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The 3 Basics of Effective Phone Communication

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!

9 thoughts on “The 3 Basics of Effective Phone Communication”

  1. Hi Ms Copps,

    We met at the Cadigan Center at Boston College in the summer of 2013. You were making a presentation ? and I was a temp filling in at the front desk. I so enjoy your postings . Hopefully I will land a call center job in the Boston sometime soon .

    Thank you so much for all your wisdom,

    Peggy Braman

    • Thanks, Peggy. It is very kind of you to share your comments here. I wish you well with your job search and let me know if I can be of service in any way.

  2. Interesting. Are there verbal clues that we should pay more attention to that are indicative signals of body language?

    • The body language of a phone call is found more in “tone” than in the actual words. Similar to the soundtrack of a film or play. That’s why it is easy to miss. We must be listening to both the words chosen and then how they are said. Again, with the soundtrack analogy, it is so easy to only listen to the actors and never hear the music in the background. So it takes practice – which I know you are doing, Steve. I have a whole chapter dedicated to this in my upcoming book, The Phone Book, due out later this year. Thanks for asking this great question!

  3. Thanks Mary Jane for the new post. I think it is even harder for women to say no. And doubly so as polite Canadians!

    • It is so true, Peggy. “No” is very difficult for everyone, but great communication demands we figure out how to say it. It can be accompanied by an explanation. For example, I get approached to sit on Boards fairly often and my answer is “Thank you for thinking of me but I must say no. I am already on the Board of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Nova Scotia and I only sit on one Board at a time.” The word “no” is not rude, which is how we think of it. It is the lack of explanation that is rude. Thanks, Peggy for inspiring me to write this addition to my post.

  4. It seems good phone communication is based on good communication at any time! Being direct eludes some and yet being indirect causes the tangled communication you offered as an example. I always appreciate directness in people. To me, it shows a level of emotional maturity. Thanks for highlighting this, Mary Jane!

    • It is true, Natasha. Although many of us struggle with being direct, we appreciate it in others. Thanks for the reminder. By practicing being direct we will receive the positive feedback and that will support us in using direct language consistently.

  5. Good Morning Mary Jane,

    I just wanted to touch base with you on this particular tidbit of information that you sent out. Recently, I have had a few difficult conversations with people. This article rings true and I now have a better perspective on those types of conversations – I have my wheels turning ….Thank you!

    Looking forward to more great advice 🙂

Comments are closed.

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