Chapter 9

Telephone Skills

When you are speaking on the telephone, you can’t see your listeners, and they can’t see you — but a phone call’s success still depends on many of the same elements that contribute to the effectiveness of a face-to-face talk. At the same time, a phone call poses challenges for a speaker that an in-person communication does not.


Body Language

Believe it or not, your body language matters even when you are on the phone. If you let your body sag while you speak, your energy will drop, and your voice may convey a lack of interest, confidence, or personality. Sit up, or even stand up, when you are delivering a message that matters. See Chapter ı for more on body language.



Since you send no visual cues over the phone, your voice is especially important. Articulation, pace, projection, and vocal variety all contribute to the outcome of a telephone communication.

Since you also receive no visual cues over the phone, reading your listeners’ reactions to your ideas can be difficult. You can’t see skepticism or enthusiasm on a listener’s face; you can’t see the rising hand of someone who wants to interject something. Try to communicate in a way that invites your listeners to participate, so you know how your message is being received. Speak at a relaxed pace, allow yourself to pause, and ask your listeners periodically if they have any questions or comments.

When you talk on the phone, the mouthpiece is typically very near your mouth, and you really don’t have to do much to be heard (unless, perhaps, you are on a cell phone or speakerphone). Remember, though, while a telephone can transmit the sound of your voice, it can’t give your voice the vitality that will bring your message to life.

See Chapter 3 for more on voice.


Placing and Receiving Calls

When you call someone, the first thing you should do is identify yourself. Soon thereafter, let the person know why you are calling. Don’t begin a call to a stranger with “Hi, how are you doing today?” And don’t ask for five minutes of someone’s time if you really intend to use ten.

When you answer the phone, use a polite tone of voice. You may be very busy or under stress, but don’t take it out on the caller. Also, give your name right away, so that the caller knows immediately whether he or she has reached the right person.