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

Office Telephone Etiquette

Dear Sue: My time gets seriously wasted when I am with people who take phone calls in the middle of our conversation with no regard for the fact that I am listening and waiting as they converse. I was working with someone in his office; the phone rang, he answered it, and then got involved in a lengthy conversation while I sat there. I was talking with someone in the corridor when the phone rang and again, I was left waiting indefinitely for her to finish the call. Now I am left with several questions: What is the protocol on answering a phone call when you are talking to someone, or have someone with you in the office? What would be a polite way for me to handle this and/or to let the person know that he/she is now wasting my time i.e. Do I just walk away? And, what would be the correct way to communicate office phone etiquette to my fellow workers? Many thanks.

Ė Jan

Sue Says: If you have a visitor in your office and the phone rings, if you donít have to answer it, donít. Not answering the phone or letting it go to voice mail is a compliment to the person you are with and shows respect for his or her time. However, when you know you will need to take a call during a meeting, then inform your visitor at the beginning of the meeting, take the call and make it brief. Anytime you take a call when you are with someone else you are clearly communicating that the caller is more important than the person you are with.

When you are with someone who takes a call and it is apparent that the call is going to last more than a few minutes, you can choose to leave. You may decide that the meeting is over, or simply take a brief break. By doing so, you are not only giving the person some privacy to continue the conversation, but making better use of your own time as well. You can indicate that you will be back in a few minutes or inform the person that you will be in your office if he or she would like to continue the meeting once off the phone.

There may be times in which the only thing for you to do is to walk away. However, whenever you have an opportunity to say something, you certainly should. The only way to educate others is by your own example, and by talking about your concerns and frustrations. You may not be able to influence everyone you have a casual conversation with, however, the next time you are in a meeting, you can suggest and establish ground rules up front, and help people understand how unproductive and distracting taking calls can be.

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

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