This post is about phone etiquette, and it should hopefully be shorter and simpler than my previous posts. A lot of the ideas in here seem somewhat obvious, but many people pay little attention to them, and it causes phone communication with them to be slow and painful.
In today's world, a lot of communication is happening by phone calls. Emailing and text messaging seem to be replacing more and more phone calls, but there is still nothing that comes close to a phone call in connecting two people emotionally and intellectually who cannot be in the same room (or video conference). By showing respect on the phone, the feeling will go much deeper and will be thus be much more strongly received, purely based on the direct, real-time mechanism of the phone call itself.
I've gathered my top five thoughts/tips on phone etiquette below as they are the ones that frustrate me the most when I'm on the receiving end and the tips are not followed.
- State your name: At the beginning of a phone call, always slowly and with proper enunciation state your full name (and company, if applicable). The only time this rule can be relaxed is if you are pretty sure the other side has your contact information in their phone book or if the other side is a close friend. Otherwise, you should always repeat your introduction each time you call. There are also often times when people's caller ID systems don't work, and it's better to be safe than sorry. Once the other side jokes that they already recognize your voice, you can be a bit more informal with the intro.
Also, I always like to ask if the other person has a few minutes or seconds to talk at that moment. Sometimes people pick up the phone expecting a short call and are not in a place to be able to talk for a long time. By giving them a quick way out of the call and the chance to reschedule, it'll make their life that much easier.
- Speak more slowly at first: When you first start talking to someone, they need time to mentally adjust to your voice in order to fully understand you. Though you may be in a rush, you can save yourself time in repeating things by starting off speaking more slowly, especially if you think the person you're calling may have general difficulty understanding your language. Just like the first point above, once you've had several conversations and are both adapted to each other's speech, you can proceed to speak more naturally.
Also, in order to further promote clarity of communication, if you have reason to believe your cell phone reception is bad (or you're in a spot that's historically had poor reception), wait to make your calls until you're in a better location. Everyone gets easily annoyed with dropped calls and repetitive call backs when they can't hear you, and though this isn't really your fault, whatever you can do to time your calls appropriately will be a big help.
- Call instead of text or email: So many people get into the habit of always texting or emailing that the idea of calling totally slips their mind (or they're embarrassed to do it). I find that coordinating a meeting or discussing any topic that involves more than 2 back-and-forths is much more efficiently done over the phone. People can usually speak faster than they can type (especially on a cell phone), and you'll be able to deal with a lot of additional issues more easily on the phone than in writing because those will naturally enter the conversation if the mood is right. For example, instead of first coordinating where to see a movie and then coordinating dinner later, you could accomplish both goals with one phone call that will be much faster.
A caveat here is that texting and emailing has the benefit of allowing delayed responses. This is nice if either party needs time to research the answer to something and can respond at their leisure. However, more often than not for simple logistical planning, a phone call can be much more efficient.
Finally, as I mentioned above, a phone call still seems to me to be a much closer, more personal form of contact than texting or emailing. Use this to your advantage and make a good impression on the phone even before you've met the person.
- Return calls quickly and remember what you owe: This is probably the tip that's most close to heart for me. Just like in my post about email, I really dislike having to follow up on phone calls and leave multiple voicemails before I get a call back. If you can't respond in a timely manner, let me know; if you're ignoring me, let me know as well that you don't want to deal with me. But just leaving a conversation hanging seems really unprofessional.
I think the same standard applies to phone calls as emails: same or next day response. Doing phone tag (back and forth voicemails) does not bug me that much, as long as neither side drops the ball when it's their turn to call back. To avoid this, leave a message and state what times you're available to talk over the next few days. That way, the recipient can call you back when you won't be busy.
When you do call back, address all the points or questions that the other side was asking of you (just like in email). If you transcribe your voicemails into notes/to-do list items, you can respond by calling and carefully going through each point to make sure you didn't miss anything.
- Know when to end the call: Finally, be sensitive to the other person's time and mood while on the call. Try to minimize distractions and pay attention to not only the words but the feelings behind what someone is saying. You'll be able to tell by the length of their sentences and their tone of voice whether they're sitting back and open to talking for fifteen minutes or whether they have thirty seconds to tell you something and then they need to run.
Based on that, you can end the call as soon as the necessary communication is complete and either side needs to go. I've been on many calls which seem to drag. We do the necessary hello's and how-are-you's, then we discuss the main topic, and then we seem to wind down. However, at that point, the other side goes back to asking how I am or how something else is going. It's best to not interrupt the flow of things and instead deal with all catch-ups and status updates at the start of a call, the main topic in the middle, and summarize all action items and do good-bye's at the end. Yes, people don't need to be robots and can be more relaxed with this structure on the phone, but when either side is busy, it's best to stick to business and have a fun call later on.
I'm not sure if my word count was lower today, but I hope it was. Please leave me any comments or questions (or feel free to call if it'll be more than one back-and-forth :-) ).