How to Answer a Phone Call from Your Boss

You look down at your phone and—oh no, your boss is calling! If you're nervous, that's totally normal. But with a little preparation, you can make sure you sound professional, friendly, and confident on the phone. Below, we'll walk you through the best phone call etiquette and all the other top tips you need to know. To learn how to answer a phone call from your boss, read on!

Practicing Professional Phone Etiquette

Speak clearly and directly into your mouthpiece.

This prevents miscommunication between you and your boss, which can cause problems down the road. Also, your boss may become frustrated if he or she has problems communicating with you due to muffled talking and poor audio quality.

  • You should also try smiling as you answer and talk on the phone. Most callers, including your boss, can hear a smile through your voice and tone. This can reflect favorably on your boss, especially if you work in industries associated with sales and customer service.

Give your boss your full attention.

When your boss is on the phone, make sure you pay attention. Stop whatever you’re working on–even if it’s an assignment your boss gave you earlier–and be prepared to listen to what your boss says.

  • As a general rule, avoid responding to external distractions when your boss is talking with you. For instance, if a co-worker walks into your office while you’re on the phone, politely gesture to the phone in your hand to indicate your current inability to speak.

Answer the phone call within two to three rings.

This makes you seem productive and busy. Answering the phone too early can make it seem like you’re not too busy, while waiting too long before answering makes it seem as though the caller isn’t a priority.

  • In a professional setting, you should do this regardless of who’s calling you. Don’t reserve this or any point of phone etiquette for when your boss shows up on your caller ID, since every co-worker, client, and vendor will be more receptive to a professionally polite demeanor. Plus, you can never know for sure when your boss might be calling from another line.

Use a professional greeting.

When you answer the phone, strive to be professional and pleasant. For example, if incoming calls are generally from other co-workers in your organization or if you know your boss is on the other end of the line, say, “This is John Smith. How can I help you today?”

  • For larger organizations with multiple departments, you might also wish to include your department in your greeting: “This is John Smith in Sales. How can I help you?”
  • When answering a phone call from an outside line, you should state the name of your company, even if you suspect your boss might be the one calling. For example, you might say, “Good afternoon! This is ABC Widgets, John Smith speaking. How can I help you?”

Swallow food or spit out chewing gum.

It’s best to do this before you answer the phone, but if you are unable to do so in time, your next option is to complete the action in as quiet and discreet a manner as possible. Talking with food or gum in your mouth can make you sound unprofessional, and can often be detected by the caller on the other end.

Talking To Your Boss

Take notes while talking to your boss.

This helps you stay prepared in the event your boss gives you important information such as times, dates, addresses, or directions for a specific task. This also allows you to jot down any questions you might have for your boss in return.

  • Consider keeping a notepad and pen on your desk or in the top drawer, where it will be readily accessible. Having a notepad nearby will allow you to take notes for both planned and unplanned phone calls. Make sure you always grasp the expectations of the call. If needed, ask for clarification.
  • If you don’t have a notepad available but you’re sitting at your computer, you can open a blank note or word processing document and take notes using that. Be aware, however, that your boss will be able to hear any loud typing you do; you’ll need to take extra care to demonstrate active listening, so that your boss will be less inclined to wonder if your keyboard clicks are truly related to the conversation.

Stay calm.

Take a few quiet, deep breaths, and take a sip of water if needed to help you stay calm. Symptoms of anxiety can be heard over the telephone, especially if you’re breathing hard, or your voice sounds nervous and shaky. Staying calm also helps you feel and sound more confident and in control.

  • If you know your boss is about to call, try taking a short walk beforehand to release nervous energy. Even a walk around your office or department can help. Just make sure you’re back with plenty of time to spare for your boss’s phone call.
  • If you need to calm down immediately before or during the call, try some deep breathing. Inhale as quietly as possible through your nose over a span of four to five seconds; hold for another three seconds, then exhale quietly over another four to five. The increased oxygen should help release tension and clear your mind.

Practice active listening at all times.

Since your boss isn’t speaking to you in person, it’s important that you clearly understand everything he or she tells you over the phone. Don’t be afraid to ask your boss to repeat and explain things you didn’t hear or understand correctly the first time.

  • In fact, it might be a good idea to ask for clarification or to confirm details periodically, even if you have a clear understanding of your boss’s instructions. This might be as simple as summarizing the instructions in your own words before hanging up. By demonstrating active listening, you assure your boss that you were paying attention and present an overall professional demeanor.

Answer briefly and to the point.

