Tips to Transform Telephone Talk: Making Conversations Count

On average, 80-90% of communication is non-verbal which leaves the remaining 10-20%, namely our tone, voice and words, for us to manage effectively during telephone conversations.

Improving our telephone skills not only makes phone calls more productive, it shows the other party that we care about what they have to say. This goes a long way in building stronger relationships with both employees and customers.

Regardless if we are on the phone, chatting online or texting, the tips in this article will help transform conversations so both sides are engaged in effective dialogue.

What is dialogue? The dictionary defines a dialogue as a “conversation or discussion that is used to resolve a problem, exchange ideas or express opinions.” Dialogues happen with customers, co-workers, peers and essentially anyone we are in communication with.

Our hopes in any dialogue are that we are acknowledged, heard and understood – also known as “valued”. Sadly, many conversations take the road of misunderstanding as either party may not have been effectively listening or expressing their needs. This results in wasted time and dissatisfied employees or customers, as well as a failure to meet the purpose of the dialogue in the first place.

In transforming your next ‘telephone talk’ to one that meets combined hopes, try the following:

  • Remove all distractions: When answering the phone and in the conversation, do nothing else. Focus on the conversation. Our brain likes to multi-task and sometimes says, ‘Wow, this email is more exciting!’ Turn off those distractions and be there, in the moment, so that your attention is not interrupted.
  • Answer the phone with enthusiasm: A telephone call answered by someone with a smile and cheery voice is contagious and sets a proactive and engaging tone for the caller.If you feel like a winner, the other party will likely as well, and dialogue can be focused on moving the call forward, versus getting stuck based on a tone that is not welcoming. Having a mirror in front of you may help keep you on track of facial expressions as in many cases, what your face is saying does come across in your tone of voice.
  • Use names: Share your name and use theirs. People like to hear their name and for many of us, hearing the other person’s name also sends a message of accountability, “I’ve got your back”, versus hiding.
  • Let them talk: This is especially important when there is emotion attached to the call. Talking is a release for them and if we try and put a cork in the bottle so to speak, it could explode.
  • Acknowledge them: Something as simple as “I don’t blame you for being upset” or “I see this is really important to you,” goes a long way in valuing the other and moving conversations to problem solving.
  • Ask open-ended questions: Find out more about what is really going on, why, what happened, how, etc. In doing so and taking notes on their responses, you are gathering information pieces to put together a puzzle and bigger picture.
  • Go with the flow: Putting our foot in our mouth tends to happen when we interrupt another due to us predicting what the other party may say.At times, we get it wrong and doing so tells the other party, “I don’t need to listen to you”. Controlling conversations this way impacts listening as we are no longer in the moment, we are predicting the future based on assumptions. Let go, be patient and let people finish. Patiently being there shows that you care and respect them, and their agenda is center stage – not yours.
  • Listen: Communication guru and author, Celeste Headlee, states “We like to talk.” She goes on to say that we must listen to understand, rather than listen to reply.If we are actually listening to people, we don’t have to prove to them that we are. It is still important to paraphrase and summarize what we heard as it may conjure up more ideas, as well as ensure nothing gets missed.
  • Be brief: Street signs are brief for a reason – they allow us to focus on driving rather than trying to interpret a message. As the saying goes, less is often more.When sharing information, try to avoid lengthy dialogue as the other person may veer off the road due to loss of attention. We are all busy and the more effective we are at listening and applying the other tips here, the quicker our conversations will be.
  • Watch your speed: English may not be your or the customer’s first language. Also, accents in how we speak English may differ from the customer’s and as a result, may be more difficult for them to understand. It’s important to enunciate your words and slow down to help ensure customers understand everything you are saying. Or, you may need to ask them to do so.

In using these practices when communicating over the phone, you should have a greater chance of making all your conversations count.

For more on communication skills, check out our Conflict Resolution and Customer Relations workshops.

Glen Sollors, Partner