BE A “PRO” COMMUNICATOR
The most important and effective communications are face-to-face. The next are telephone conversations. Exercise good judgment in knowing when to use different forms of communications. Do not get lazy and use the phone or e-mail to give messages to people when they are nearby.
When you are engaged in a communication or sending a message, always concentrate 100% of your attention on that task alone until it is finished. Trying to do two things at the same time, such as checking your e-mail while you are on the phone, slows you down, causes mistakes, and divides your concentration.
Observing good manners and being considerate of others is just as important in using the telephone as they are with any face-to-face meetings. When you are on the phone, you are projecting a personal image by what you say and the tone you use, even in the way you leave messages for people not there. The first impression you make with any phone contact is likely to leave a lasting impression with that person.
To make a positive, professional impression, follow these recommendations regarding placing telephone calls:
- Put a smile into your voice. Speak in a friendly, positive manner. If you are upset about something else, do not let it show in your voice, making callers think you are upset with them.
- Speak directly into the phone so people can hear you clearly. Do not eat or chew anything when you are on the phone.
- Use people’s names when you are talking to them. It is a friendly gesture that personalizes what you are saying. If the name of the person calling is unfamiliar to you, request that the individual please spell his or her name for you.
- When you call someone, introduce yourself at the start by saying, “Frank, it’s Barbara Jones calling,” even if you think the other person should recognize your voice. Do not make people play guessing games about who is calling them.
- If you are calling someone and want to have a long conversation, after you have introduced yourself, ask, “Is this a good time for you to talk?”
- Get to the point. Resist rambling on about matters of little consequence. Do not waste people’s time. Get organized with exactly what you want to say before you place the call.
- Do not have anyone place your calls to other people and ask them to wait until you come on the line. This is like saying, “My time is more important than yours. It’s OK for you to have to wait for me but not for me to wait for you.”
- Do not call people on their cellphones at work when they have a regular office line unless they requested that you do so. If someone’s business card includes a cellphone number, you can call that number after the person does not answer his or her regular office line.
- If you want to reach a senior person at an organization and you are concerned about getting past his or her secretary, try calling that individual’s direct line after normal business hours when the secretary will likely have left the office.
- When you are calling long-distance and someone other than the person you are calling answers the phone, say, “This is [your name] calling long-distance for [the other party’s name].” This usually increases your chances of getting through to the individual you want to speak to.
Keep these points in mind concerning taking calls:
- When you answer the phone in your office, say your first and last name in a friendly, business-like tone and then wait for the caller to begin. If you are answering the main phone number for your organization, first say “Good morning” or “Good afternoon”, state the organization’s name, briefly pause, and then say “How may I help you?” Always try to answer the phone by the third ring.
- Answer your own phone when you are in your office by yourself and not tied up working on something. Do not have anyone screen your calls, saying, “Who’s calling?” It just slows everything down and raises unnecessary questions in people’s minds about you taking some calls and not others.
- Do not encourage anyone to place personal calls to you at work unless it is an emergency. Absolutely minimize the personal calls you make at work, except during your lunch break. Do not place personal long-distance calls at work and charge them to your organization.
Here are some suggestions regarding phone messages:
- When you are leaving a voice message for someone you are calling, say, “Frank, this is Barbara calling. Could you please call me back at [give your phone number]. It’s 12:30 P.M. on Wednesday, June 4th.” Sometimes, it is also helpful to mention briefly the reason for your call. Do not talk too quickly in giving your name or in leaving a message.
- Speak especially clearly and slowly when you are giving your phone number in a call-back message. It is also a good idea to repeat your call-back number at the end of your message to make it easier to understand. Sometimes, it is helpful to include in your message the optimum date and time that you will be available to take the returned call. Banish the non-words “uh” and “umm” from any messages you are leaving. Keep your message short.
