Reading time: 90seconds + 30

When you’re on the phone, you may have a great connection, but you have to be sure that you’re making a great connection. There’s no body language for you to read. Your only clues to what your conversational partner is thinking or feeling are his words and tone of voice.

Remember that when you’re feeling anxious, the tension can come through in your voice and make the other person feel the same way. If you care about the person on the other end of the phone, adjust your attitude before you make the call.

Let’s listen in to a phone call between Dennis and Bill, from different departments in the same corporation. They barely know each other, but this phone call could change all that.

“Listen, Bill, this is Dennis Evans from advanced applications.” Dennis’s voice sounds tight and his words come racing out of the receiver.

“Right. Got it.” Bill speaks deliberately, hoping Dennis will pick up on the cue.

“I don’t know why I’m doing this—everyone else is on vacation and that’s where I should be, too. Anyway, we came up with this idea for monetizing our site by selling ring tones, and we’ve found the guy who can do it for us, and all we need is for you guys in the legal department to get the agreement with him done. I have to give Christine in sales some assurances that this thing is going to happen so she can present to the president, so we need it tomorrow.” Dennis hasn’t breathed yet, much less slowed down. If anything, he sounds like he’s winding up a little tighter.

“Are you kidding? You’re just telling me about this now? Do you have any idea how much we’ve got to get out before Christmas? This will need due diligence and . . .” Bill knows he shouldn’t respond in kind, but he can’t help having some of his frustration come out in his voice.

“I’m so tired of excuses,” Dennis bellows. “We’re under pressure to get things done, and all I hear is reasons why they can’t be. You can’t do this but you can do that crappy deal with the Dutch that leaves us with huge liabilities. You can rush to do something lousy but you take your time to do something good.” Dennis doesn’t wait for an answer. He slams the phone down as soon as the last word comes out of his mouth.

Bill, one ear aching, wishes that he’d never picked up the phone.

Sound familiar? It didn’t have to be that way. If Dennis had taken a few deep breaths before picking up the receiver, he might have chosen a more fruitful approach. Because Bill could not see Dennis, Bill’s imagination was available for stimulation. This is the time for metaphor and sensory-rich language. Here’s how this phone call could have gone:

“Hi, Bill, this is Dennis Evans, upstairs. It’s time for the dreamers and the doers to get together.”

“What’s up?”

“Just a little Christmas present for Christine Burgin, who heads up sales.”

“Oh yes?”

“And I just need your help to wrap it up.”


In the first example, Dennis lost sight of what he wanted; he was more interested in venting than communicating. In the second, he juiced up the conversation with metaphors: dreamers instead of advanced applications, doers instead of the contracts department, Christmas present instead of agreement. Smooth, pleasant, and effective: It’s not good to waste other people’s time on the phone but, by the same token, it’s not good to rush things either. Now there’s a chance that the job may get finished.