You know how it goes… you have to have a really important but potentially very difficult business-related conversation. You know that calling the person would be the best approach to get a direct response, but you don’t want the stress. What if you stumble over your words? What if the person doesn’t listen properly? Misunderstands? Gets really angry? So you do one of two things… you dial when you know the person is likely to be busy and pray for voicemail and then mumble awkwardly if they happen to answer, or you chicken out and send an email instead.
While written records can be essential in certain business situations (whether positive or negative), sometimes conversations have a time limit – you need immediate feedback and you need to be able to ask/answer questions right away, so a phone call is really the best means of communication to achieve your purpose.
Tips for Improving Your Verbal Communication
It can be really hard to ensure a conversation goes smoothly and that you get results, so here are seven tips for improving your chances of success:
1. Analyze your audience. Consider your audience’s reaction/response. Would they react better to a more direct approach to the issue? Or should you consider “sandwiching” the bad news in between any possible good/positive information?
2. Decide on your main point. Work out exactly what the outcome that you need is and clarify your exact purpose for contacting your listener. Gather any resources you may need (copies of previous correspondence, resources, legal notification, etc.)
3. Write yourself a script. You shouldn’t read this off word for word, but brainstorm your main ideas and put together your supporting evidence. Organize this into a logical order (direct or indirect) of information. Maybe write down a few really important points that you can recite exactly, to help ensure the main message is understood.
4. Keep your tone and language neutral. As tempted as you may be to get angry, all this does is distance you from your audience and often it escalates the problem, because the audience gets defensive and stops listening properly.
5. Make the audience’s next step clear. What do you need your audience to do? Is it clear for them? Have you ensured they have all the information they need to resolve the issue (including relevant contact info)? Make this very easy to follow to ensure you get what you want.
6. Know when to end the conversation. Conflict can drag on or escalate. Make sure you’ve written down a ‘conclusion’ to the conversation. Make it clear to the audience that your time is up and you have to end the call. Try to close off with a positive thought and a reminder of the main idea.
7. Follow up in writing. If there are specific steps the audience needs to take, ensure that you follow up your conversation with an email that briefly summarizes the conversation and that lays out the next steps (including a deadline, if appropriate/relevant) in an organized list. This ensures you still have a written record and that you’ve doubled the chances that the audience will understand the message.
This doesn’t have to take you a long time, but organizing your information, being clear on your audience and purpose, and writing a script will make you feel more confident and in control of the conversation.
So don’t hide behind email when a phone call is more appropriate. Make your own life easier and ensure you get the job done, with a well thought out, well planned, old fashioned phone call