Powerful Words: The Language of Effective Telephone Communication

Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed a peaceful holiday season and that 2013 holds not only prosperity but a few dreams come true for each of us.

This quote has been following me around the past few weeks:

“I like good strong words that mean something.” Louisa May Alcott

This is such a great truth in my life. I have understood the power of words, both spoken and written, since I was a very little girl. My mom struggled with mental illness and in our house using the wrong word – or using the right word the wrong way – could turn a bright day dark in an instant.

And my (many) years on the telephone have taught me that words unaccompanied by body language contain a strength of which we are often completely unaware.

So this year in this almost-weekly blog, I’m going to focus on the most important words to use – or not use – when communicating on the phone. This is information that is valuable for everyone, whether you are in sales or customer service, or wanting to communicate clearly with your municipal government or cellphone provider.

And since one of my “dreams come true” is to help everyone communicate more effectively on the phone, I ask that you circulate this information widely. Tweet it, post it on LinkedIn, create a link on your Facebook page or simply email it to a friend.  Thanks!

I’ll start with the very first word that began my journey of studying the psychology of phone communication. In fact, with it still being early January, let’s kick off these posts by making another New Year’s Resolution: “In 2013, I’ll stop using the word just on the phone.”

Picture this: It’s 1987, I’m 28 years old and filled with a wealth of unjustified confidence. I’ve quit a great job as a journalist with Maclean Hunter; I’ve put a second mortgage on our home and I’ve started a business that I am certain is going to be a quick and great success. I am on the phone in our living room, using a tiny kitchen table (saved from my first bachelor apartment in Toronto) as a desk. My business partner s on the phone in our dining room and … while everyone we speak to is genuinely interested and willing to talk (in those days reaching people and having a conversation was relatively easy compared to today) no one – and I mean no one – says “yes”.

This continued for weeks – months – with very little money being generated. The stress level was high and confidence was plummeting until one of us had the brilliant idea to start recording our conversations. We wanted to answer the question “Why such interest and enthusiasm but no sales?”

I still remember listening to that first recording and how easy it was to identify the problem. I was creating a dead end with the phrase “It’s Mary Jane Copps and I’m just calling … .”

Here’s why we must stop using this word on the phone:

  1. We use the word just for ourselves, not for the person we are calling. We use it because we are uncomfortable making the call, because we feel guilty for interrupting the other person’s day. We use it as an indirect apology.

In case it isn’t obvious, starting a conversation with discomfort, guilt and apologies does not make for clear, direct communication.

  1. Now while that is reason enough to stop using it, it turns out that the little word just makes its way along wires and between satellites and comes out the other end meaning something we don’t intend. It enters the ear of the listener and they hear: “I’m just calling you – that’s all I’m doing. I’ve got nothing of importance to say. I’m just sitting here dialing numbers.” 

Starting the conversation this way invites the other person to stop listening – and they do. The majority of what we say after the word just will be heard as the wah wah wah of the teacher in a Charlie Brown cartoon.

What should we say instead? A simple, direct statement that informs our listener we have prepared for this call and we are not going to waste their time: “This is Mary Jane Copps and the reason for my call today is … .” Give it a try. Let me know what happens.

I encourage you to check back here next week when I’ll introduce you to the power of the word “comfortable”. And if there’s a word or phrase you’d like me to discuss here this year, please send it along.

All for now,

Mary Jane aka The Phone Lady

0 thoughts on “Powerful Words: The Language of Effective Telephone Communication”

  1. Mary Jane, what a wonderful goal, “to help everyone communicate more effectively on the phone”

    As You say, it’s not “Just” on the phone, and it should never be “Just” when we’re off the phone, either! I hear new Sales People say they feel like they are bugging people, we all need to find confidence in what we are doing, and in doing so, we will also approach life, and those with whom we communicate, in a whole new way … With Confidence!

    • Thanks, Brian. And you are absolutely right. When we speak with confidence, especially on the whole, we inspire confidence in our audience.

  2. Hi there – I don’t read many blogs that come my way, at least not on a regular basis but I do read or at least skim yours. You certainly know how to get the message across and this one is particularly good. Thank you for your words of wisdom!


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