The Way We Work
November 30, 2010 by Tamara Rice

Working from home as a contractor can be a liberating experience, in that you can often make your own rules, but when it comes to telephone calls with employers, standard rules of business do apply.

Here are some basic phone manners you need to master whether talking one-on-one with your employer or engaging in a conference call:

contractor phone etiquette

1. Eliminate distractions. Do whatever you can to quiet your surroundings. This may mean turning down your radio or it may mean locking yourself in the bathroom.

2. Greet your employer and identify yourself. Yes, your employer’s caller ID may have already told him it’s you calling, but you still need to say: “Hi, Employer. This is Contractor X. How are you?” If you are answering your own phone, start by saying: “Hi, this is Contractor X.”

3. Don’t talk over others. Be mindful — especially on conference calls — of not interrupting. Practice patience. Focus on politeness. If you start to talk at the same time, always offer to let the other person go first. Listen more than you talk.

4. Keep it clean. Most contractors barely know their employers, so it’s important to observe respectful boundaries: don’t swear, don’t gossip, keep it clean. (Besides, a lot of people record calls, you know — would you really want some things repeated?)

5. Practice reflective listening. This skill is especially important during one-on-one calls with your employer. When you’ve been given a directive (“Here’s what I need you to do…”) follow it up by confirming what you’ve just heard (“So, you’d like me to…”). Echo instructions. Echo deadlines.

6. Know when to cut the small talk. Engaging in a little chit chat can be good for your rapport with your employer, but know when it’s time to get down to business. Listen for cues. On a conference call, follow your employer’s lead. If she is being chatty that’s great, feel free to engage. But do so carefully: no long stories, heavy opinions, or tangents.

contractor phone etiquette 2

7. Don’t put your employer on hold. If you can, avoid ever putting your employer on hold. In fact, when something important does come up — like your son injuring himself while you are on the phone — don’t say: “Can you hold while I check on my son?” Instead say: “I’m sorry, a little emergency just came up here. Can we reschedule or can I call you back once I get things sorted out?”

8. Don’t talk to others while you are on the phone. This is pretty much the same as putting your employer on hold … only worse. Again, if a crisis comes up, then get off the call quickly, rather than trying to juggle the call at a bad moment. (Your employer doesn’t want to listen to you tell your roommate how to get red wine out of the carpet.)

9. Keep calls brief. While you may not be able to control the length of every call, we encourage you to not linger after the necessary information has been communicated. If you are the one who made the call, it’s great to close with: “Well, I’ll let you get back to work now. Thanks for your time.”

contractor phone etiquette 3

10. End with assurances. When closing down a call, reaffirm or re-communicate the next time you’ll be talking or touching base. For example: “I’ll email you those files, and just to verify, our next call is two weeks from today at two, right?” It’s a great way to end on a positive note.

Tell us: Have you ever lost a client over a phone call? What aspects of phone manners have you had to learn the hard way?

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.

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  • Faizan

    its great article,its help me for my employers
    thanks for sharing
    keep sharing like these articles

  • Tamara

    So glad this post has been helpful, and thank you, Juanita, for the link.

  • Steve Hopwood

    Courtesy is as important in speaking over the phone as in talking to people face to face.
    There fore thank you for introducing PHONE ETIQUETTE.

    We wish all the success
    Best regards
    SL Stuff team

  • Predrag

    Thanks Tamara, really great tips!

    Personally, never had any dropped calls, or internet problems. My conversations are usually over Skype and thanks to their software its all going smooth. Always keeping it short and important, trying not to call my employer very often, but rather send him e-mail or IM updates each day of my progress, maybe a preview of what I did just to see what he/she thinks about it.

    Anyway, great tips, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone :)

    P.S. oDesk rox!

  • Andre

    Good pointers Tamara. I always like reading your articles, always something to take away. Going to be practicing reflective listening.

  • Suneel Gupta

    Great Tips. Keep writing these type of articles. Thanks.

  • balendra

    you can often make your own rules, but when it comes to telephone calls with employers, standard rules

  • ASCADEX Patent Illustrating Services

    All of the above is true, especially with my business where all of my clients contact me via phone and email to explain their concept. Will print this to study those points. Thanks and keep it coming.

  • vel

    Great article; thank you Tamara – Waiting to Discuss with my Employer tonight our time.

    also my warm thanks to Juanita Ecker …

  • Professional Web Scraper

    Very helpful article. Thanks Tamara.

  • Juanita Ecker

    There is definitely a proper etiquette for business calls and this list has some great tips. I recently wrote my own article about phone etiquette. Read it here an see what you think:

  • Stephanie

    True! Hopefully in the future VoIP technology will become better and smoother for everyone to use, especially for those who are calling from a million miles away. :)

  • Tamara

    Oh, Stephanie, I feel your pain with the dropped connections/calls. It’s happened to me on my cell here at home so many times. Ideally I’d always have a land line to fall back on, but … we just do the best we can with what we have, don’t we?

  • Stephanie

    I had a client call yesterday and I made sure to close all doors, windows, and eliminate all other possible distractions while talking to him. It really helps, especially when you’re on Wi-fi and your connection can drop all of a sudden.