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Influencing over the telephone [Week 1 of our 5-week series!]

Posted by on August 15, 2011

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Just as we promised last week, here’s Week 1 of Influencing When Not Face-to-Face: Influencing over the telephone.

Influencing Over the Telephone

Assuming you can reach the person you are seeking to influence, the benefit of a phone call is that it’s at least a two-way conversation (or more if teleconferencing). On that basis, you have the great advantage of being able to get in instant reaction to anything you say and can then respond and adapt accordingly.

If you find yourself faced with a voicemail or answering machine, your opporunity to influence is immediately reduced. It becomes more like a voice version of email.

Appropriate Influencing Behaviors

As a two-way interaction, both parties on the call will be able to speak from their own agenda and have the chance to respond to the other’s agenda. So all the influencing behaviors from the Positive Power and Influence model are feasible.

If you are responding to someone else’s call, it is particularly important to show them that you are listening. Give them your full attention – they’ll be able to tell if you’re continuing to type at your keyboard or if you’re holding a whispered side conversation, although you may be telling them, “Go on–I’m listening!” 

Verbal and Non-Verbal Components of Your Message

Pay close attention to your words and “music” (audible cues people pick up on when you’re speaking). They will pick up messages between the lines by the way you say things.

You might think that the other person will have no idea about your “dance”–your body language–since you’re on the phone. But be careful! Your dance can show through in your music:

  • Standing up to make an important call can give your voice more power and confidence
  • Sitting up straight will ensure your voice is not constrained
  • Answering with a smile will give your voice a more welcoming tone
  • Beware of the impact if you smoke while on the phone, or have a particularly sensitive mouthpiece/headset microphone–exhaling can sound like a sigh of exasperation!

It’s worth remembering that you can’t see the other person either, so you’ll also be picking up clues about what they’re really saying by reading between the lines of their words. So, checking and confirming your understanding of the other person’s message is particularly important since you’re missing the visual clues that we often rely upon.

Benefits of Influencing Over the Telephone

  • You get personal contact. This is the biggest benefit. If you can’t get face-to-face time with the other person, either because of distance or timing, the phone is the next best method of influencing.
  • You can call when it suits you, though you may need to check that your timing suits the other person too!
  • You get an immediate response and can consequently adapt your approach. The two-way nature of the interaction also means that you can tell when your influence attempt has worked and stop, rather than pushing it too far.

Disadvantages of Influencing Over the Telephone

  • The timing of your call may not suit the other person
  • Unless you’re calling by prior arrangement, you can’t be sure if the other person is going to be there
  • The phone isn’t really suitable for conveying complex information or ideas. You might need to email, mail or fax something to someone and then arrange a phone call as a follow-up to discuss and agree on a course of action.

Influencing Tips and Hints

  • When speaking across time zones it can build greater rapport if you are conscious of and interested in the other person’s time of day
  • If it’s an important call, take time to plan what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it
  • Establish a “contract” at the start of the call:
    • Is the other person free to speak?
    • Is it business or social?
    • How long is it likely to take?
    • Does the other person need any documents/information for reference?
  • Acknowledge what the other person is saying by speaking. They can’t hear a nod or shake of the head, and a grunt can be ambiguous.
  • If it’s going to be a long or complicated call, consider arranging a mutually convenient time in advance

Conference Calls

  • Establishing a clear contract is particularly helpful at the start of a conference call
  • If there are more than three people taking part, you might agree to state your name before speaking each time so that others know who’s talking
  • Agree that one of you will “chair” the call

Now you’re all set to influence over the telephone! Get out there and make your presence felt through the power of positive influence!

Tune in next week for Influencing by Videoconference.

Angela Steatham is an expert trainer for CGWA. Based in the U.K., she delivers the Positive Power and Influence program throughout Europe.