How to Make Better Phone Calls

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A Bell Telephone System ad in a 1961 Saturday Evening Post encourages phone usage.

For most of us, email has become the communication method of choice at work. Despite this, phone calls are often still the best way to communicate. But lack of practice can make calling feel uncomfortable. Making better phone calls takes practice … and a few tips.

“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?

Businessman Making Phone Call Sitting At Desk In OfficePhone 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.

Here are a few phone tricks to help you get more out of business conversations.


  1. 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. Conversations are spontaneous but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ready. 
  2. working the phoneStart 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  
  3. Transition to your topic. “Hey, the reason I’m calling is …” This lets the other person know why you’re calling. If you need more than a minute or two of the person’s time, let them know and ask permission to proceed or find a better time to call back. “Hey, I needed to talk with you about progress on the Walters project, do you have a couple minutes for me?” 
  4. 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 …” 
  5. business phone callsGet feedback as you go. Don’t just rattle on endlessly without stopping to get feedback. If your boss asks you to call a client to follow up on information they’re supposed to be sending …. (And he’s also asked you to encourage them to upgrade.) 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 he or she wants to. Finally, 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. 
  6. find your work passionIf 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 lasting rapport.


Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.