Basic Telephone Skills & Etiquette

Although you may prefer communicating through e-mails and sms, there are going to be times (in both your college & professional life) when you will be required to either make or receive a professional telephone call. 


Basic Telephone Skills:

Before making a telephone call –
  • Prepare: Think about the purpose of the call. What message do you want to convey or what information are you trying to elicit. You may even want to write down a few points or questions that you want to remember or ask.
  • Place:  Whether you’re calling your mom to say “hello” or your Academic Manager to set up an appointment, find a quiet place to make your call. Your communication will be far more effective if you and the receiver can hear each other clearly without any background distractions and noise.
  • Time:  If at all possible, do not make a call when you are in a rush or pressed for time. You will most likely forget either part or all of why you are phoning in the first place, you will not be focused on the information you are receiving and, you will come across as unprofessional and harassed.
  • Posture: Check your posture – how are you sitting or standing when making the telephone call? Your posture can effect your breathing, voice and tone.
  • DO NOT: chew, drink or smoke whilst making or receiving a telephone call


Greet and Identify –

Whether you are answering a call or making a call, always start off with a greeting and by identifying yourself:

For Example - when making a call:
Good afternoon, this is John speaking. Please may I speak to Naren.
For Example - when answering a call:
Hello, John speaking.

Allow the person on the other end a chance to respond before you launch into whatever it is that you are phoning about. Often times the receiver has not tuned into the conversation yet and may even ask you to repeat who you are.

For Example:
John: Good afternoon, this is John speaking.
Naren: Afternoon John, how may I help you?
John: I am phoning about setting up an appointment to meet with you...
Listen –

Any conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking:

  • Listen attentively.
  • Do not cut the other person off – wait for them to finish what they are saying.
  • Acknowledge comments every so often, this lets the other person know that you are still there and that you are listening.
  • Have a notepad and pen with you so you can write down any important points, names, telephone numbers you are given during the conversation.


Ending the call –

Always try to end a telephone call on a positive note. Thank the other person and if possible use their name.

For Example: 
You have been very helpful, thank you for taking the time to talk to me Naren. Good bye. 


Telephone Etiquette:

  • Using “please” and “thank you” not only shows that you have manners but are central to professional communication.
  • Always try to answer your phone within 3 rings – answering too quickly may catch the caller off-guard and allowing your phone to ring may annoy the caller.
  • If the caller has called you by mistake (wrong number) be courteous, inform them that they have the wrong number and end the call.
  • If you have called the wrong number, don’t be rude or just end the call. Say “I’m sorry, I must have the wrong number. Pardon the interruption.”
  • When calling someone do not start the conversation with “Who am I speaking to?” – always greet and introduce yourself first.
  • When leaving a message on voicemail be sure to speak slowly and clearly, especially if you are asking the person to call you back and you are leaving them your number.
  • Never end a call out of anger or frustration, it is the height of bad manners and will make phoning back and trying to re-start the conversation both difficult and awkward. If you are feeling angry or frustrated during a telephone call, politely inform the person that you are unable to continue the conversation right now and that you will call them back.


Nair, H. (2012). Basic Telephone Skills. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 03 March 2016].

Roth, E. (2015). Tips on Effective Telephone Communication. Retrieved from:   [Accessed on: 03 March 2016].

Telephone Etiquette (n.d.) Retrieved from:  [Accessed on: 03 March 2016].

E-mailing & E-mail Etiquette

BMH Durban lecturer, Julia Sutherland, provides  excellent advice and pointers on writing professional e-mails and e-mail etiquette.

mail contact

E-mail is an important communication tool within both the personal and professional context (that includes your college career) :

  • It is immediate.
  • Messages can be saved for later review.
  • Messages can be forwarded on, in their original form, to other recipients.
  • It is a means of sharing documentation easily and collaborating on projects without having to meet face-to-face.
  • It is flexible in that you can send both formal and informal messages.

