Terrified of answering the phone at your new office?
You’re not alone.
When I first moved to Spain, I got nervous every time I thought I had to take a phone message!
The thought of it can be daunting, 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 fears.
Message taking in business English actually follows a very predictable formula. We’ll show you six steps you can follow to make sure that you take a complete, error-free message every time.
But first, are your English listening skills up to the challenge?
Tools to Improve Your 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.
“Telephoning: Taking a Message” on BusinessEnglishPod
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.
Take plenty of notes and make sure you follow through the lesson until the end!
“Taking telephone messages” on BBC Learning English
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.
“Leaving Messages” Video from the University of Washington
This specific 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.
Real English Videos on FluentU
Message taking is difficult because you don’t have a lot of context. Unlike a presentation or a meeting where you know what topics will be discussed, a caller could talk about anything and you just have to hope you catch on.
To get your listening skills up to this challenge, watch authentic English videos on FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Every video comes with English learning tools so you actively improve your skills while you watch.
For example, you can click the interactive subtitles in any video. FluentU will give you a definition, grammar info and example sentences for the word you clicked on. There are also vocabulary lists, full transcripts, flashcards and fun quizzes provided for every video. You’ll be learning English the way native speakers really use it, and it won’t even feel like studying.
Best of all, FluentU is available online or as an iOS and Android app. That means you can practice anytime, anywhere, no matter how busy your workday is.
6 Steps for Flawless Message Taking in Business English (With Phrases to Use on the Phone)
Let’s run through the typical scenario and what phrases will help push the conversation along in an organized manner.
1. Explain That the Call Recipient 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 having a phone conversation 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 know who’s calling?
May I know who I’m speaking to?
May I have your name please?
Could I take down your name and number please?
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 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
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?
6. Say Goodbye
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.
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.
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