Julie Tucker
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How to improve your telephone manner

Telephone calls play an important role in every business, as they are more personal than emails, but sadly, some of us struggle when it comes to talking on the phone. A telephone conversation can leave a positive or negative impression of your business, depending on how it’s handled.

Research shows that 62% of office workers in the UK experience anxiety when making or answering a phone call. A poll of 500 office workers by Face for Business revealed that 76% of millennials felt stressed when on the phone in the office. This compares with 40% of older “baby boomers” feeling anxious.

Researchers believe this could be because the younger generation is more used to communicating by text, email or social media, so they’re less familiar with the skills needed for a good telephone manner.

There are several different ways you can build confidence to promote a positive conversation on the phone.

Why do people feel anxious about phone calls?

The medical name for a fear of making and taking phone calls is “telephobia” – a real problem that can hamper careers and give a bad impression of your business.

Telephobia occurs both in the workplace and in everyday life. Psychologists believe it’s stressful because the interaction is limited to the sound of the voice. Other social cues including facial expressions, eye contact, gestures and body language are absent.

People admit to feeling self-conscious at the sound of their own voice, as the conversation continues. This leads to them overthinking their choice of words. In a phone call, people need to think on their feet and respond immediately to a comment to avoid a long silence punctuating the conversation.

While texting and emails don’t require an instant response, a comment at the end of the phone does, so anxiety kicks in as people get preoccupied about whether they are making a good impression or not. Feeling anxious can lead to employees putting off making a phone call; because they’re concerned that they might not say the right things

This can prevent progress within the workplace, as 15% of employees say the thought of “freezing” during a conversation even deters them from answering a colleague’s phone if they’re away from their desk.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s important to work on improving your telephone manner.

Overcoming your nerves and sounding more confident can help your own career advancement, as well as creating a positive image of your company.

Can a friendly office environment help?

Working in a quiet corporate office where you know other people can hear what you’re saying on the phone can worsen feelings of anxiety, whereas the friendlier environment of a coworking space can put you more at ease.

It’s okay to make phone or video calls at your desk in a coworking space – after all, it’s not a library and it doesn’t have the same sombre environment of some traditional offices. Use headphones if this makes it easier, but never shout.

If confidentiality is an issue during your call, you can always book a meeting room for the duration of your call.

Practice regularly

Practice conversations with a friend, even if it’s only how to start and end a phone conversation, as it can be useful to teach yourself the right things to say. You can even have a go when you are alone by using your smartphone to record yourself. Listen to your performance and work out what sounds good and what needs improvement.

When it comes to an actual phone conversation with a business colleague, being well-versed in what you’re going to say can boost your confidence. It’s also permissible to ask the other person, “Could you repeat that, please?” if you miss something they say. Never try to guess what they’ve said, to avoid misunderstandings later.

Memorise key expressions

If there are key expressions that you need to use in a lot of telephone conversations in the office, memorise them so they come to mind easily. Repeat them to yourself out loud before going to work, so you get used to saying them and it becomes second nature.

Ahead of an important call, make a checklist of what must be discussed and rehearse this beforehand. While on the phone, have the checklist in front of you. Don’t actually read the questions, but if you’re worried about drying up, use it to remind yourself of the direction the conversation needs to take.

Keep a smile on your face and always be polite

It may sound bizarre considering you’re on the phone and you can’t see the other person but keep smiling during the conversation. Research has shown that when you smile, the other person can hear a more positive tone in your voice, even if you’re not really feeling happy.

Of course, being polite is essential. Liberal use of the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ never go amiss.

At the end of the call, make sure you have jotted down the correct details. If you’re unclear about something, have a brief recap on what you’ve discussed and the action plan you’ve drawn up. Always ring off on a pleasant and positive note.

What about making video calls?

Feeling more comfortable and less stressed when they can see the other person’s face and analyse their expression; some people find making a video call, rather than a telephone call, easier.

If you work in a busy office, where there are other people around, you may feel more comfortable in a private room when making calls. This can also ensure you hear what the other person is saying.


© pikselstock / Adobe Stock

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