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How to Answer Your Phone
With More Than Words

by Patti Wood MA, Professional Speaker

We’ve all had this experience. You place a phone call to a business and a harried voice says, “Hold.” Before you have a chance to say, “No!” they have put you on hold. Or you call up to ask a simple question like “how late are you open?” and the voice on the other end sounds like you have asked them to do something impossible like push a Mack truck across the country with their big toe. Or perhaps the business uses the right words such as “I would be happy to help you with that”, but their tone of voice says, “I hate you - - and your mother.”

So how do people feel when they call you? Are the nonverbal messages you give overthe phone sending a good first impression about you? Are you energetic, respectful and professional on the phone? If you are, you can bet that people notice it, appreciate it and value you and your business as a result. But why bother? What does speaking well on the phone do for you?

In the client, customer or fellow employee’s mind the nonverbal message is as important or more important than the words. If the word message is different than thenonverbal message, people will rely on the body language and the nuances of the voice, tone, tempo, rate, volume rather than the words to tell them the truth. On the phone the way we say the words, these nuances - called paralanguage - like accents, pauses, volume, emphasis, and such become extremely important. On the phone much of emotional impact and true meaning of the message is interpreted from those nuances and other nonverbal cues like time and background sounds.

How To Make A Positive Impression On The Phone - Telephone Tips

There are certain techniques you can use to improve your effectiveness.

1. Answer Your Phone Promptly

Time is a powerful nonverbal communicator, and waiting on the phone where you have little or no stimulation or distractions to pass the time, affects callers’ perceptions. So the time seems longer. If someone is calling with a question, a concern or to purchase something, the longer your phone rings, the more any question seems less important to you than it should.

Their concern will grow and a purchase will evaporate. Answering quickly stops these feeling from getting out of control, and it also portrays you nonverbally as quick and efficient in your business. Avoid letting the telephone ring more than three or four times. Research show that each additional ring after three makes the caller an average of 10% more likely to hang up and 15% more likely to be irritated when you finally do answer. Remember answering promptly conveys a strong nonverbal message that you and your business are more efficient and insures you have a happier person waiting for you on the other end.

2. Use a warm sincere voice in your greeting

Make sure that the first words, such as good morning or good afternoon are delivered with warmth and sincerity. Research says that the most important aspect we look for in a first impression are qualities that make us feel safe, such as friendliness and genuineness. If you use a plastic or automatic greeting, that’s the impression you’ll send. On the phone it takes a mere fortieth of a second to form a first impression, so the voice you use is critical. You don’t just form these impressions with strangers, you form a first impression or the day’s impression with people you already know.

3. Give the Caller Adjustment Time

Our ears are very sensitive to sound, taking 10 to 30 seconds to adjust to voices. Make a habit of saying, "Good morning," or "Good afternoon." This gives the caller time to adjust to your voice before you go on to the most important part of your greeting such as your name or the name or your business. Say it clearly and don't rush it. If the caller does not get this adjustment period, he or she may not retain the information you give. He or she may hear it, but won't absorb it.

Identify yourself and/or your department or company immediately but slowly. Don’t rush through your department or business name. It’s a habit everyone gets into. After all, you’ve heard it before; you know what it is. But remember your rushed voice creates perceptions in the minds of the callers, It can make them think, the business is not important to you, your busy or stressed or that you want to rush them. Take a deep relaxing breath before you pick up the phone and focus on using a regular conversation speed.

4. Be Understandable in Your Communication

Take precautions to ensure that you speak clearly. That means not just slowly, but articulately. You can test how clear your voice is by taping yourself reading a paragraph. Then bite down on a tooth prop like large magic maker and read a few paragraphs, The tooth prop makes your lips and tongue work harder. Then take out the tooth prop out and immediately turn back on the recorder and read again. If the voice sounds crisper, with harder t’s, c’, k’s and d’s, you need to use the tooth prop regularly to have a clear sounding voice. If you have a significant foreign accent, consider taking accent-reduction classes. It could help not just your phone voice, but your career.

5. Match voice tone, volume and rate of speech

You may have heard about the value of matching or mirroring body language to establish rapport and make someone feel safer and more comfortable, but did you know that matching the voice on the phone has the ability to do that as well? Again remember the caller does not have other face-to-face cues to help read you and make them feel safe. Matching the nuances of the person’s voice in just the first few minutes of the call, puts a person at ease.

6. Avoid making background noise

Ever here someone you’re on the phone with clicking his or her computer keys? You may wonder what they are doing, feel they are not listening or even think them a rude inconsiderate person. You do not want to do that to people calling you. I know you may be stressed and overburdened but be careful of multitasking. Avoid rustling papers or typing unrelated material on the computer or putting your hand over the phone to whisper some unrelated comment to someone in your office.

7. Don't Interrupt Your Customer

When body language turn-taking cues like leaning forward and eye-contact are absent, you really need to avoid interruptions as they come across more severely Consistently practicing these tips is crucial to establishing and maintaining a good phone first impression. Your tone, energy even the speed at which you speak, needs to be the same, for everyone, at all times of the day, no matter how you are feeling to make sure you create the good impression you intended.

To learn more about using body language to increase your business success contact Patti Wood at

To See Patti’s Body Language Assessments of political figures, stars and everyday people, follow links to “Media” on her website: Atlanta Magazine, Us Weekly, First For Women On The Go, J-14, TWIST, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, In Touch, Fox News “Your World With Neil Cavuto” and Berman & Berman Show On Discovery Health Channel. Patti was also featured on E! Entertainment and was the subject of an article in The Washington Post.