The Way We Work
September 28, 2009 by Christopher Smith

Telephones didn’t always come with tiny pop-out keyboards and message screens. Once upon a time, people would actually speak into phones to talk directly with other people. No text messages, no email, no internet browsing, just actual conversations with folks who listen and respond with phones of their own.

vintagephoneThere are many freelancers and providers out there who believe business can be handled through emails and text messaging alone, but the truly successful entrepreneurs know this simply isn’t true. There’s a time and a place for both written and verbal communications, but nearly 20 years of email, the rapid rise of text messaging, and other social networking mediums have erroneously de-emphasized the importance of telephone conversations. The fact is a single telephone conversation carries a far greater impression than the best email ever could. That may frighten many of those used to online communication here in oDesk-land, but the advice offered from Gotta Know Online and Associated Content—not to mention our tips below—will show you there’s absolutely no reason to fear the speaker.

Smile when you make a call or answer the phone.
Smiling has the unconscious effect of giving your voice a very friendly, upbeat tone, and that’s how every business conversation should begin.

Always identify yourself on incoming and outgoing calls.
If you’re a freelancer, this can be as simple as answering calls with “Hello, this is Chris,” or “Hi, this is Sandy, how can I help you?” If you’re working for a company, include their name as well. On outgoing calls, always identify yourself to the person that answers, even if you need to speak to someone else. A good example would be “Hello, this is John Doe calling, may I speak to Richard?”

Be an active listener. manwithhandonear
Active listening is a fancy way of saying “pay attention!” Turn off music, close the office door, or if necessary, go to a different room where you can offer your complete, undivided attention to the person you’re talking to. Active listening also means you’re not just a silent partner. As the other person speaks, let them know you’re paying attention (or in the cell phone age, that the call didn’t drop) by offering simple acknowledgements such as “sure” or “I see” to the things they say.

Leave short messages.
If you have to leave a message, make it short and to the point. Offer your name and number both at the beginning and end of the message, with a sentence or two in the middle explaining your call. A 20-second message is usually sufficient to get the point across; anything longer should be addressed in the callback.

onthephoneatdinnerResist the urge to take a business call while on personal errands.
Cell phones allow us to talk shop anywhere, but taking a business call while you’re eating dinner with the family or standing in line at the grocery store is not a good idea. Let it go to voice mail and call back as soon as you’re in a more suitable location, even if it means making a quick trip to your car. It may appear as though you're showing dedication to your clients or customers, but choosing to take a call while rapped up in a personal activity almost always makes the caller uncomfortable, and if you're in a public setting, you risk blaring out potentially sensitive information.

While these tips provide a good foundation for telephone etiquette, remember that the best phone jockeys develop their own unique style over time. Have any other suggestions to maximize professional telephone conversations? Feel free to share your tricks of the trade in the comments section below.