This conveys preparedness and allows your boss to get to the root of the call with few distractions. In most cases, your boss is busy, and likely just wants information pertaining to the reason he or she called. Unless your boss specifically asks for all the details, try to deliver exactly what your boss wants.

  • Again, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for clarification as needed. Your boss is likely busy, but it is usually better to spend an extra 60 seconds now asking your question than forcing yourself or your boss to spend hours correcting your mistakes later on. If you have more questions than time allows, consider asking your boss if there’s another co-worker or a set of written instructions you can refer to for additional clarification.

Do verbal head nods throughout the conversation.

Verbal head nods are statements such as “yes,” “okay,” “I understand,” and “I see” — all of which indicate you’re listening actively to your boss.

  • Of course, these verbal head nods should be placed appropriately within the conversation. Wait for a pause after an instruction or explanation before making this sort of remark.

Maintain a positive attitude throughout the call.

Having a positive, can-do attitude shows your boss that you’re confident, competent, and not afraid of taking on challenges associated with work. For example, if your boss calls to talk about a problem, discuss possible resolutions you can implement.

  • Even if your boss is critiquing your work or behavior, be as receptive as possible. Acknowledge the criticism by summarizing it in your own words, then discuss possible solutions to that point of critique. You can voice any honest concerns you have about going forward, but you should avoid making excuses for past mistakes or issues.
  • When you have to raise concerns or explain past problems, make “I” statements instead of “you” statements. This prevents your boss from going on the defense, and responding with angry or negative statements. For example, if your boss calls to speak with you about a project you didn’t finish on time, say “I ran into problems gathering resources” instead of “You didn’t give me all the resources on time.”

Thank your boss for taking time to call you.

Although your boss called you, and not the other way around, thanking your boss for calling you is a great way to express appreciation for his or her time. For example, say “I know you’re having a busy day; thanks for taking time to call me.”

  • This is true in nearly any phone call with your boss, but it is especially important if your boss was calling to explain a project, express a concern, or critique your work. The goal is to demonstrate your eagerness to do a good job on the tasks given to you, and thanking your boss for his or her time acknowledges that your boss’s call will make doing a good job more feasible.

Responding to an After-Hours Phone Call

Answer the call when possible.

If your boss calls you after hours, you should answer the phone as long as doing so does not interfere with non-work priorities. This is especially true if you started this job within the past six months.

  • Willingness to communicate with your boss after normal work hours will demonstrate your dedication to the company and to your position.
  • If you are unable to answer the phone, however, you should respond to your boss as soon as you’re able to. Ideally, this means listening to any voicemail left and calling your boss back within a few minutes. Depending on company culture and the nature of the call, you might be able to get away with a quick text or emailing explaining the delay if a phone call is impossible.

Examine your company culture.

In some companies, your employer may expect you to remain within contact via phone and email regardless of the time of day or the day of the week. While this may seem unfair, you’ll need to accept it as part of your company’s culture if you wish to keep working there.

  • If you aren’t sure what the protocol is, consult with your co-workers. You may learn that it’s perfectly acceptable to delay response for a few hours, or you may discover that everyone else answers immediately. Find out what the expected response is and follow through.

Stay positive and take action according to the situation.

You should always be polite and positive when listening to your boss, even during an after hours call. That being said, you’ll need to take a look at each situation individually before determining the right response to it.

  • If your boss is offering a general critique or set of instructions, for instance, take notes during the conversation, but feel free to resume your previous non-work activities after the call ends. You can usually save the action for your normal work hours if the matter isn’t urgent.
  • On the other hand, if your boss calls you about an emergency, you’ll need to handle the emergency immediately and according to your boss’s wishes.

Evaluate your overall job satisfaction.

Your boss can’t reasonably expect you to be available 24/7 — however, there’s no guarantee that your boss will have reasonable expectations. If your boss routinely calls you after hours and this causes you significant unhappiness or anxiety, it might be time to think about looking for another job.

  • You can try turning off your cell phone when you know your boss is making an after hours call, but unless your workplace is unionized, you’re probably an “at will” employee who can be terminated at any time. Your boss may back off after getting the message that you won’t answer after hours, but it’s also possible your boss will respond by firing you.


  • Practice answering phone calls from your boss in a private setting so you can feel more comfortable, confident, and prepared the next time he or she calls. Practice talking to your boss by yourself, or do a series of mock telephone calls with friends and family members.
  • Communicate with your boss in a way that best reflects your company’s culture. Though your boss may be calling you specifically to discuss business, keep in mind that one-on-one talks with your boss are opportunities to make a good, lasting impression. View phone calls from your boss as positive interactions that can lead to future recognition and advancement in the workplace.

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