Talking on the phone is uncomfortable for a lot of businesspeople (okay, mostly millennials and younger). You may have a great feel for technology, but little experience with some business basics like using the phone.
“Millennials grew up on asynchronous forms of communication like text and email, making real-time conversation stressful,” suggests Kira Asatryan for Psychology Today. “Because face-to-face interaction is largely unavoidable it has changed little. But the medium of the phone call itself (because it’s been practiced less) seems … awkward …” making it feel forced or shallow.
So what’s to gain by becoming more comfortable on the phone?
Phone conversations enable you to build rapport … and relationships. Asking about your client’s children, pets, and vacations, sharing experiences, and hearing cues (hesitation, tone of voice) help with understanding and bring more information than just the words of a text.
- If you’re initiating the call, know what you want. Prepare by jotting down some notes before you pick up the phone, so you remember to cover all your points or questions.
- Start with some small talk. If you’re calling someone you’ve talked to before, reference something you know about them. “Hey, it was great seeing you in San Diego last week. Did you end up making your flight?” “Hey, I saw that huge snowstorm that came through Detroit last week. Were you affected?”Be careful not to take this banter too far. If the person on the other end of the phone isn’t chatting back, cut to the chase. Respect the other person’s time—a couple minutes of chitchat is plenty, suggests Mark Suster for bothsidesofthetable.com.
- Ask questions. When someone shares information with you, don’t respond by saying, “that’s great” or “how interesting” or “cool.” Ask open-ended questions that let the person expand on what they’re telling you and give you insight into how they feel. If a vendor tells you they’re closing a plant, ask for more detail: “Oh wow, when will that be happening?” “How will that affect you?” “Why is that happening?”When you listen to their answers, you hear hesitations, sadness, excitement, or a host of other emotions, enabling you to become more in tune with what’s really going on. Also, people are often more willing to share greater detail verbally. “You didn’t hear this from me, but …”
- Get feedback as you go. Don’t just rattle on endlessly without stopping to get feedback. Let’s say your boss has asked you to call a client to follow up on information they’re supposed to be sending you as part of an ongoing project …. (Maybe he’s also asked you to convince them to upgrade one component.) You start with a little small talk to involve them in the conversation. You move to a brief status update, pausing as you go so the listener can jump in if they want to. Finally, you mention the timeline and the item that you’re waiting on. Get a commitment on when you can expect the missing information. After you get this commitment, briefly tell him or her about the upgrade opportunity and why it’s important and ask if you can move ahead with it.
- If you covered several points, wrap up the call with a quick summary. “Jim, it’s been great to talk with you. I’ll look to get that missing information by 5 p.m. tomorrow. And I’ll let my people here know you want to go ahead with the upgrade.”
Business relationships are formed in person and over the phone. While you may not have much experience at making phone calls, don’t avoid them. Hearing someone can give you many verbal cues (that text and email obviously miss)—cues that, over time, will help you build rapport, and lasting relationships.