- Use a voice-message system or answering machine to let callers know they have reached the right office when you are not there. Be concise in your recorded message, saying, “You have reached Barbara Jones’s office. Please leave a message and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.” If you are going to be away from the office for an extended period, either include in your message when you expect to return or have someone check your messages and phone back to advise those callers who need to know when you will be returning and to ask them if someone else at your organization can help them in the meantime. Program your voice message system or answering machine to activate itself after the third ring.
Your manners on the telephone are important. Always be courteous and professional by practising the following principles:
- Return all phone calls promptly, at the absolute latest within two or three days.
- Do not be abrupt, rude or sarcastic on the phone. Avoid talking too loudly. It does not help you make your point.
- Be an active listener. Let callers explain why they called. Do not interrupt or cut someone off when the other party is speaking. Also, refrain from monopolizing the conversation.
- Only use a speakerphone when you need to involve someone else in your office in the conversation. When you do, say, “Frank, I’m going to put you on speakerphone so Alice Smith can participate in our conversation.”
- Avoid keeping people waiting on hold. If you have to do something else or find a file to continue the conversation, say, “Barbara, I’m sorry. Can I call you right back?” Never keep someone on hold for more than 30 seconds.
- Do not prematurely end a phone conversation with anyone to answer another incoming call. Let your voice-mail system take the message.
- If you are on a call and it gets disconnected, the person who originated the call is the one who should call back to continue the conversation. The exception is when you are talking to a client or customer, in which case you should call back.
Observe these points concerning telephone calls and meetings:
- When you are engaged in any kind of formal meeting, always have your calls held and shut off the ringer. Answering calls when you are in a meeting negatively affects everyone’s productivity and concentration, plus again says “My time is more valuable than yours.”
- If you are going into a meeting and have no choice but to take an important call that may occur while you are meeting, explain the situation to everyone at the start and ask their permission for you to leave the meeting to take the call when it comes through.
- Shut off all cellphones and any other PDA’s whenever you are in a meeting. Do not leave their ringers on “vibrate”. Concentrate 100% of your attention on the meeting.
One final point of caution — whenever you are dealing with anyone on the phone about a business transaction or real estate matter and that person is an agent, broker or middleperson who may receive a fee from the transaction, always be careful about what you say, agree to do, or authorize. Afterwards, carefully document in writing exactly what was said and the date and time of your conversation. The same applies to any meetings where such matters are discussed. Share your notes soon afterwards with your colleagues so everyone is aware of what transpired and has an opportunity to add or object to what was covered.
Since it has become relatively easy to send documents via e-mail or cell phones, the use of fax messages has significantly declined. Faxes are, however, still ideally suited to sending detailed information, documents and printed material that cannot be sent by e-mail or cell phones because of their confidentiality or length but need to be received right away. Faxes can also be used for sending and returning agreements and contracts that need to be signed. As e-mail recipients become more hesitant about opening any e-mail attachments, fax usage will continue albeit much less frequently.
Unless you know someone is standing by the fax machine waiting to receive your document, always use a standard cover page with all faxed messages. The cover page should have the recipient’s name on it [To: Barbara Jones] and contain your name, your organization’s name and all of your contact information, including mailing address, phone number, fax number and e-mail address. The cover page should be dated, have a subject line and indicate the total number of pages being sent, including the cover page. In addition, the cover page should have a designated space for you to write a brief message to the recipient, including any action you are expecting to be taken with the faxed message, such as “Could you please get back to me re: the attached.”
When you are faxing anything of a confidential or sensitive nature to someone in an office where the fax machine is likely also used by other people, call the recipient beforehand so that individual has an opportunity to stand by the fax machine as your message is being received. If you mistakenly receive a fax intended for another person, send the fax either to that individual or back to the sender with a note saying you received it by error. You would appreciate the same treatment if this happened to you.
In the case of sending faxes of some importance, it is always a good idea to call the recipient afterwards to confirm that the person actually received your fax. This especially applies to larger organizations where the odds of your fax being misplaced are higher.
Increasingly, documents and other printed materials are being scanned for the purpose of sending them either in the body of an e-mail or as an attachment to an e-mail, including when signatures are required. This is replacing the use of faxes.