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How to Answer A Call When You Know Who Is Calling

Hello,

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. (Of course someone could be at another's phone, and I would not really know who it is, but that is very seldom.) Is it impolite to answer ‘Hi Lisa’ if Lisa is a colleague that I know pretty well, or do I have to pretend I don't know who's calling?

Thanks in advance for your help,

S. S., Marlborough, MA

Great question because it sheds light on etiquette advice that is changing. 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.” The theory being that Lisa might not actually be on the call and answering that way could throw Not Lisa for a loop as he or she is greeted incorrectly.

Fast forward a few years and witness the major impact cell phones have had on telephone etiquette. Cell phones 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. Many people will even look to see who is calling before they decide to answer or send the call through to voice mail.

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 actually is Lisa calling. On calls from within your company I would draw the line when answering a call from someone you don’t know or someone of higher rank. Stick to a more formal answer, including a greeting; 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 the Caller ID identifies them by name, it probably is okay to greet them by name. For less familiar people or people you don’t recognize, stick to the traditional office telephone greeting: a hello, a message of appreciation, your name and company, 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 answer. You won’t go wrong with it in any situation.

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