If you were to ask me to pick one thing I would credit for my professional success, what do you think I’d say?
A degree from a prestigious university? A fantastic network of powerful and influential individuals? A die-hard work ethic?
Nope. It’s my phone manners.
I’m serious. Because so much of our communication these days is electronic, we often forget about the importance of the connections we make over the phone. But truth is, your voice over the handset can make just as big an impression on someone as your in-person presence.
Case in point: Recently, I had a meeting with a woman for the first time in person. I was dreading the meeting and bracing for a combative and difficult hour—because after countless encounters over the phone, that’s what she had trained me to expect. Is that how you want others to view you? I didn’t think so.
So here’s how to kick your phone manners up a notch, and make them your secret weapon, too.
Always Answer by the Second or Third Ring
No one actually ever had to give me this advice—I developed it as my own personal guideline after observing what drives me crazy when I try to call someone.
Many people view the telephone as a necessary evil at work, only resorting to its use in times of urgency. So I try to remember that if someone is calling me, they probably need something right away. Picking up the phone as soon as possible is an easy way to make the person calling feel like you’re already paying attention, and it can help start the conversation off on a more positive note than if you’d let it linger for a few more rings, or worse, just let it go to voicemail.
Plus, everyone has caller ID these days, and letting your phone ring too long can give the impression that you’re screening your calls. (Of course, you are screening your calls, but do you really want your caller to know that?)
Act Like You’re Glad They Called
This one is tough—most of your calls are probably not from your best friends. But, if you speak to the caller as if you were happy to hear her voice, it’ll put her at ease and soften the tone of the discussion.
Of course, be genuine. The person you’re speaking with knows her relationship with you, so there’s no point in feigning a stronger connection than you have—she’ll see right through you. In my experience, the initial “Hi! How are you?” “Oh, I’m good, and you?” exchange is that’s all that’s really needed to politely and genuinely get things going.
Be Pleasant, but Brief
One of the stereotypes I often hear is that women like to talk on the phone a lot. Now for me, this couldn’t be farther from the truth—but if that is the case for you, that’s fine. Just don’t practice it at work.
Try to maintain control of the conversation, and don’t let the personal questions linger on past the first 10-15 seconds—or “how are you?” may spiral into a lengthy conversation about your caller’s new pet or recent adventures with potty training his toddler. After I respond, “I’m doing well, thanks!” I launch right into “So, what can I help you with today?” This reminds everyone that this is a business call, and gets the conversation back on track.
Lastly, be brief. Keeping your calls to no more than 3-5 minutes gives the impression that you know what you’re doing, and you’re not wasting any time addressing the issue at hand. (Also remember that, if you don’t have your own office, most of your conversations will be heard—and sometimes actually listened to. Keep that in mind when you’re tempted to get chatty.)
Offer Additional Help and Information
I always end my calls by asking if there is anything else my caller needs. If not, I remind them of my email address in case they want to follow up. It sounds simple, but making sure you are perceived as attentive and available will give you the reputation of being a responsive, knowledgeable, and reliable colleague.
Although the idea of good phone manners may seem a bit old-fashioned “Emily Post,” trust me, having your phone skills polished will pay off. Savvy use of that phone can help you land a new client, build good relationships with colleagues in satellite offices—or even inspire your favorite deli to throw in an extra treat when you order lunch!