Phone calls. Millennials are allergic to them. I have this conversation Sofa King often that I'm sure each reader who has met me will think that I'm talking about you. I'm not. Well, I am. But not only you.
Email is efficient. You can crank out asynchronous thoughts, orders, questions, commands and comments. I email often. I always follow important emails with a call. There is a reason.
Phone calls are effective. You can convey meaning and emotion. You can listen for responses. You can detect how your messages are received and pick up sarcasm, skepticism, anger, frustration, happiness and sorrow. You CANNOT do this on email. Or IM. Or text. Or Twitter. Text is often tone deaf. Mostly when it's in short form.
Of course in-person is best for true relationship development but that's not always practical.
A very common experience ...
One person emails some thoughts. Another gets angered and responds. The true intent of both is lost and the time makes each person's anger grow and fester. And anger leads to more email, which ends in a flame war. I have seen this time and again, and of course I fall prey to it as well. Yet, when you're confronted with the same person in real life, you find that each party is more courteous to the other. Each seeks to understand the other's perspectives more.
I've written before about the dehumanization of other people and their feeling with written words -- exacerbated by anonymous apps.
So my appeal to those in confrontational situations is to pick up the phone -- even if it makes you uncomfortable. It's a business skill you must possess. If you want to sell something to somebody you can't establish trust, empathy and respect without human contact. And as everybody in sales knows -- the mantra is "nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care."
Pick up the phone.
I've written about the art of the phone call before, but thought I'd include a primer below for those with less experience.
Write your set of bullet points on paper before the call. Write out the reason you're calling, your key points and "the ask" in advance. Also write down your time allotment so you can always refer back and make sure you're tracking to your plan.
2. Start informally with banter.
If I'm calling somebody I know a bit, I usually try to start with a little friendly banter. If I know they like a sports team that might be a good start. If I saw their company in the press, heard that they saw somebody at an event that I know, they live in a town where a storm just rolled through -- whatever. I think trying to humanize the call from the outset is good. When you jump straight into "sales pitch mode" it feels a bit strange.
Two things to watch for. First, if you're trying banter to build rapport but not "feeling it" then quickly shift to business. Some people just aren't "chit chatters" and prefer to get on with things. I find that kinda boring, but I know some people are just wired that way. Second, some callers take this banter too far. It starts to border on disrespectful of the person's time or wasteful. Don't be that person.
It's an art. Be conscious of it.
How long you go for is really a judgment call because there's no right answer. If it's somebody that I know really well, and I confirm that they're not rushing to do something else, I might even take 10-15 minutes just to "catch up." If it's a general acquaintance it's probably more like three to four minutes. If it's a first time call you might try to keep the banter at two minutes or less.
So even if the person you called is really chatty, don't be undisciplined and let them talk too long. You have limited time on the call, presumably you called for a reason and you're chewing up your valuable clock.
3. Let them know why you're calling.
When you're ready to pivot the conversation, your next line should be some derivative of, "Listen, the reason I'm calling is ... blah, blah, blah." Few people actually do this. They just talk, and I'm not really sure why they called.
If you're calling for a reason, the sooner the recipient knows, the sooner they can help. If the clock runs out, they're not going to be able to help. Even if you don't have a single "ask," I recommend saying something like, "Listen, I'm going to make this call short. I don't have anything I'm asking for. I was just hoping to get 10 minutes of your time to tell you what we're up to so that the next chance we get to meet down the line, you've got more of an understanding."
4. Don't hang yourself.
One of the other big mistakes callers make is going "off to the races" talking about their business without getting any feedback from the recipient of the call. This is bad enough in person, but I promise you if you do it over the phone the recipient will start to tune out. If you listen closely you'll probably even hear the tapping of a keyboard. You can talk for a bit, but then seek feedback and make sure the other person is "with you." When I used to do a lot of recruiting we used to call it "hanging yourself" because people who talk for long periods of time without seeking feedback are generally not self-aware or good at human interaction. Don't be that person.
5. Ask questions.
The best trick for creating a two-way conversation is to ask questions. You can do this too early in the call and you can't be an interview factory, but polite questions relevant to your topic are appropriate. It will help ensure that you don't do all the talking. Plus, when you listen, you learn more anyways.
6. Know what "the ask" is.
If you've set up a call with somebody, then know in advance why you're calling and what you plan to ask for. Don't ask for four things or you'll get none. Don't ask for big favors unless you have a tight relationship. Don't assume that this will be the one and only time you'll ever talk to the person. If you cultivate a good long-term relationship through patience, persistence and reciprocity there, will be many more occasions. So by all means have an "ask" but make it obvious, easy for them to achieve and of a limited number -- preferably one.
7. Take notes.
If you're having a negotiation you can refer back to individual points later. You can make notes of things that interested them, made them angry or annoyed or what their reaction to a particular situation was. There is nothing more appreciated than a follow-up call where you actually remember what was said last time.
8. Seek First to Understand.
If you're in a complex negotiation or dealing with a tricky HR situation remember Steven Covey's rule, "seek first to understand, then to be understood." Don't try to jump in with all of your points from the outset. Often resolving grievances is as much about showing empathy and listening to concerns and showing respect as it is about the solutions. And how can you effectively negotiate or compromise until you know another person's views?
9. Stick to your budgeted time.
Or maybe less. When you think of your relationship with the individual as a relationship, you'll build over time and over many calls, discussions, chats at conferences or whatever you'll realize you need to be known for being respectful of another's time. If you're known as the person who's always long winded, you're less likely to get the next few calls on the calendar. Less is better, I promise.
Now go pick up the phone and stop hiding behind emails. You build real relationships on the phone and in person. Good luck.
This article was originally published on Mark Suster's blog, Both Sides of the Table.