Kickin’ it Old School: On the Phone

It seems kind of strange to talk about the phone as if it’s some sort of antique piece of equipment that people don’t know how to use anymore.  And I definitely wouldn’t go that far.  Because the fact is, people probably use their phones more now than they ever have.  Most people have their cell phones within arm’s reach of them at all times of the day or night.  However, I would still argue that being able to make a good impression over the phone is an old school business practice that still has a ton of value in today’s world.  And knowing when to call someone is a skill of almost equal importance.

A good phone call should feel a lot like a good face-to-face interaction.  People who are really skilled at talking to people on the phone seem to know this intrinsically.  They make you feel comfortable by talking at a normal volume and at a pace that is easy to understand.  They know how to start, maintain, and end a conversation without it being awkward or rude.  Even if they are in a rush and not really available to talk for long, they know how to be polite and courteous but still get off the phone in a timely manner.  This is such an important skill to have, because usually people are not free to sit and chit chat on the phone.  In a work setting, phone calls should be to the point without sounding abrupt.

Now let’s talk about the timing of phone calls.  Sometimes, phone calls are necessary, and sometimes they are not.  It all comes back to making people feel that their time is being valued.  No one likes to feel like someone else is wasting their time with a useless phone call.  The tough thing is, nowadays, we have so many different ways of communicating with each other.  So there are times when it is tough to decide when to actually call someone rather than, say, emailing or texting them instead.  The rules may be slightly different for business-related matters, but I’m going to share what I think would be most appropriate, and old school in terms of etiquette.

First of all, text messages should be used sparingly in business relationships, if at all.  They simply do not seem very professional in my opinion.  The only time I can think of when it might be appropriate to text is in regards to a meeting or something (for example, “I am sitting at the table by the window,” or “Running 5 minutes late.  Be there shortly.”), but even then, I think a phone call is probably better.

So really we’re trying when to call someone rather than emailing or meeting with them in person.  I think it is actually pretty simple.  E-mail is something that can be done on one’s own time, and is really useful for clear, understandable, brief interactions.  If it seems like something needs to be clarified in terms of tone or the message itself would be easier to communicate with one’s voice rather than in writing (sometimes writing can be misinterpreted), then I would go with a phone call.  Face-to-face meetings can replace the phone call, or in some cases, they might be necessary to communicate something even more clearly than it could be done over the phone.  Perhaps you need to both be looking at the same thing, like a computer screen or a piece of work, and it would be easier to be sitting together to do so.

Using the phone in a courteous and effective way is a skill that all businesses should value in their employees.  Usually people will defer to the phone call before meeting face-to-face, and so it is crucial to make a good impression over the phone.  This could very well be the first time a person connects the idea of your business with an actual human being, and you want them to be reassured that normal, nice people are on the other end of the line.