There are many disadvantages to e-mail communication too though:

  • It is easy to misunderstand someone without the usual non-verbal cues we get from face-to-face communication.
  • E-mails are often less formal than other forms of communication, thus an e-mail sender is more likely to write something that they would not ordinarily say in a face-to-face conversation and which may cause offense.
  • It’s also easy to click the “send” button too early or to send a message to the wrong recipient.

Drafting an E-mail

Whatever the topic, e-mails require careful consideration when being drafted which is why you need to ensure that you follow the Five C’s:

  • Be clear
  • Be courteous
  • Be correct
  • Be concise
  • Be complete 

Unlike a formal business letter, you do not need to format an e-mail with an address etc. There are however certain structural rules you need to keep in mind:

  • Add the e-mail address last.
  • Always include a subject line but keep it short and informative 
  • Open with a simple but appropriate greeting
  • Keep the body of the e-mail short and use paragraphs to divide up the information – the same as you would do in an essay: one paragraph for one topic.
  • Your tone should be friendly, positive and professional. Remember: e-mails can be forwarded and work inboxes are not private.
  • Invite a brief response, if necessary.
  • Include an attachment, if necessary, but never send an attachment on its own without any subject line or communication explaining its context.
  • End with a complimentary close.
  • PAUSE BEFORE SENDINGproof read (spelling, grammar, punctuation, details such as times, dates etc.) and make sure you have included everything that is necessary.


E-mail Etiquette

  • Only use industry jargon if the other person is familiar with the jargon.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, use SMS or text speak (e.g. “u” instead of “you”)
  • Get to the point quickly, don’t be too conversational.
  • Do not use ALL CAPS – this means you are shouting.
  • Always address someone specific – don’t just launch into the body of the e-mail without a proper greeting / introduction.
  • Do not demand, always ask (e.g. “Please may I have a copy…” vs. “I want a copy…”)
  • “Please” and “Thank You” are magical words.
  • Avoid using exclamation marks!!!!!!
  • Use a professional e-mail address (e.g. vs.
  • Be cautious with humour.
  • Think before hitting: “reply to all” and / or “cc” – use these sparingly.
  • Do not use causal salutations (e.g. Dear Jane vs. Hey Jane)
  • Respond to incoming e-mails as soon as possible.
  • Do not forget to proof read.


Using the correct e-mail etiquette will result in:

  • The reader receiving all the information they need, enabling them to respond or proceed accordingly.
  • The reader not being irritated and / or offended by your e-mail as this may affect their actions / response.
  • The reader taking you seriously.



Shober, D. (2013). Essential Business Communication – Communicating with a vision (2nd ed.). Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers.

Smith, J. & Giang, V. (2014, September 3). 11 Email Etiquette Rules Every Professional Should Know. Retrieved from:







College as Practice for the World of Work

Here are two points to ponder:

a) Close to 90% of 1st year’s cite “to get a job” as the most important reason for them attending college.

b) Top companies focus on hiring candidates who not only have classroom knowledge and comprehension but who also show a proficiency in “soft skills” such as: communication, adaptability, teamwork, time management etc. 


Being professional is not something you are born knowing how to do, it is however a set of skills that can and must be learned if you hope to make the right impression not only in the workplace but during your college years too.

Why would you need to be professional at college? Because college is in fact very similar to the world of work – both environments require you to:

  • be punctual – be it arriving on time for work/lectures or meeting a work/assignment deadline.
  • communicate in a professional and mature manner – be it applying for leave/extension on a due date or requesting information from a colleague/lecturer.
  • work on team projects – don’t assume that your work colleagues are going to be any different or better than your college peers when it comes to pulling their weight on  group projects.

The list of similarities is endless…

The point is, college administration don’t put “rules and regulations” in place just for the sake of monitoring and controlling the student population – as many a student likes to point out: you are not in high school anymore. The fact of the matter is, deadlines, punctual attendance, mindful editing of work, respectful disagreement with peers and lecturers are the exact same behaviours you will be required to demonstrate in the workplace.

