when the phone calls (or the people on the line) can be too demanding. Being polite doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your own time or drop whatever you are doing. If you are at a job or answering someone else's phone, it is your responsibility to be as polite and helpful as possible, including taking messages. (You shouldn't be answering someone else's phone if you aren't going to take the time to help out.) However, if someone calls you at home or catches you in the middle of something urgent, it is fine to offer to call them back. You can say, for example, "I'm sorry, but we were just about to sit down to dinner, can I call you back after we finish?" or "I'm sorry, but I was just about to run out the door, can I call you when I get back?"
Nowadays, many companies call people at home to try to sell them services; it's fine to tell these people that you aren't interested (it's even fine to ask them not to call you at home anymore!), as long as you do it nicely. Again, a simple "I'm sorry, but I'm not interested" or "I'm sorry but I don't make decisions over the phone; please don't call again" can put an end to some of these calls.
Next: Professional Manners