How to Have Better and Smarter Phone Conversations

Joel Goldstein - Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Did you ever have a telephone conversation that went wrong? You probably have - unless you possess some communication superpowers. And it’s not surprising.

Just think about it: When you’re face to face, you can see the other person’s reaction to your words. When you write, you can think about what you’re going to write, edit your words, and have time to figure out what the other person wrote.

But on the telephone - you have a fast back and forth without the benefits of seeing body language and facial expressions, having time to think and erasing the blunt comment you just blurted out. Yikes.

But even though you don’t have facial expressions, body language or time at your side, there are still many tools you can use. You just have to tap into them.

Here are some techniques for better phone conversations:


1- Play It Safe

Keeping your fellow party listening on the other line can be a challenge. There are many distractions on her or his end, and he or she is free to engage in other activities while you talk.

So when you do have their attention - don’t lose it. And there’s a simple rule to follow here: When saying no or giving instructions - use neutral language.

Studies show that when we use words like Don’t, No, Can’t on the phone - the person on the other end usually tunes out. Ditto for “You Should”, “You Need To”… It’s an unconscious reflex. So instead of saying, “You should really be careful next time with that machine,” the South Carolina Division of State Information Technology recommends you say “I suggest”, or “I recommend you be careful with that machine…”


2- Dress the Talk

You’re talking the talk, but it’s easy to assume you don’t need to dress the part when the other party can’t see you.

But the problem is - the person on the other line can hear your appearance. If you’re slouching in your chair, shirttails lazily creeping out of your trousers while you absentmindedly wipe the smudge of lunch remains off your cheek, they hear the slouch in your tone - loud and clear.

Sit up and sit straight, and make sure you’re dressed in a manner suitable for the nature of the phone call. It will automatically make you feel more confident and communicate better when your appearance matches the nature of the conversation.



3- Stop. Listen. Here’s How

We humans have busy brains. Multiple thoughts about completely different topics race through our neurons and zigzag into each other, turning into a fascinating train of thought.

So it can be quite a challenge to put aside our own voices and make room for someone else’s. When someone is talking to us, more often than not, we’re busy thinking about that awesome steak in the retro restaurant at the boardwalk in Miami, all because the person on the other line said “There’s too much capital at stake here.” Or formulating our brilliant, all encompassing response.


There is much at stake here. Tossing out a bunch of absentminded “I hear”, “Hhhmmm”, “Okay”,

does not make for a great conversation. Jumping to erroneous conclusions, misinterpreting what the caller is saying, giving an incorrect response and the wrong information is what often happens when you’re not listening fully. And while your best pal might laugh it off, it is not a risk worth taking in the business world.

So how can we train our industrious little brains to really listen to what the person on the other line is saying?

One simple trick is to make a habit of repeating what the other person said in your own words. Rephrasing their statement will help you process and comprehend what they’re saying, as well as helping you become a more active listener.


4- Listen to What’s Not Being Said

Silence is golden, or rather, a goldmine of clues for you. Listening to what’s not being said can be more important than what’s being said.

Why is he pausing? You hear the way she’s hesitating?

There’s something they’re not telling you. And there’s a reason why.

Picking up on evasiveness and finding out the root of it is crucial for a successful phone call. Whether it’s a question they don’t know how to ask, or some negative emotion they don’t want to express, it is important that you realize it and deal with it.

But if you’re not fully listening to the person on the other line - you may just miss it.


5- Pitch Perfect

Your unconscious knows this, but do you? Your pitch is used to judge how trustworthy you are!

In speaking voices, people prefer the middle and lower ranges of the vocal scale. Low voices are regarded in your unconscious brain as signs of authority and trust. Higher voices are often thought of as signs of immaturity or lack of experience. Have a naturally high pitch? It may be worth it to make an extra effort to adjust your pitch.

So there you have it. Your guide for a better and smarter telephone conversation. ( Of course, there are many other factors when it comes to something as complex as communication, but we couldn’t quite make this as long as Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus or War and Peace.) Follow these tips, and you will be pleased to find that your phone conversations are better and more productive. Good luck!



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