Professional Communication

Communication is central to any relationship, be it personal, casual or professional. Professional communication, unlike that between friends, family members or even acquaintances, occurs within the culture of the specific workplace, industry or academic environment. As such it is up to the employee or student to take note of and adhere to the communication expectations and characteristics of the particular company or academic institution.

When it comes to communicating with work colleagues or college staff the communication format and tone should always be formal and professional. The thing to remember is: any form of interaction, be it written or spoken, represents you to your boss, co-worker, lecturer, academic manager.  As such it is vital that you pay careful attention to:

  • the wording of your communication,
  • the receiver’s perspective and,
  • the desired outcome of the communication.

The point is not to offend or alienate the person you are communicating with, particularly if you are requesting something of them or if they hold any authority over you.

Some Real-Life Examples:

Ask any lecturer, academic manager or administrative staff member and they will be able to provide you with a veritable book full of examples of unprofessional, poorly worded and formatted e-mails they’ve received from students.

Below are some word-for-word, real-life examples of bad student e-mails which were sent to an academic manager recently:

Example 1:

Subject: introduction letter proffessional skills 2 

Joe Soap 
ID: 123456789123
Student no :15010000 am specialsing in video3 ( Television) and please let me know when the introduction letter will be ready.

Example 2:

Subject: ‎

Hi Jane.
Joe Soap, student number 15010000 , my I'd number  123456789123. I'm majoring in Radio. Let me know when I can collect it. 
Thank you.

Example 3:

Subject: Joe Soap, 15010000, 123456789123, is currently registered as a media studies student specialising in (Public Relations) at Boston media house. 

Dear Jane here are my details for the letter of introduction.
Please let me know when I can collect it.

Example 4:

Subject: Experiantal learning

Joe Soap
Student No: 15010000
ID No: 123456789123
Specialisation: Radio 3

A. Can you spot the mistakes?

  • blank subject line
  • an entire message within the subject line
  • incorrect spelling
  • poor or missing punctuation
  • incomplete sentences
  • no greeting and/or signature and/or thank you
  • no context or point of reference

B. Answer the following questions honestly:

  • Is this the type of e-mail you would dare to send to a co-worker or even your supervisor when requesting something at work?
  • No? Then why would you send it to your academic manager?


Grattan, K. (2015). Thoughts on Professionalism and Communication Skills when Content Reigns. Retrieved from:  [Accessed on: 29 February 2016].

Professionalism & Communication. (2012. Retrieved from:  [Accessed on: 29 February 2016].

Weimer, M. (2013). Helping Students Learn to be Professional. Retrieved from:  [Accessed on: 29 February 2016].


Autumn & Procrastination

The weather is getting cooler and the crispness of autumn is in the air, making it that bit more difficult to find the motivation to get out of bed and attend lectures or work on assignments…right?

This may be true, but:

  • Attending lectures is still important. Formative Assessment 2 (for year subjects) and Summative Assessments are still coming, don’t waste opportunities to pick up useful hits and tips on how to tackle your assessments because staying home watching netflix seemed like a better idea at the time.


  • You’ve paid good money to be here – or your parents / sponsors have. Don’t put pleasure before business, get your money’s worth, attend lectures and seize every opportunity to make what is left of the semester count.

If these two pearls of wisdom are not helping to motivation you, perhaps some ideas on how to deal with procrastination will.

Tips for Beating Autumn Procrastination

Definition: Procrastination - To irrationally put off important tasks.

1. What’s it worth to you?

A major motivator in life, and for students, is how much you value a set goal or task. If you don’t care that much about it, chances are your motivation will be low and the risk of procrastination high.

By “value” we are not only talking about the importance of the goal or task, but also the enjoyment value. Goals  or tasks that are daunting, unpleasant or boring easily demotivate us, and increase the possibility of procrastination setting in.

How can you overcome this particular obstacle?

