A dear friend of mine used to say “There are three possible answers to every question – yes, no and I don’t know.” I’m reminded of the wisdom of these words often, especially when it comes to the telephone.
Effective phone communication is direct and honest.
Without the benefit of body language, each word we use has impact – sometimes greater than we realize. For example, while driving to Moncton last week I listened to a radio call-in show. For each question a caller asked, the expert began the answer with the phrase “I suspect”. It made me crazy.
The expert is highly knowledgeable, but that’s not how he presented himself. He was using the phrase “I suspect” to indicate a possibility of his being incorrect, and perhaps even give himself time to think, but what he communicated instead was he didn’t know the answer and was making one up.
To communicate clearly on the phone, stick with the basics – yes, no and I don’t know. Add an explanation when appropriate. The radio show expert could have said “I don’t know for sure because I wasn’t there but I believe that … .” It’s more words, but sometimes on the phone clarity demands more words.
Another example is a tough – well miserable really – phone conversation I had this past week. I was following up on interest expressed in The Phone Lady with someone I’ve spoken to many times at various events, but never on the phone. As it turns out, they have no interest in The Phone Lady, but they couldn’t say it. We got tangled up in indirect and dishonest words. It was messy and uncomfortable for both of us. Clarity could have been achieved with a simple “no”.
The #1 reason many people avoid the phone is a discomfort with the absence of body language. Body language often helps us identify when someone is being indirect – or dishonest. On the telephone, there are clues in tone of voice, pauses and language, but they can be missed, especially in a first phone conversation.
We can’t control how others communicate on the phone (although I’m trying!), but we can set the example by sticking to the basics and saying what we mean.
Enjoy your PhoneWork everyone!