It’s not what you say; it’s what people hear. Dr. Frank Luntz
I certainly have word envy about that statement – so succinct, so true and the raison d’etre of The Phone Lady. The words we choose have a huge – and sometimes everlasting – impact on our audience. On the phone this audience is often clients, potential clients, funders, potential employers …
So here’s two stories to consider in relation to your own phone communication.
A few weeks ago I called someone about documents they agreed to send me. We do not know each other well. There had been a delay and my aim was to discover if there was something else I needed to do to move things along.
I experienced that moment of relief and happiness in those initial seconds of her answering the phone. “Hooray,” I thought to myself. “This is going to get done today!”
But then the sound of her voice changed everything – not only for the phone conversation but perhaps for our relationship going forward.
She was, well, miserable. It’s hard for me to choose the right adjectives but they would be something like frustrated, angry, impatient, unwelcoming… . You get the picture.
If she had sounded panicked I would have said, “It sounds like I’ve caught you at an inconvenient time. I’ll call back tomorrow.”
But it wasn’t panic and I struggled a bit. Briefly I thought that what I was hearing was truly about me, my work on the project that was causing this reaction. Instead of backing out of the call, I forged ahead in search of clarity.
In the end it wasn’t about me. It was about her workload and the fact that, at that particular moment, she had no interest in talking to me about our project. She was dismissive although did promise to send me what I needed as soon as possible.
She inadvertently shared with me an aspect of her personality I should never have experienced. It will have an impact on our relationship. It was easily avoided by … letting my message go to voicemail.
She is not alone in allowing this to happen. We’ve all done it. We somehow forget that the person calling us can’t see that we are scrambling to meet a deadline, or are in the midst of a discussion, or have finally grabbed a moment for a quiet cup of tea. We pick up the phone and drench them in our annoyance. It is so unnecessary! And, as my story illustrates, it can have repercussions.
To avoid this situation, follow these steps:
1)When the phone rings, stop what you are doing and acknowledge that you are about to answer the phone and that the person on the other end has no idea what you are doing or experiencing at that moment;
2)As the phone rings a second time, put a smile on your face. Answer the phone with “welcome” in your voice or …
3)Choose not to answer the phone because you can’t reach “welcome”. If you truly can’t put aside frustration or anger or impatience in order to greet your caller, let voicemail take the call, because what the other person hears has an impact that cannot be reversed.
I dedicated several hours last week to outbound calls on behalf of a client. I tend to think like a potential customer when I do this work, acknowledging my reactions to how the phone is answered, how the conversation unfolds.
At one company here’s what happened:
Reception: “ABC Company”
Me: “Hello, may I speak with David Jones please?”
Reception: “He’s not in at the moment. I can give you his email address.”
What? I have called your company and asked to “speak” to someone. You have completely ignored my request. I “hear” that you are not interested in me at all. I “hear” that there is a barrier between you and me. I “hear” the sound of a door closing, with me on the other side.
Being The Phone Lady, after a moment of surprise, I did say “Can I be put through to his voicemail please” and I was able to leave a message. If the receptionist’s attitude is that of the whole company, I’m very doubtful it will be returned. That’s okay because … I’ll keep calling!
Enjoy your PhoneWork everyone!