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How Do You Say “Maybe” ?

September 2, 2013
Mary Jane Copps

It’s been quite a week. Nothing like a quote in the Wall Street Journal (http://on.wsj.com/16MzQjS) for adding some fun and excitement to life! My utmost thanks to WSJ journalist Anita Hofschneider (@ahofschneider) for a wonderful article and to my client and friend, publisher Patty Baxter of Metro Guide Publishing (http://www.metroguide.ca) for contributing her time and resources. Thanks also to all of you who have sent email, posted Tweets and LinkedIn updates. Much appreciated. And to all those new members of my blog audience – Welcome! I’m looking forward to your thoughts and comments.

Skepticism is one of the themes that continually surfaced this past week; skepticism about both the value of telephone communication and, more so, about the need for telephone communication training.

I was skeptical too. Not about the value of phone communication. I’ve understood that since my very first job in university, a receptionist at a busy real estate office where, after about six weeks, the agents asked if I would consider finishing my degree part-time and working full-time because they were making more money based on how I was answering the phone.

But I was skeptical about starting The Phone Lady and did it almost on a dare. A friend challenged me to send out a few brochures and test the market. “No harm done,” he said. “And I think people need to know what you know.” Seven years later there’s no doubt he was right.

Phone communication is a skill set, like any other skill set we use in life: driving a car, public speaking, creating business plans, handling our money, etc. And for most of us, being good at these skills requires some training. It’s obvious that phone skills are valuable for those in sales or customer service or administration but they’re also essential when you are looking for work, when you need to call your landlord, when you follow up on your bank loan application.

I realize that telephones do carry a touch of the antiquated. Perhaps there’s a similarity with keyboards. I often think of the effort I put in to learning how to type (yes, type, I’m moving towards antiquated myself!). I spent hours and hours doing typing exercises at home in order to pass the Grade 10 course. And today I’m often using thumbs or two fingers to get words on a screen. But when I sit down at a keyboard I get things done … fast. That skill set still serves me well … as do my phone skills.

Why? What is it about excellent telephone communication that makes it so powerful? The answer is too lengthy for a single blog post but one important attribute is clarity. Here’s a story to illustrate:

A coaching client of mine recently received an email from a potential advertiser with the word “maybe” in it. The phrase was “maybe we would buy it”. Now my client was about 72 hours away from his deadline and about $4,000 short of his assigned goal. In his mind that “maybe” resounded with enthusiasm and conviction. He “heard” a maybe leaning strongly towards yes and, being human, allowed it to influence how he approached other contacts that could help him reach his goal.

On the final day, when there were no more extensions available and no more possibilities to pursue, the message arrived where the “maybe” became “we are not able to do this right now”. Needless to say, my client picked up the phone immediately.

It was then that he heard it. The initial maybe had not held enthusiasm and conviction. It had been more of a thoughtful maybe, one you would say with a lot of emphasis on the first part of the word and with chin resting between thumb and forefinger. In this case, “maybe” contained a limited budget and need for board approval. It was definitely not a sale.

So here’s a thought – consider your email correspondence this week. Are you making assumptions about certain words and, if so, how will it impact a project or deadline if you are incorrect? Then … pick up the phone and clarify – and let us all know what happens!

Enjoy your phonework everyone!

4 COMMENTS

  1. Peter Skakum says:

    You’re so right MJ. ‘Maybe’ what a manipulative and misinterpreted word !!! As a parent, maybe was such a convenient word to say to your child … when you really meant ‘no’. MAYBE has turned into the offspring of salespeople, who are fearful of hearing ‘no’ and prospects even more frightened of saying ‘no’. Your article points up the time-saving value of being a brave enough salesperson to ask for a real decision and a brave enough prospective buyer to make and communicate a real decision.

    As for the ‘phone’ … What other technology in recent memory has become more important in our lives and in business than the phone? Perfecting our phone skills has never been more important.

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thanks, Peter. Great write up on the word “maybe”. We should all be more conscious of when and how we are using it.

  2. Chris M., Santa Clara, CA says:

    I stumbled upon your website via a Yahoo article about Millennials and our reluctance to picking up the phone to call prospects. I just wanted to say I am sincerely enjoying your blogs (can’t afford any your seminars/classes right now). It is very clear you have a passion for what you do.

    I am currently in the process of gearing up for phonework regarding a survey to collect more market information for our prospective investors. I definitely feel more comfortable in tackling the phone after having read many of your blogs. (I’ve been procrastinating over a week now!)

    Thanks for doing what you do!

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thanks, Chris, for this lovely comment. It was very generous of you to take the time to write. Here’s to the end of procrastination!

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