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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

New Boss, New Expectations

Dear Sue: I just got "written up" at my job for not having proper telephone techniques after answering and talking on the phone for over 10 years. I have anew boss and things are not going well. He has a problem with me when someone calls for him and he's not in the office. I tell them that he's out of the office and ask if the caller would like to leave a message. If they ask when will he be in and I do not know, I tell them that I don't have that information.

Apparently the callers feel I'm not helping them and am being rude. I feel that my boss should be in the office more. Pease answer back soon as the phone will soon be ringing again.

- Going crazy.

Sue Says: I understanding it is distressing to be hearing complaints about your telephone techniques after 10 years with few if any complaints about your phone skills. However, as long as you are open to changing your ways and truly interested in pleasing your new boss, the solution may be fairly simple.

The first thing you can do, if you haven't yet, is to ask your boss how he would like you to handle his calls. Ask for specifics: What does he want you to say, ask, and do.

If you are being challenged by some of the callers, talk to your boss about it and get his input as to how to handle people who get upset with you because he isn't there and ways in which you can be more helpful.

Remember, you are representing him and it is important to do it well and the way he prefers, regardless of how you've done it in the past.

There is a reason some callers feel you are not helping them: Are you being as helpful and kind as you can be? There's a good chance that the people you are talking with sense your frustration and irritation. Be aware of your tone and manner. Be careful not to transfer your annoyance with your boss to those who call him.

When callers comment about your boss being gone so much, their frustration may be directed at your boss, but since they can't speak with him, you are the one who hears what's on their mind. Try not to personalize it. You can empathize with them: "I understand how you feel.” You can reassure them: "I will make sure he gets your message.” You can apologize for him: "I am sorry you haven't heard back from him yet. And you can offer to help them: "How can I--or what can I do to-- help you?”

Rather than dreading answering the phone when it rings, view it as a challenge; challenge yourself to make the most of each call and to leave each caller in a better place as a result of talking with you! Try it and see what a difference it makes. After all, the problem may be less about your telephone technique as it is about something less tangible--your attitude!

The most important element of your success lies in your attitude and willingness to not only do your job, but to do it well--in a manner that the callers, and your boss, respond positively to.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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