  • Determine why the goal / task is important. This will require you to be very honest with yourself; is this the assessment that could save a failing grade, even though you hate the subject? By increasing the value of a goal / task in your mind, you may be able to increase your motivation.
  • Determine the cost of the goal / task. What will it cost you in additional time and money if you don’t get a particular task done or don’t achieve your goal? Think in terms of the financial cost of having to pay for a supp. or repeat a subject, or the additional months or years it will add to your time at college.
  • Reward and Punishment.  Or you could keep it simple by rewarding yourself for doing the right thing and punishing yourself for procrastinating.

2. It’s my personality

For some people procrastination is a personality trait they are born with and have little control over – these people are easily distracted, impulsive and tend to have low self-esteem. Does this sound at all familiar?

You may not be able to change your personality, but you can make it work for you by adjusting your surroundings – by creating an environment that supports work and discourages avoidance.

Things you can do to create a work-friendly environment include:

  • Eliminate distractions. Switch off your cell phone; remove the X-box, Playstation, or whatever gaming device you use from the room; switch off the tv; disconnect the WiFi / internet.
  • Don’t stop to think. Procrastination has a sneaky way of disguising itself as a thought process. Don’t be that guy who stops to think about the best way to illustrate a marketing idea and ends up planning the sandwich you want to make for lunch instead.
  • Be prepared. Make sure you have everything you need to hand when you sit down to work, that way you cannot be distracted by searching for your favourite pen or stopping to think about where you saw that quote that perfectly summed up your argument.

3. How do you and eat an elephant?

According to the proverb…one bite at a time.

What does this even mean?! When faced with a really big task or assignment, the big picture can be overwhelming and can reinforce procrastination. Rather than focusing on the huge end result, break the task / assignment up into smaller, manageable, achievable parts.

Another way of dealing with a daunting task is by alternating it with something you enjoy doing. If you work steadily throughout the day, focusing for a good 30 – 60 minutes on the task you don’t enjoy and alternating it with 20 – 30 minutes of something you do enjoy, you will not only make steady progress, but you’ll also have a positive motivator (the task you enjoy doing) to help you keep on track.

4. In search of perfection

Procrastination is some times best friends with another personality trait that goes by the name of “Perfectionist“. For some people every task / assignment has to be perfect – this is not only unrealistic, it is unnecessary and merely feeds the procrastination monster.

When struggling with feelings of procrastination linked to perfectionism, remind yourself that it is more important to complete a task / assignment, than it is for it to be perfect.

5. Time Management and Concentration

These are two skills you can consciously work on to improve and even beat procrastination. To find out more on how to improve your time management and / or concentration, visit these topics on the blog.


Chambers, A. (2015). Seven Steps to Help Conquer Procrastination: A Different Kind of Spring Cleaning (Part 1). Retrieved from:  [Accessed on: 12 September 2016].

Dean, J. (2014). 10 Foolproof Tips for Overcoming Procrastination. Retrieved from:  [Accessed on: 12 September 2016].

Dean, J. (2011). How to Fight the Four Pillars of Procrastination. Retrieved from:  [Accessed on: 12 September 2016].

Todd, D. (2012). Overcoming Procrastination: Tips for Overcoming the Bane of all College Students. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 12 September 2016].

Strategies & Exercises to Help Improve Your Concentration

Concentration is not an instinctive ability, rather it is a skill that can be learned and, with practice, improved on.

Improving and maintaining a healthy concentration level is dependent on a combination of four inter-related elements – if any of these four elements is missing or ignored, concentration will be effected:

  • mental challenges
  • emotional involvement
  • physical exercise
  • healthy eating

Mental Challenges

Below are two exercises you can practice to help improve your concentration:

1. Sustained concentration on a simple task
  • Start with a simple relaxation exercise – breathe in for a count of four and exhale for a count of four, whilst doing this relax your body starting with your feet and slowly working your way up to your jaw muscles and eyes.
  • With your eyes closed, picture a flower (or any simple object you can concentrate on) – examine the flower in detail, look at it up close and then from far away – continue this focused concentration on your chosen object for 2 – 3 minutes. When the time is up, open your eyes and reflect on how you concentrated: what did it feel like? Was it easy or did you struggle to stay focused on your object? Why?

