Business Phone, Who Dis? Managing Phone Conversations with Finesse

Let’s talk about phone calls! Yes, even with DMs, PMs, and IMs, sometimes you still have to talk to people on the phone. Phone calls are tough. They are unscripted, sometimes unexpected, and can be difficult to end.

“Call me back if you need anything, bye.”

“Ok, have a nice day.”

“Oh, you too.”

“Thanks. I’ll call you if I need anything. Bye.”

“Yeah, thanks for calling.”

Whew, can I hang up now?

Plus, when you talk with someone on the phone you are working without your complete conversation toolkit. You have no visuals. In a text correspondence, you can’t see visual cues either. But at least when you send a written message you have a chance to review your words before hitting the send button. A phone call delivers the same immediacy as an in-person conversation without the chance to gauge the person’s reaction and pivot. No wonder so many people dread making cold calls.

This article isn’t about cold calling, though. It is about any calling. I’m going to share techniques that you can use to improve your voice-only conversations. So, let’s get to it. What can you do to help your phone conversations go smoothly?

Tips for Communicating in Audio-only

Let’s start with the basics. “Business phone, who dis?” is not an appropriate phone greeting. Maybe if you have caller ID and are absolutely sure you know who is on the other end of the line, you can answer the call with a joke. But you should make a practice of clearly saying a greeting and your name when answering the phone. Your caller should be assured right away that they’ve reached the person they were trying to call.

Also, before you answer the phone, empty your mouth. I know, it sounds like something your mom would tell you! But moms know stuff. Empty your mouth so you can speak clearly and not gross out your caller. Remember to speak clearly and don’t rush your words.

Try to reduce or eliminate any distracting or disturbing background noise before you take a call. You might not intend to convey a lack of interest in the person who has contacted you, but they are likely to feel slighted if they can hear lots of activity taking place around you.

This last observation actually brings me to my next point. Does it bother you when you receive a call from a telemarketer and you can hear dozens of other people talking in the background?

Yeah. Me too.

When you call someone using a headset or speakerphone, background noise can become a problem. Extraneous sounds are distracting and can lead to misunderstandings.

Speaking of speakerphones — you probably already know that good etiquette requires you to ask before transmitting someone’s voice over speaker phone. But even if the person says “yes,” you might want to consider whether or not using a speakerphone is optimal.

While your phone partner may politely agree to your request, that doesn’t mean they like the idea of having their words broadcast throughout your office. When in doubt, just pick up the handset.

Finally, avoid multitasking when you are having a phone conversation. They say that you can hear a smile over the phone and it’s true. You can also hear when someone isn’t giving you their full attention — even without the visual evidence. Shuffling papers, mouse clicks, whispered instructions to a co-worker will all give you away.

If you want to get the most out of the conversation you are having, then give it your full attention.

Reaching the End

What about ending the call? Truth is, a lot of people struggle with this issue. I did some research on the topic and even found someone on Quora who had asked advice about this very thing! I found the suggestion that the best practice to end a call once and for all is to combine words and tone to convey finality.

To ensure that the call is really over, use these steps:

  1. Summarize the content of the call.
  2. Ask if there are any topics or questions to be addressed.
  3. Set a time for a follow-up call or meeting.
  4. Give the other person a chance to respond and say goodbye. and
  5. Say goodbye and hang up.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? The key is to cover all those lingering details that can keep a call going before you say goodbye. Give it a try on your next call and tell me how it works out!

Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more tips about effective communication, just have a look around my website. I’ve collected resources from many different people and we all enjoy helping you up your communications game. Or, you can call me. “Kit Pang, who dis?”

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! Learn even more about how to improve your communication skills, storytelling and public speaking at theBostonSpeaks Blog or watch one of our weekly BostonSpeaksTalks.

Kit Pang is a Communication Expert, TEDx Speaker Coach, TEDx, Inbound and Keynote speaker, the host of the BostonSpeaksSeries, BostonSpeaksTalks and the founder of BostonSpeaks. He is on a mission to help individuals become exceptional speakers and communicators. Kit’s seminars and talks have been credited as super fun, engaging, soul-searching and insightful. | @KitPangx, @Boston_Speaks