If you’re caught on the phone with a long-winded colleague or customer, what should have been a quick, simple phone call can take a big chunk out of your day. Rather than trying to multitask while the caller rambles on, you should employ some tactful techniques to end the call as quickly as possible without sacrificing courtesy or departing from basic etiquette. Once you have taken care of the business at hand, you can make a graceful and polite exit from the call.

Step 1.

Focus on the issue at hand. Keep the conversation centered on the purpose for the call and avoid drifting off into small talk. If the person you are talking to begins to veer off to an unrelated topic, gently steer him back to more relevant issues. Don’t be afraid to be forward when doing this. If the person you are speaking with drifts to another topic, bring it back by saying, “But about…” and mention the main point again. This will let the caller know that the subject at hand is the most important thing. Also mention that you “don’t want to take up too much of his time.” This is a stern, but polite, way of keeping a phone call on track.

Step 2.

Ask closed-ended questions so there can be no drifting from the main topic. Rather than asking what a good time to meet is, ask, “Will 10 a.m. be a good time to meet?” Closed questions will only have a set number of answers, two or three at the most, and this will keep the conversation specific to the subject at hand.

Step 3.

Sum up the phone call to ensure that you have taken care of everything. Reiterate the issue and how it is being handled. A quick, “I’ll pull up that information and get a report to you by the end of the day,” reinforces that everything has been taken care of.

Step 4.

Ask if there’s anything else you can do to help, or any other matters on the topic that need to be discussed. Once again, reinforce the purpose for the call and don’t veer off into other topics. Use phrases such as "So, does this solve your problem with the expense report?," or "Is there anything else I can include in this package for you?" As your call reaches its conclusion, the person on the other end will likely admit that, no, there isn’t anything else on that topic to discuss.

Step 5.

Thank the caller for his time, or for calling (depending on who initiated the call). Let him know that you will follow up in whatever way is appropriate to the situation. Use a quick “Have a nice day” or “Thanks for calling” to end the call. Avoid lengthy goodbyes during which you exchange too many pleasantries.


If you know a particular coworker has a tendency to talk too long, send an email whenever possible to address issues or ask questions.