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Etiquette At Work

How to answer a call when you know who is calling

Q. I’ve worked in the same company for 13 years. We all recently got an upgraded phone system. It’s very advanced, and it does have a screen that says who’s calling.

When I answer the phone, I still (mostly) just answer with my name, as if I did not know who was on the other end. Is it impolite to answer “Hi, Lis” if Lisa is a colleague that I know pretty well, or do I have to pretend I don’t know who’s calling?

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A. Great question because it sheds light on changing etiquette. A few years ago I might well have replied that it was impolite and presumptuous to answer a call that Caller ID identifies as Lisa Smith by saying, “Hi, Lisa.” Lisa might not actually be on the call and answering that way could throw Not Lisa for a loop.

Fast forward a few years and witness the impact cellphones have had on telephone etiquette. Cellphones routinely display Caller ID, and now people are not put off or put out if the call recipient answers by greeting the caller by the name displayed.

In business, most office phones now identify the caller as well. For a colleague you know well, as in your example, answering, “Hi, Lisa” is acceptable. There’s a good chance it is Lisa.

On calls from within your company, I would draw the line at someone you don’t know or of higher rank. Stick to a more formal greeting that includes your department, if it is a large company; and your name: “Hi, this is Mary Smith in Marketing. How may I help you?”

For calls from people outside your company it depends on your relationship to the caller. If it is a client or customer you know well and Caller ID identifies them by name, it probably is okay to greet them by name. For less familiar people or names you don’t recognize, stick to the traditional office telephone greeting: a hello, a message of appreciation, your, and an offer to assist: “Hello, thank you for calling The Emily Post Institute. This is Peter Post. How may I help you?” A good rule of thumb: any time you aren’t sure, defer to the more formal. You won’t go wrong with it in any situation.

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