Working from wherever we want means we spend a lot of time on the phone. In fact, I personally have very few in-person meetings since so few of my clients are local. Most of them live in places much much warmer than the northern regions of Minnesota. But that’s another story…
Phone skills are essential for maintaining a level of confidence with the person on the other end of the line. They might be a prospective client, co-worker, boss, or current customer, but whoever they are it’s going to help your career to carry a phone conversation with the right amount of command.
Essentially you need to communicate not only what you are saying clearly, but also that you understand what the other person is saying. In person, this is a lot easier. A head nod or simple grin can do the trick. However, on the phone you are invisible to the other person.
Here are six little tricks I’ve learned for having effective command of phone communication.
Delay your excitement
It’s important to start the conversation off right. When you pick up the phone and answer, use a friendly tone but save your most excited tone of voice until after the person states their name. Make the person feel like you were happy before they called, but hearing their voice was a nice surprise. Don’t overdo it, though.
Make sure the other person is receptive
If you are the party placing the call, make sure you ask the other person if it’s a good time to talk. I am notorious for diving right in and forgetting to check with them first. Getting permission at the very start of the call lets the other person know that their time is important to you, and as a result they’ll likely be more engaged in the call. Some have referred to this concept as the Golden Rule of phone communication.
Another tip with this one: if you something in the caller’s background such as a phone ringing, baby crying, etc., make sure you ask them if they need to tend to that. Again, this communicates that their time is important to you.
Make sure you are receptive
You should also make sure that YOU have time for the call. If you’re trying to get something else done while talking on the phone, it will be obvious to the caller. If someone calls you in a whirlwind moment just let them know that you’d like to call them back when you can give them full attention.
Wait for the pause
This is a tough one for me because I like to give verbal feedback to people as they are talking. If they are describing something to me, I’ll nod along with an “okay” here and a “yeah” there. Sometimes this works on the phone, but I’ve noticed that a lot of phone systems, especially mobile phones and Skype, will delay your words just a little bit and actually cut the caller’s signal to your phone for a split second. The caller will then stop talking a lot of times and wait for you to finish, but you have nothing to finish because you were simply giving quick verbal confirmation.
Instead, wait for the other person to finish what they are saying before you try to give any sort of confirmation. Imagine you’ve got duct tape over your mouth and the other person has to tear it off once they’re finished with what they are saying.
Use their name
Sprinkling the other person’s name throughout the conversation gives confirmation that you are focused on them. Don’t overdo it, but doing this will make the caller feel like you are much more “connected” to the conversation. Really. Think of conversations you’ve had where people say your name once in a while versus not saying it at all. Which one made you feel more connected? It’s a simple, easy method that makes a huge difference.
Imagine you are on the radio
The big wall of phone conversations is the fact that you cannot see each other. I use a lot of hand gestures, but those do no good on the phone. One thing I’ve learned is to imagine that you are the host of your own radio show. The person you are talking to is your guest and (this one will really inspire you to be interesting) there are people listening in on your call.
This will totally change the way you approach a conversation. You’ll ask better questions, you’ll ramble less, and you’ll use a tone of voice that is much more interesting. You’ll sound much more professional.
If you’re a user of a phone app such as Google Voice, you might even try using the in-call recording option to record a few of your phone conversations. Go back and determine the things that would or wouldn’t work for a radio conversation.
Getting better at communication in general
Many of the tips I post here are the result of reading “How To Talk To Anyone” by Leil Lowndes a few years ago. It’s an excellent resource for brushing up on the ways that you communicate. The book is mainly focused on communicating in person, but there are a few chapters on phone communication as well.