Telephone Operators
Photo from the Seattle Municipal Archives

We all know the impact tone of voice has on communication. The same sentence takes on very distinct meanings when uttered in different tones. Excitement, curiosity, sarcasm, fear, and hundreds of other feelings can be conveyed with a simple fluctuation of voice. The message conveyed by tone of voice is just as important as that conveyed in words, and sometimes more so.

As a receptionist, it’s important to convey both your caller’s message and tone of voice, especially if a caller’s tone seems negative. But it’s best to do so without using terms that could be construed as judgmental. At Ruby, our virtual receptionists are skilled in the art of relaying tone tactfully. Here are three key tips from our telephone answering experts:

Share what you hear. If you perceive that a caller is angry or upset, you’re probably correct. It’s always best to relay a caller’s heightened emotions when you pick up on them. Describe your perception of a caller’s mood when it stands out, but

Skip negative descriptors. We hope you never field calls from unhappy folks, but if you do, describe their tone carefully. Stick with phrases like “he seems frustrated” or “she seems upset.” Sure, your caller may be persnickety, grumpy, or downright rude, but using judgmental terms can get you into trouble. After all, the person on the other end of the line could be your boss’s mother, and we’d hate to call her a grouch, right?

When the going gets tough, quote.  Euphemisms are great when the occasion is right, but if a caller conveys something dire, don’t pare it down. This is especially important when taking messages. If a caller says “I need to hear from him tomorrow,” that information should be relayed. Don’t worry about paraphrasing — instead, quote the caller directly. This message does the job:

     Jim seemed frustrated, and said he “needs to hear from you tomorrow.”

This message misses the mark:

     Jim seemed frustrated.

Do you have any tips for relaying a caller’s tone tactfully? We’d love to hear from you!