You’ve probably had the experience of talking on the phone and feeling that the person at the other end wasn’t really listening. Maybe her mind was somewhere else or she was busy on the computer or possibly washing dishes. Do you shrug it off or tell the person how rude she’s been? After all, who wants to feel that you haven’t been heard during a phone call?
I felt like this recently during a phone meeting I had with a person whose service I was potentially interested in purchasing. It was a real turn-off for me. You’d think in business where hearing what the client is saying is key, you’d be paying attention.
A week before I received a proposal from this person’s company. It was incomplete and unclear. The purpose of our phone meeting, so I thought, was to clarify and discuss details, to get my input. It did anything but! Throughout the meeting the company representative talked at me, rather than listened to me. I felt like he hadn’t heard one thing I said or I asked. And at no point did he ask me what I needed or wanted. I spent a considerable amount of time preparing for this meeting. Needless to say, I came away quite frustrated.
But this unproductive phone meeting did have one positive result. It got me mulling over why it is so easy for phone meetings to be unsatisfying, frustrating and off putting. It made me think about why this happens and what can be done to improve them. Maybe it’s insufficient preparation. Maybe, it’s lack of face-to-face contact, because you can’t look each other in the eye, or pick up on the subtle signals of body language that we all rely on in our communication. The lack of face-to-face contact was key here.
But there are other conditions, along with the face-to-face contact, that are conducive to making your phone meetings work well. Using the following strategy will ensure that your phone meetings are productive, efficient, and don’t leave anyone rolling their eyes in frustration (knowing that person at the other end is out of your sight).
The Language Lab’s strategy for successful phone meetings
1/ The all-important agenda: Your meeting, whether with one or 20 people, needs an agenda. What, specifically do you need to talk about? What, specifically, do both parties need to bring to the table? An agenda, sent or discussed in advance, also automatically ensures the meeting attendees do their homework. As I’ve said before, Public Speaking Tip: It’s Really About Writing a good presentation requires thorough preparation. A meeting is really just another form of presentation.
2/ The art of conversation: Where a phone meeting does differ from a presentation is it also involves a conversation. In a face-to-face meeting it’s usually fairly easy to see through body language or a gesture, when someone wants to speak. On the phone, this simply isn’t true. It means that listening, as is asking open-ended questions, are key. And, if there is a pregnant pause during the conversation, (as there often is in phone meetings), you might want to break that pause by asking the person(s) at the other end of the line if there are any questions.
3/ The acknowledgement of action points: A well-run meeting will often end with new ideas and actions that need to take place. But if you simply hang up the phone and assume that the other party is going to act upon some of the ideas that came up in the meeting, you are potentially setting yourself up for disappointment. A follow-up email outlining the action points is essential. In other words, the acknowledgement of action points is key to making sure that action is actually taken!
4/ Maybe the answer is contact the Telephone Doctor to improvie your listening skills.
If you think of a phone meeting as being as significant as a face-to-face meeting, chances are your phone meetings will improve. Too often people seem to treat phone meetings as second-class citizens, somehow not as important as “real” in- person meetings. But, in the current world of business where we often work with people we never actually meet, it’s vital that phone meetings are productive. And of course, it goes without saying, no typing at your computer during a phone meeting, let alone washing the office mugs.
Have any tips about successful phone meetings you’d like to share with readers? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post them in the Language Lab monthly newsletter.