13 MIN READ

Making a Phone Call

Communicating Confidently and Professionally Over the Phone

Making a Phone Call - Communicating Confidently and Professionally Over the Phone

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Refresh your telephone skills, and increase the power of your communication!

How much time do you spend on your phone every day?

Research suggests that many of us spend about three hours each day using our cellphones, whether we're texting, tweeting or TikToking. [1]

One of the main functions of a phone has always been to make and receive calls, but the volume of voice calls has been declining in recent years. [2] Many people now find phone calls nerve-racking or intrusive, and prefer to send an instant message, text or email to get their message across.

However, being able to make and receive calls is still an essential skill, as there are times when a phone call is more effective and appropriate than sending a written message.

In this article, we look at why good phone skills matter. We also discuss how to overcome phone anxiety, and how to communicate clearly and professionally over the phone.

Why Are Good Phone Skills Important?

Talking on the phone is an important skill, just like writing well, and the consequences of having poor phone skills can be significant on your career.

For example, imagine that you're having a video call with your boss to discuss an urgent project. As they're speaking, you receive an important but unrelated email and, instead of focusing on the call, you try to respond to the email at the same time. This causes you to be vague and unresponsive with your boss, and you could end up giving them wrong information or appearing disinterested.

Or, imagine that you're using the phone to tell a potential new customer about what your organization does. Without thinking, you use a lot of technical jargon that leaves them confused and uncomfortable, so they decline your offer of a personal meeting.

With first-rate phone skills, however, you'll more easily deliver what callers need. You'll create a positive atmosphere, leave a good impression, and make – not break – business relationships. Calls will likely be enjoyable, as well as potentially profitable.

When to Use the Phone

Email, instant messaging, and texting are often appropriate forms of communication. You might have a quick question to ask, some interesting information to distribute to a select group of people, or need to pass on an informal "thank you" to colleagues, for example.

But, people sometimes use these tools because making a call takes too long, because they communicate more effectively in writing, or because they lack confidence. Many of us simply don't make many calls anymore. In fact, we're twice as likely to send a text than make a phone call, so it's no wonder that some of us feel out of practice. [3]

Sometimes, though, it's essential to use the phone. You might have a complicated subject to explain, and questions to answer; an apology to make; something sensitive to discuss; or something important to say (and quickly). Perhaps you just need to answer the phone occasionally as part of your job. One benefit of voice-only calls over other methods is that they allow you to communicate while giving you a break from the screen.

Note:

Research shows that people pick up on emotions more easily in voice-only conversations, so speaking on the phone makes it easier to build rapport and to develop empathy. [4]

How to Overcome Phone Anxiety

There are a lot of reasons why you may feel anxious or reluctant to have a phone call. An unexpected call can be an unwelcome interruption, and it can feel more urgent than texting or emailing, so you may feel under pressure to respond right away. Making a phone call can be daunting if you don't feel confident, but nerves shouldn't prevent you from picking up the phone, as this can become a serious impediment to your career and social life. Here are some things you can do to alleviate phone anxiety:

Plan Your Call

Prepare a list of points to cover, and the outcomes that you would like to achieve from the call. This will boost your confidence, help to maintain momentum, and give you the basis for summarizing the content of your conversation.

Choose where and how you'll make the call in advance. Make sure there isn't loud background noise, or a busy background if you're having a video call.

Visualize

Visualizing a successful outcome will help to alleviate stress before you pick up the phone. Think about what you want from the call and imagine achieving the best possible result from the conversation. Picture what you will say at each point of the call, and how you will say it.

Use Body Language

Even if it's not a video call, your body language can play a significant role in how you feel and sound on the phone. If you're speaking on a voice-only call, get up and walk around before and during the call, if your surroundings allow it. And, if possible, use a headset. This can help you to breathe comfortably, and to make your point as if you were giving a presentation rather than sitting at a desk.

For video calls, it's better to stay in one place so that the other person doesn't get distracted by your changing background, and so that you can keep your eyes on the screen. Choose a comfortable place to sit, and adopt an upright but calm posture. Whether you're using a phone or computer to have the call, make sure the camera is supported on a flat, still surface so that your arms are free to make gestures when necessary. Open body language will not only make you look receptive, but it will make you feel more alert and confident, too.

