Wednesday was a good day. For the first time in long while, I wasn’t rushing anywhere. I had time to focus on the three “P’s” – projects, paperwork and phone calls. And while the first two went fairly well (apparently there’s additional paperwork needed to go along with the paperwork I finished – sigh), my phone calls contained some unexpected lessons in communication.
What were these unexpected lessons? And how can they be applied to your phone conversations?
Two of the calls I made were to colleagues I know well and have worked with over the past three to four years. One of them I definitely consider a friend. Yet both phone calls had rough beginnings, a moment where I could hear that I was intruding or interrupting, that I wasn’t “welcome”. Surprised, I stuttered a bit and tripped over my words, briefly lost my focus.
Once the calls ended, I spent much of the day and evening wondering, “Why did that happen?” I believe each call was impacted by a number of factors and by each participant:
- My calls were received on cell phones and did interrupt the other person. They were doing something else; my timing was not good. To “tell” me this, they spoke with clipped words and a chilly tone. I do understand; I’ve done this myself (and you probably have, too). But there are better options: (a) if a call is a terrible interruption … let it go to voicemail. That’s so much better than a chilly beginning to what could be an important conversation. Or (b), don’t answer the call quickly. Use the first ring to stop what you’re doing, decide that you’re going to answer and – although it sounds silly – put a smile on your face. It will change the sound of your voice and you won’t “throw” your annoyance at the caller. All phone calls are an interruption; none of us are sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. By answering between the 2nd and 3rd ring, instead of the first, you can make sure you welcome the caller.
- Each of these individuals answered so quickly, they may not have looked at call display and this could have impacted their tone. Knowing it was me, both of them could have quickly said, “Didn’t want to ignore your call, Mary Jane, but this isn’t a good time. I will call you back.” Long-standing relationships allow for this and we should do it more often.
- Because I know both these people, I did start my conversation with … “How are you?” … and it wasn’t appreciated. Both colleagues got a bit defensive. Why? Because they heard that I wanted to chat, that I wasn’t going to be efficient. Starting with “The reason for my call ..” would have been a lot less awkward.
- Assumptions played a role in both calls. For one of them, I had left a detailed message the day before and said I’d call again. When they answered the next day, I assumed they knew what I was calling about, but their gruff “What’s up?” indicated they had not listened to my message. This is SO common today. We must stop making assumptions about who’s listening to voicemail. The other call followed up to an email. They assumed I understood that if they hadn’t replied, the answer was “no”. That had not occurred to me. (This is my continual life lesson … don’t make any assumptions!)
- One of the calls contained information that the other person thought was “bad news” or at least disappointing for me, so it was difficult for them to relax into the conversation and be direct. But being indirect is a sure sign that something is not being said. It can create defensiveness or impatience. When we have something uncomfortable to say, it is best to say it as soon as possible. If necessary, we can preface it with “I’m uncomfortable saying this to you but … ” or “I think you’re going to be disappointed but …”.
All of us are spending less time talking on the phone. When you connect “voice-to-voice”, what do you do to make sure the conversation is effective?
P.S. I’ve teamed up with my colleagues and friends, Linda Daley of Daley Progress and Anita Kirkbride of Twirp Communications to create an easy-to-read guide on Business Messaging for a Tech-Free Vacation. It includes specific, actionable steps for email, voicemail and social media so you can relax throughout your vacation … and have a smoother return to work when that time arrives. To receive your copy simply send me an email with the subject Vacation Guide. firstname.lastname@example.org Cheers for fabulous summer!