Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m Tim Simmons, and today we’re going to have a closer look at telephone skills. In particular, we’re going to talk about controlling the call and the flow of information.
Communicating effectively on the phone is an essential skill. And whether you’re talking to a client, a colleague, a supplier, your boss, or a bicycle courier, you need to make sure your purpose and the information is clear. Last week, we focused on your telephone attitude. Today, we’ll look at ways you can make sure information is flowing smoothly and that you are guiding the conversation.
Good telephone communication can actually begin before you pick up the phone, with a bit of preparation. Grab a piece of paper and jot down your key questions or issues that you need to resolve. Put them in a logical order so that you’re not just jumping from topic to topic. The less you have to rely on your memory, the better. Nothing’s worse than hanging up and realizing that you didn’t get everything you need. People are busy, and it’s best to handle things with one call rather than two, or three. So, if you’ve got a clear purpose for your call, then you can start working down your list. And that paper and pen should be handy for taking notes as you’re talking.
Okay, you’ve managed to get ahold of the person you want to talk to, you’ve got the right attitude, and you’re dealing with information. Now you need to make sure everything is clear and that you’ve understood what the other person is saying. To do that, you need to confirm information. You can do this in a couple of ways. First off, you can repeat information back to the other person. So, if someone says “I can meet you at 4:30,” you can say “Right. 4:30.” You can also do this by asking for confirmation and restating the information in different words. So, if someone says “It’s pretty unlikely that the delivery is going to make it there on time,” you can say “Do you mean that our delivery is going to be late?” And when you do this, it’s best to restate things in the simplest and easiest language possible. Just to avoid any confusion.
Another thing you need to do with information is give feedback about it. In other words, tell the other person clearly what you think about what he or she has just said. “I can meet you at 4:30” could be followed by “4:30 is a great time for me.” Or “The delivery is going to be late” could be followed by “I understand and I’ll let everyone else here know.”
After you confirm the important points and give feedback, you can move on to another question. Remember, the person who is asking the questions is in control. By asking questions, you can direct the conversation to the topics you want.
Sometimes when you ask questions, it’s a good idea to limit options rather than leaving things open-ended. Think about the difference between these two questions: “What day is good for you?” and “How about Tuesday or Wednesday morning?” Which is easier to answer? Which will reduce the amount of discussion involved? That’s right, the second one. Tuesday or Wednesday. Whenever possible, limit the number of options to two. If neither option is acceptable, give another two.
In some cases, you won’t be able to reach the person you want to talk with and you’ll have to leave a message. Don’t forget to leave a complete message. That includes your name, your company, your purpose, and your number. Leaving out any of those pieces of information will reduce the likelihood that you’ll be called back. It will also reduce the amount of discussion needed at the beginning of the call back. One of our older podcasts, BEP 72, covers lots of language for leaving a message and is well worth a look.
Can you see what ties all these ideas together? It’s all about clarity. Information should be clear. Any time information is not clear, time and energy is wasted. And that brings us to the end of your phone call, when you want to guarantee that clarity. Before you bring the call to a close, confirm the basics of what you discussed. That means the what, the where, the when, and the how of any action that is required. It’s pretty embarrassing to have to call someone back because you didn’t understand everything.
Your telephone is one of your most important communication tools. Learning to use it is about more than just figuring out the speed dial options. Maintain a positive and professional attitude, and use the techniques we’ve covered today, and you won’t dread that next call.
If you’d like to test yourself on this lesson, have a look at the myBEonline.com website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript and vocabulary explanations.
So long, and see you again soon.
1. How much planning do you usually do before an important telephone call?
2. What do you usually do when you don’t understand what someone is trying to say on the telephone?
3. What information do you normally include when you leave a message for someone?