Friday, March 20, 2009

Best practices for telephone conversations


Best practices for telephone conversations

As a program manager, I know communication is key and email has taken on a life of its own as the tool. However, we have all been in those phone conversations where statements are lost in translation and recently, as my team and I sat huddled around a phone with a team in Ireland, I realized that there were no set rules set in place for good telephone conversations. Yes, we can use video conferencing tools but for most of the time, we end up on a phone. More importantly, new relationships are set up over the phone and we end up working with people we have never met. So, how do we ensure we are all on the same page and continuing to communicate?  Here are a  few best practices we came up with and while some of these are obvious but its amazing how being conscious of it really helps the process.

1) Provide context about what you are talking about: Always, always send an agenda about what you are going to talk about and who will talk about it so that we dont have 3 people trying to talk at the same time. Over the phone, we miss the body language where somebody stops when they see the other is going to start and what we get is cacophony.

2) Describe the working relationship: Who are you, what do you own and what is the expectation? Why are we on this call?

3) Slow down, slow way down: People are usually a lot more visual and when you hear somebody on the phone, it  takes a few seconds more than if the person was in front of you. Saying something really quickly and move on and you've lost the chance to really communicate your idea. So slow down and enunciate more than you would in person.

4) Repeat information: Like slide deck presentations, tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them and tell them what you have told them. When people listen to a phone, they dont get the nuances and sometimes hearing the same information twice or even thrice will cause them to hear it differently. This is more important in phone conversations because they arent seeing you saying it.

5) Ask questions/Rephrase:  Ever heard the deafening silence on the phone after you have spent 20 mins walking through the plan? Its hard for people to keep up with something that you spent the last 2 days on and particularly, to do it over the phone. Ask the clarifying question e.g. "Do you realize that this means that we are not doing X?" and if the answer is yes, thats great but usually the answer is "ah! I was wondering about that because that is not what I thought we were doing". 

6) Listen and pause: Listening is highly underrated and is something that I am learning to be better  at every day. On the phone, its even more important because it encourages people to not fight over "air time" and many times, you will catch things you may not have caught in person because you are not distracted. On the other hand, cut chit-chat esp on tangential topics/side topics and ask folks to take it offline. Then, when they are done, state what you think you heard before answering so that the person knows you were really listening. Giving people the opportunity to speak is a lot harder on the phone than in person so this needs to be a priority.

7) Ensure that people feel heard and follow up: Send out notes/action items so that people can review and call out any discrepancies right away.  This builds trust and ensures that people know that we are all on the same page.

These best practices combined with a friendly attitude has been great for us in ensuring cross-location communication. What have you tried?

Published Friday, March 20, 2009 5:15 PM by kavithar

Kavitha Radhakrishnan's Blog : Best practices for telephone conversations

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