Published September 09, 2016
A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a couple of 22-year-olds. Both are hard at work in their first jobs, and they are on the phone a lot. Those business calls make them a little anxious: They disconnect callers on hold, call folks who aren’t thrilled to hear from them and try to sound confident, businesslike and older than 22.
I assured them we’ve all been there, flummoxed by a wacky phone system or blasted by a cranky customer. But I also admitted that because I often use email or social media now instead of the phone, I too feel a little uneasy when I pick up the receiver.
I’ve done a lot of reading lately on the subject, and my research shows that we aren’t on the phone any less than we used to be; we just have a lot more communication options. The phone is still a very important one and is often the fastest way to straighten out confusion, get consensus and get things done. So in business, having phone chops is an asset. Here are some ideas to enhance your phone skills.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Studies of successful people show they all do one thing a lot. They practice. Granted, using the phone doesn’t require as much skill as writing a symphony or hitting a three-point shot. Still, like anything else, the more we use the phone, the better we get at it. So instead of texting a friend or a family member, call them. Instead of emailing a question, make a call. If you send 10 emails for work a day, try making a phone call for a quarter of them. Odds are your confidence will improve, and you might even save some time as you bypass the back and forth that email often requires.
Listen to Yourself
Nothing is as eye opening as listening to yourself on the phone. I record a lot of my phone interviews, and like most people, I want to pull out my ears when I hear myself talk. What’s especially troubling is when we hear ourselves repeating certain words: “like,” “really” and my apparent new favorite, “Wow!” Really? Wow. Oh well. At least I can limit my wow moments now that I’m more aware.
Make Some Notes
Phone nerves stem from the fear we’ll go blank, forget our point, stutter or stammer. So prepare for a phone call as you would prepare for a meeting. Jot down points to cover, and keep them by the phone. Stay focused, and don’t try to read your emails or respond to texts in the middle of a phone call. The person on the other end of the line can’t see you, but they can feel your distraction.
Mind Your Manners
Sit up straight, spit out that gum, and don’t even think about sneaking one of those potato chips. Don’t talk too loud or too low. Say please and thank you, and yes and no, not yeah and nah.
Be Crystal Clear and Perfectly Polite
Always provide your name, your company and the purpose of your call. Ask if it is a convenient time for the person to talk to you. If not, offer to call back at a better time.
Keep It Short
From voicemails to conversations, keep it short and on point. Long, overly detailed voicemails try our patience. Sum up what you need in a short sentence or two. Don’t talk too fast, and because some voicemail systems don’t give much time to leave a message, give your name and phone number at the beginning of the message, and repeat the phone number at the end. If your message is urgent and requires a response by a certain day or time, say so.
Don’t Drop the Call
In my book, there are two excuses for not returning a phone call. You are seriously ill or you are dead. And even in those cases, someone should step in to return calls for you. I’m always shocked when people in the hospitality business don’t call back. How inhospitable is that? And sadly, I can’t help but think less of them and of their business or destination.