Message Taking in Business English: The 6-step Guide for Flawless Phone Skills
Are you terrified of answering the phone at your new office?
You’re not alone.
It can be a daunting (intimidating) task, especially in a professional environment. The caller speaks quickly, their voice is hard to hear through the phone and you’re worried about asking the right questions—you don’t want to bring incomplete or wrong information to your boss.
We’re here to help you get over your phone and message taking fears.
Message taking in business English actually follows a very predictable formula.
In this post, we’ll show you six steps you can follow to make sure that you take a complete, error-free message every time, plus plenty of handy examples to use.
- 1. Explain That the Person They’re Calling Isn’t Available
- 2. Get the Caller’s Name and Number
- 3. Offer to Take a Message
- 4. Clarify Any Confusing Parts of the Message
- 5. Verify the Message Details
- 6. Conclude the Call
- Tools to Improve Listening for Message Taking
1. Explain That the Person They’re Calling Isn’t Available
Let the caller know that the person they’re looking for isn’t able to take the call.
Normally, you’d start with some apologies:
Sorry, I’m afraid…
My apologies, but…
Then explain the specific situation. If you can’t or don’t want to explain why the person is unavailable, use a general phrase such as:
Ms. Smith is not available.
Ms. Smith can’t come to the phone right now.
If you’re comfortable giving more details, you can say something like:
Ms. Smith is currently in a meeting.
Ms. Smith is currently on the other line / on another call.
In other words, they’re already on the phone with someone else.
Ms. Smith is out of the office / away on vacation / away on a business trip.
Ms. Smith has just popped out of her office for a minute.
2. Get the Caller’s Name and Number
Use these phrases to find out who you’re talking to.
The modal verbs “may” or “could” are usually used as a very polite form of asking for permission, in place of the verb “can.”
May I ask who’s calling?
May I have your name please?
Could I take down your name and number please?
Please give me your name and the reason for your call.
3. Offer to Take a Message
Good thing you’re there to help! Use the modal verbs “could,” “would,” or “may” to begin the process of taking a message.
Here are some examples:
Would you like to leave Ms. Smith a message?
May I take a message?
You can also suggest alternates, such as:
Would you like to try back later?
Could you call back at [time]?
Is there someone else you would like to speak to?
4. Clarify Any Confusing Parts of the Message
Once the caller begins leaving their message, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification if there’s something you didn’t understand or simply didn’t hear. It’s better to get it right than to pass on information that isn’t correct.
Below are some phrases that can help you ask for information you may have missed the first time.
I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.
Sorry, could you repeat that please?
Sorry, the connection isn’t very good, do you mind speaking a little louder please?
Sorry, I missed that last bit. Did you say…?
5. Verify the Message Details
You’re almost there now. All you have to do is go over the message again to verify that you got it all down.
Let me check that I got this right. You said…
To confirm, you said…
I’ll repeat your message… Is that correct?
Is there anything else I can help you with today?
6. Conclude the Call
Good job! Now say goodbye and set the caller at ease that the message will be passed on.
Thank you for call, I’ll pass your message to Ms. Smith.
I’ll make sure Ms. Smith gets your message. Thank you, have a nice day.
To hear some more telephone English and message taking, check out this helpful video:
Tools to Improve Listening for Message Taking
Developing your English listening skills is essential to taking messages correctly. The tools below provide typical examples of a conversation taking place over the phone, along with a variety of expressions that may be used and resources for practicing what you’ve learned.
Top tip: Listen with your eyes closed! This will help you focus your attention on listening only.
BusinessEnglishPod: “Telephoning: Taking a Message”
This audio lesson provides you with a variety of natural expressions you’ll need when taking a message in business English, as well as phrases to listen for. The lesson also covers language you can use to acknowledge, check and confirm the information that’s been provided to you.
You’ll hear an example of a short conversation that takes place in a business context. It’s followed by a detailed breakdown of that conversation, along with further examples for each part of the call.
Towards the end it gives you the opportunity to use some of the vocabulary or expressions you picked up earlier in the lesson.
FluentU authentic videos
One of the best ways to master message taking in English on the phone is to listen to real native speakers doing just this in authentic videos like movie trailers, music videos and vlogs.
FluentU is perfect for this because it uses a large video library made for and by natives, so you can hear the phrases above in a realistic context.
Simply search for a term or phrase (like “message”) to come up with videos where this is spoken. Then you can watch the video and click on the interactive subtitles to see more information about a particular word.
Here’s a still from FluentU in an animated video about message taking on the telephone:
Here’s the links to the FluentU apps for Apple iOS and Android.
BBC Learning English: “Taking Telephone Messages”
Mix up your listening with an entertaining video lesson from BBC Learning English. Subtitles are provided and you can also follow the transcript below the video. But if you can, try to listen without reading the subtitles to improve overall listening skills.
University of Washington: “Leaving Messages”
This video lesson focuses on leaving messages, and is a part of the University of Washington Business English: Networking course. It features examples of messages and how to get the important details. It’s especially helpful because they play realistic phone messages where the audio quality isn’t perfect—which is exactly what you’d hear on a regular office phone at work.
If you sign up for the course you’ll also gain access to materials such as vocabulary lists and additional reading material.
As you can see, once you get the hang of it, taking messages politely in business English isn’t really that difficult. You can use the same phrases in any situation.
Combine that with enhanced listening capabilities, and message-taking will become a breeze. You’ll never feel hesitant about picking up the telephone again.