  • The aim is for you to include a sustained concentration exercise in your daily schedule. Just 5 minutes of practice a day will make a difference in your ability to concentrate at will and sustain your focus over increasingly longer periods of time.

For more sustained concentration exercises, visit the Mindfulness Exercises post available on this blog.

2. Challenging your current intellectual level
  • If you get bored when studying it is possible that the material you are studying is too easy and you need to start incorporating challenges by learning and reading beyond what has been prescribed to you for a particular subject. Go to the library or surf the web for books, articles and sites on the subject that will provide you with broader, more challenging information.
  • If you get stressed when studying it is possible that the material may be too difficult, and this makes you shut down. Draw up a set of specific study goals for your study sessions, they could include: reading one chapter of a prescribed textbook, or answering a set number of questions, or brainstorming ideas for an upcoming assignment.


Emotional Involvement

You cannot concentrate on your studies unless you have personal commitment or interest in the subject. External motivators, such as the money you hope to make in the future or graduating with distinction, are not viable forms of commitment and motivation. Rather focus on learning about and enjoying the subject. Find out how a particular topic is personally relevant to you and what it is that you aim to do with your studies once you are done.

Negative emotions, especially stress, detract from concentration. Stress management strategies will help with this and may include things such as: mental relaxation exercises, physical exercise and hobbies.

The environment you study in greatly effects your ability to concentrate. You need to find a study time and place that allows you to fully concentrate on the topic at hand, rather than the distraction of what is going on around you.

Physical Exercise

A fundamental way of enhancing concentration is to get enough exercise every day. Find physical activities that fit with your lifestyle: walking instead of driving to the shops, jogging with a friend, taking the dog for a walk. Exercise brings variety into your life and enhances your mind’s ability to sustain focus.

Active learning is also a great concentration enhancer. Rather than just sitting passively at a desk, walk around the room whilst testing yourself, talk out loud about a section you’ve just covered, write something about the topic you’ve just read, place a cushion or stuffed toy in the corner of the room and teach it what you’ve just covered in a particular chapter.

Healthy Eating

A healthy diet is linked to improved concentration, academic ability, better sleep and general health and well-being.


  • artificial colourants
  • artificial flavourants
  • antioxidant preservatives

These are all found in processed foods, such as: pies, fish fingers, packet soup, 2 minute noodle flavour packets, processed meats (e.g. polony), potato crisps and fizzy drinks.

A single protein (e.g. a boiled egg or a slice of cheese the size of your index finger) and complex carbohydrates (e.g. an apple, a pear, a serving of oats, a serving of low fat yoghurt) breakfast will boost your concentration for up to three hours.

Regular, healthy snacks every two to three hours e.g. sugar free peanut butter, a tuna sandwich, home made unsalted popcorn, plain biltong, cheese or unsalted nuts help to maintain concentration.

Supplements can be taken to raise Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) levels, which are linked to concentration and brain function:

  • Omega 3 and 6  – fatty fish oil found in unflavoured cod liver oil, cold pressed salmon oil capsules and flaxseed oil, contain Omega 3 and 6.
  • Multivitamin and mineral supplements – assist with the metabolism of the fatty acids but must be free of synthetic colourants and flavourants. Some multivitamins include EFAs but usually not enough and so must be supplemented.  Supplements and vitamins can be expensive, however an increasing number of supermarkets and pharmacy chains are producing and selling their own brand of quality supplements and multivitamins at affordable prices.



Improve Your Concentration. (n.d.). Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].

Patterson, B. (n.d.). How Tutors Can Help Tutees Improve their Concentration. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 20 March 2017].