Teaching by Example

September 28, 2014
Mary Jane Copps


The question I’m most frequently asked is “How did you become The Phone Lady?” The answer is pretty straightforward. A trusted friend told me I needed to share what I knew about phone communication with everyone who’d listen and basically dared me to start this company. I am indebted to him for his insight and endless support. The question that’s been more difficult to answer is “Why the phone?”

I’ve attributed it to what I learned in my first business, phone skills that created steady cash flow and allowed others on my team to be successful salespeople. But then I realized that the phone skills I learned as a journalist are also integral to what I teach. And even before that, my life-saving job in university as a receptionist in a real estate office remains the foundation of my philosophy:  no matter if you are in sales or customer service or accounting, how you behave on the phone impacts your company’s revenue.

It was over the summer, while working on new ideas, I realized that the telephone has played a big role in my life right from the very beginning. In my childhood home there was a black rotary wall phone that was constantly in use. From infant to teenager I was audience to conversations that filled the house with laughter, contained empathy and information, motivated volunteers, organized community activities and continually built relationships with friends and family.

This past weekend, I received strong evidence that the example my parents provided  – of phone communication as something joyful, easy and essential, something to be cherished – is likely at the core of  “Why the phone?’

The proof came from my 9-year-old granddaughter who called and left a message on my voice mail … selling magazine subscriptions. While her phone pitch doesn’t follow The Phone Lady preferred format, there’s no denying her excellent communication skills, her comfort on the phone and her ability to share information with great clarity.

Now, before you jump to the conclusion that this is about genes – it isn’t. I am blessed with a granddaughter by my oldest stepdaughter – no blood ties at all. However, what I know to be true is that since Naja was born, she has been audience to great phone communication. Since her mother was a teenager, she and I have talked on the phone almost everyday. In fact, both of Naja’s parents, who’ve had the opportunity to live in many different places around the world, are committed to staying in touch with family and friends … on the phone.

Which leads me to this thought: It’s not solely because of technology that young people are without phone communication skills. It’s also because their parents and other adult influencers have stopped talking on the phone, stopped providing the example. Think about this in your own life. What are you showing your children? How to text or how to talk? How to respond to email or how to have a conversation?

And setting an example doesn’t only apply to the young people in your life, it can relate to your staff as well. Are you expecting others to pick up the phone and talk while you sit and communicate with your thumbs?

Anyone – and perhaps everyone – is intimidated when faced with doing something they’ve never experienced or observed.

The ability to pick up the phone and communicate clearly is a skill that remains important and valuable in the business world. Will that be the case 10 years from now? I don’t know. It’s possible we’ll tap a device on our chest like in Star Trek  and a hologram of the person we want to talk to will appear before us. But right now, today, and for at least the next 10 years, being able to communicate on the phone will be an admired and sought after skill.

So are you setting a good example?

Special thanks this week to @lizrenzetti of The Globe and Mail for including me in this article last week: 

On a personal note: Last night  (Saturday September 27) I participated in Sleep-Out for Change, a fundraising initiative of Shelter Nova Scotia. It was an amazing experience. And I learned this … when you sleep on the street, you don’t really sleep. With my water barrier, cardboard and sleeping bag on a beautifully warm night, I was constantly awakened by the noises and movements around me. Now, if I’d also felt vulnerable, worried about my safety or about losing my belongings, I wouldn’t have slept at all. Lack of sleep exacerbates both mental and physical illnesses, making it even harder for those experiencing homelessness to move forward.

Funds I raise go to providing support for these individuals. While my sleep-out experience is over for this year, I can raise funds for three more weeks. If you want more information or would like to donate, please click here: Sleep-Out for Change.

Helping make BLTs for Metro Turning Point, Barry House, Nehiley House, Fleming and Rebuilding


Tucked into my sleeping bag at Sleep Out for Change

Enjoy your PhoneWork everyone!


The Phone Lady On The Road

September 30 – Effective Phone Communication Skills with OTC Insurance, Halifax, NS

October 2 – Essential Phone Skills with the Multicultural Career Group, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, NS

October 2 – Celebrating Entrepreneurship and the Telephone with the Valley Women’s Business Network

October 3 – Train the Trainer, Self Employment Benefits Conference, Halifax, NS

October 7 – Phone Fear to Phone Fabulous with Northern Opportunities for Business Limited, New Glasgow, NS

October 8 – Phone Power: Best Practices for Customer Service Representatives with Wilsons Security, Halifax, NS

October 15 – Guest Huddle – Powerful Phone Skills with Royal and Sun Alliance Insurance Company of Canada, Dartmouth

October 21 – Phone Fear to Phone Fabulous with Rural Action Centres, Central Bedeque, PEI

October 23 – Telephone Talent: Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Customer Service and Sales, Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, Charlottetown, PE

October 24 – Essential Phone Skills,University of Prince Edward Island, Business Cooperative Education, Charlottetown, PE

October 29 – Phone Fear to Phone Fabulous, Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development, Halifax

November 5 – Public Debate: Phone vs Email at Yuk Yuk’s, Westin Hotel, Halifax NS – Please vote for me! Even if you are unable to attend the Halifax event.

November 17 – Job Search Phone Skills, Team Work Cooperative and the WorkBridge, Halifax




  1. Patti Morrison says:

    Your Blog reminded me of a very funny story. Actually, I always thought it was funny until I read your Blog. Then it hit me that maybe this is not as funny as it seemed at the time. I thought I should share it with you. Two years ago, our granddaughter, Olivia, while eating breakfast with her “Pa”(grandfather), she pointed at a picture of herself, her sister and her Teddy bear. She said,” That’s my sister, Emma.” Pa replied,” Yes it is.”. Olivia, still pointing said,”And that is my Teddy bear.” Pa asked,”What is your teddy Bear’s name?”. “Oh he doesn’t have a name”, Olivia answered. Pa: “He doesn’t have a name? How do you call him to tell him Supper is ready?” Without looking up from her bowl, Olivia shrugged and said,”Oh, I just text him.” Olivia had just turned TWO. Cute or Sad?

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thank you so much Patti for sharing this story. And it is a funny, cute story. Children really do absorb what’s around them. When children are nearby perhaps we all need to pick up the phone and call a friend!

  2. Elisabeth says:

    You’ve got me thinking…before my children came along, I worked as an assistant for many years in many different places for many types of people and yet my phone skills remained unchanged – they were vital to the job. Being home now doesn’t give me the opportunity to make or take a lot of calls so my twins aren’t necessarily picking up any of my good phone manners. They are , however, very interested in what daddy does on his iPhone, iPad and Blackberry….hmm, time to make some changes!

    • The Phone Lady says:

      What a delightful comment to share, Elizabeth. Thank you so very much! One of the things I still do … which points so clearly to my age … is make Sunday phone calls. My sister and I talk every Sunday morning. It is quick but so enjoyable.

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