Block Scam Phone Numbers

Chances are, we've all received illegitimate phone calls from someone pretending to be a bank representative or an IT technician. These are not only annoying but can further deter you from answering the phone at all, particularly to unrecognized numbers. Whenever you receive a bogus call, immediately hang up and block the number so they cannot call you again. The U.S. government has advice on how to protect yourself from telephone scams.

How to Have a Professional Phone Call

Phone calls are a great way of communicating with clients, stakeholders and colleagues. A professional phone manner will help you to build a good rapport and gain trust from the people you speak with. Practice these tips to get the most from every call:

Meeting and Greeting

Let the other person know who you are at the beginning of the call. Say something like, "Good afternoon, this is Pam Michaels in accounting." If you find their name difficult to pronounce, it's OK to ask how to do so. They will appreciate you taking the time to find out, and it's preferable to stumbling through an unsuccessful attempt at pronunciation.

Owning the Call

After the greeting and welcome, state why you're calling and set the agenda. In the absence of visual cues, this lets the other person know that you're serious and ready, and that you have a clear outcome in mind.

Staying Focused

It's tempting to do something else while you're on the phone, such as sorting emails or checking your schedule. But multitasking isn't always productive: if you try to do two tasks at once, you run the risk of doing both poorly. So, maximize your productivity by focusing on the call.

Choosing Your Tone

When you can't see the person you're speaking to, your voice needs to convey authority, empathy and trustworthiness. You can achieve this by paying attention to the delivery and content of what you say. Speak slowly and clearly, especially if you're discussing information that the other person knows little about. If your caller has to keep asking you to repeat yourself, they will likely become exasperated.

Tip:

If the other person is speaking loudly, or in an agitated way, speaking calmly in response can diffuse their anger. Not only should it help to calm them down, but it will also prompt them to lower their voice.

Choosing Your Words

You need to be certain that the person you're calling will understand you, and can grasp the points you're making. Use simple and straightforward language. Give one idea or piece of information in each sentence, and try not to "ramble." Avoid slang, and don't use jargon if the other person isn't familiar with your industry. Give them the chance to respond, and ask if they would like you to clarify anything.

Tip:

Consider recording yourself when you're on the phone, and play it back so that you can assess what you need to improve. But don't record others without their permission.

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Knowing When to Listen

Good listening ability is crucial for phone conversations. It's central to the process of fully engaging with the person you're speaking to, and establishing a genuine connection.

Listening Actively and Empathically

Developing your active listening skills will help you to take in all of the information that the other person is trying to share.

The key to active listening is concentration. You need to give the person you're speaking to your full attention. This is particularly important for voice-only calls because you can't read the other person's expressions or gestures.

You might also need to use empathic listening, especially if the other person is upset. Although it's easy to get flustered or to react negatively when you're on a difficult call, people who feel upset need your understanding and patience.

One effective empathic listening technique is to repeat what the person says in your own words. For example, you could say, "You're feeling upset because the accounting department made a mistake on your bill. Is that right?" This lets the person know that you're paying attention, and that you understand their frustration.

Demonstrating Engagement

Show that you're still engaged with the call, even when your caller is doing most of the talking. This can be as simple as saying "uh-huh" during pauses, but it's better to say something which demonstrates that you've been listening.

For example, saying, "You mentioned problems with the technical side of the project. Could you elaborate?" shows that you've been listening, and that you're keen to hear more information.

In video calls, avoid looking away from the screen as you will look distracted and uninterested. Nod your head occasionally to show you're listening and that you understand.

Avoiding Interruptions

To understand what someone wants, you need to allow them to have their say, even if their speaking style is complicated, hesitant or disorganized. Interruptions break the other person's flow of thought, and they can make them think that you're impatient, or that you're judging them.

Tip:

Don't prepare responses while you're listening to other people speak, particularly if you're feeling defensive or uncertain. Try to "stay in the moment" or you could miss essential information. Take our quiz to discover how you can improve your listening skills!

Summarizing to Understand

Always listen with the intention of providing a summary of what you've heard. Make notes during the call, if you can.

This makes you think about what you hear, rather than just letting it wash over you, and your notes give you a basis from which to summarize. Summaries help people to understand the content of the call, and any actions you agree on.

Key Points

Developing better telephone skills enables you to communicate more successfully and confidently.

Prepare for calls by drawing up an agenda, and have a clear goal.

Greet your caller warmly, and state the purpose and scope of the call at the outset.

Use open body language, whether the person on the other end can see you or not.

Above all, listen actively, and make sure you are able to summarize the content of the call.

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