Albert Mehrabian, the father of body language research, found that the total impact of a spoken human message is about 7 % verbal (the words), 38% vocal (tone of voice, inflection, and other sounds) and 55 % nonverbal.
So when you are talking over the phone you’re missing around 55% of what’s being communicated. This leaves just 45% of the communicated data to work on. It’s vitally important that you focus on those verbal and vocal cues. That’s why active listening skills are crucial in phone discussions.
Give the person you are talking to your full attention. Avoid smoking, eating, drinking or chewing gum. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can check email or your mobile, or even look at your watch, at the same time as active listening. You will miss valuable information as a result.
Listen out for: hesitation, reluctance to make factual responses, use of second person pronouns, short responses, speech errors and delayed responses.
Use silence to elicit more information without having to ask questions. This works especially well on the phone as the person on the other end of the line cannot judge your reactions.
Regularly provide some vocal feedback to reassure the other party that you are listening and engaged.
Other things that will improve the quality of your calls are pretty obvious: prepare well in advance what you want to achieve from the call - write a script if necessary. Keep background noise to a minimum (shut the dog and the kids in the garden if necessary), and sit upright and ‘on purpose’ in your chair. Even better, stand up! And if not using earbuds or a headset, listen to the earpiece with your more ‘active ear’ – you know which one. Make written notes of your phone conversations and then type them up afterwards, you will be amazed at what your brain will do during this refreshing process.
Remember: communication over the phone is 2-way. The person on the other end is having as much difficulty as you are with missing the 55% non-verbal cues. So make sure you have been properly understood.