Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
INTERVIEWS / JAN. 15, 2014
version 6, draft 6

Persuasion: How To Succeed On The Phone

So we covered how to persuade people to do whatever you want them to here. But how do you do it over the phone? Telephone persuasion- whether you’re negotiating a deal, ’fessing up to the boss or planning a meeting- is always more difficult than doing it face to face. Why? Because you can’t use your body language and facial expressions to work for you. We’ve all encountered sociable, confident people who come across as inaudible, stilted or tense over the phone for this very reason. But if you use these tips you can’t go wrong.

1. Can’t use your body language? Work it secretly!

When you’re using the phone, your voice is everything. You can trick your brain into producing the correct inflections and tones that convey friendliness, enthusiasm and confidence- simply by displaying the body language and facial expressions you’d use if you were talking face to face. Goodbye nervous monotone. A lot of people don’t do this because it makes them feel silly, especially if others are watching. But I do this all the time and nobody’s yet got the giggles watching me smile and gesture at thin air; they’re usually too busy doing their own thing to really notice. (Even if they do- so what? They’ll be laughing out the other side of their faces when they see the successes of your modus operandi). Another useful trick is not to remain stationary while on the phone. Change your position or, if it’s feasible, walk around while you’re talking. My best telephone negotiations were carried out while walking leisurely from room to room in my home.

2. Choose your timing

A really basic fact we tend to forget is that when we call someone we are invariably interrupting them. They’re writing a report, in a meeting or dealing with a crisis. If you’re calling your colleague at home, they could be having an argument, watching a film or cooking. (I’ve been called about content writing just as I was leaving the house to get coffee with a friend). Usually the other person won’t let on that you’ve interrupted them, but they’ll be so distracted by the film or meal that they’ll miss most of what you’re saying or will just try to get you off the line as fast as possible. If you call someone when they’re in a meeting, they might reject you to impress whoever’s with them, or feel like they can only give you a couple of minutes as someone is waiting for them. So if someone sounds distracted or lets slip that they’re in the middle of something, offer to call back later. That way they’ll be much more interested in what you’re saying and more likely to be persuaded by you.

3. Choose your words (extra) carefully

Remember the psycholinguistics tips from the previous Persuasion article, when we looked at how a tiny difference in word choice can create office drama or ruin a negotiation? This applies even more over the phone, because of the absence of mitigating body language and facial expressions. So never tease anyone over the phone unless you’re on very friendly terms with them- it could easily be misinterpreted as an insult. Think back to any misunderstandings over text, Twitter or Facebook (or in the good ol’ days when MSN still existed). What caused those misunderstandings? It was a lack of body language and facial expression (and of course, tone of voice). At least on the phone you can still use your tone of voice- but that doesn’t mean misunderstandings won’t happen, especially as phone conversations are more like social media conversations than emails (which are longer, more detailed and also often more formal).

4. Worst phone call you ever had to make? Act like it’s no biggie

You might not be confident. You might have been delegated the unpleasant task of telling another company that no, you can’t meet their demands now, even though your office had previously indicated it could. You know you’ll lose the deal and it’ll be an uncomfortable call. So, act confident. Use a confident, upbeat tone and don’t use words that imply bad news; you want to sound like you’re giving them a great deal and are apologising for trivial changes; it’s almost unnecessary to inform them, but you think it’s right that they should know the situation’s changed.

5. Don’t get distracted

We’ve already seen how the other person being distracted is more likely to lead to an unsuccessful result. But you’re hardly going to be able to discuss, persuade or negotiate at your best if you’re reading literature or signaling to a colleague while on the phone, either. Your tone could change and you could appear rude or uninterested. If someone needs you during a phone call, tell the other person that someone’s attracting your attention. If you’re really distracted, ask them to hold on for a minute. You can do things like scribble the name of the caller and signal a colleague to look at it without getting distracted, but most of us can’t manage much more than this without our tone changing.

Persuasion is much more difficult over the phone and you’ve got to make your voice work for you. Choosing the right words, maintaining an upbeat attitude and regulating your tone are all-important. If you remember these 5 tips you’ll always have a great telephone manner and all the success that brings with it.

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