Category Archives: Phone

Please, Know When to Shut Up in Meetings

Here’s a common problem in teleconference meetings: some people just don’t know when to shut up to get a point across.

This includes folks who keep making the same point over and over again, and do not understand the concept of “less is more.”

Although this happens in face-to-face meetings as well, it is more common in virtual meetings because the presenter can’t read his or her audience’s visual cues to know whether they’re still actively listening.

In the spirit of knowing when to shut up, I’ll keep this post short and simple, and show a graph of how I think the audience’s interest level reacts to the presenter’s talking time.

So how do you know where you are on the curve?

That’s not an easy question to answer, but here are three possible cues that you’re going downhill:

  1. Uncomfortable Silence: As in, you hear crickets chirping on the phone.
  2. Someone drops a hint: Such as, “Hey, I think in the interest of time, we should discuss the next topic.
  3. Someone says it: Such as “I think we just abused this point to death and everyone got it the first time you said it, next topic please.

For the love of God, please don’t reply to #3 with “Ok, but just to make sure, I want to repeat this one more time for the entire team…


The 3 Types of Responses to Questions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Nearly every single response to every single question I’ve ever asked someone in a meeting, phone call or email can be classified under one of three categories: one’s good, the other’s bad, and the third’s ugly. The good is when someone answers the question first, and then gives additional information afterwards. The bad is when they do it the other way around. The ugly is when they never answer the question.

Here’s a visual to explain the difference.

Here’s an explanation of why you need to always go with the good.

THE UGLY: If you’re a CEO or a politician answering the media, then I understand why you need to go with the ugly. Otherwise, for the love of God, answer the question.

THE BAD: While this is much better than the ugly, the frustrating thing about the bad is that makes the listener work hard to figure out what the answer is. Even if you get to the answer at the end, the fact that you’ve started out your discussion with your grandfather’s history, and then talked about your mom’s meatloaf recipe,  leads to ambiguity and uncertainty on the listener’s side – particularly in a virtual setting. As a manager in a company or a business owner, that could be detrimental to a team.

THE GOOD: In most situations, starting out with a direct and straightforward answer is the best way to go. The most effective type of answer is one which summarizes the point succinctly first, and then gives any other supporting or background information afterwards. Technically, there are only four types of responses to a question, so to save everyone time and frustration, make sure you start your answer with one of the following options:

  1. The Answer ( “Cindy Mitchell is the person you need to talk to…”)
  2. Yes ( “Yes, I do need that report tomorrow…”)
  3. No ( “No, I did not understand what you just said…”)
  4. Maybe/ I don’t know/ I’m not sure (“I don’t know who is responsible for that task…”)

As a side tip, if you have to answer with #4, it’s always a good idea to continue your sentence with “…but what I do know is…” For example, if someone asks about the fastest directions to get to downtown Boston from Brookline, a good answer would be: “I’m not sure what the fastest way is, but what I do know is that if you catch a bus to the Cleveland Circle Station, you’ll be there in 45 minutes.

Know of any other frustrating responses to questions? Let me know in the comments section below!

Japanese Perfection and Why You Need to be Specific in Your Requests

I’m reading a book called “Reframing Organizations” by Lee Bolman & Terrence Deal (Jossey-Bass, 2008) for an Organizational Behavior course I’m taking and I came across a hilarious section which refers to an encounter between two companies in the 1970s or 1980s. The first is an American company which needed ball bearings and the second is a Japanese plant that made them.

Here’s what apparently happened:

Although the book’s main point was more about the difference in company standards between both countries, I couldn’t help but map this back to miscommunication in virtual teams.

This nearly always happens. One party sends a request without being descriptive enough, and the other party acts on it without following up.

Here are a couple of lessons learned for both companies that we can all learn from:

American Company: Be explicit with your orders. Elaborating on the request by saying something like “We’d like all those ball bearings to be perfectly shaped, but we’ll be ok if you send us up to 20 defective ones” might have reduced the time to make them.

Japanese Plant: If you’re not too sure about the order, ask before you start working on it. You wasted time making an additional 20 defective ball bearings! Oh, and ease up on the perfectionism, will you?

7 Parts to the Perfect Voice Message

If you run your own business or manage a team, you probably leave more than a handful of voice messages each day on your clients’ or colleagues’ phones. To make sure that you communicate your message clearly and minimize any miscommunication, you’ll want to make sure you craft the perfect voice message. Here’s a sample with the 7 parts you’ll need:

  1. Greeting: Say their name – it’ll grab their attention and minimize the possibility they think you’re some telemarketer.
  2. Your Info: Say your name as well (and the company you work for if you’re calling a business client). Make sure it’s your full name – too many Peters around.
  3. The Time & Date: Nearly all phone services have the option to retrieve the time you called someone, but no one has the patience to go through that menu, so do the person a favor and tell them when you called in case they got the message later in the day or the next morning.
  4. The Subject: State the reason why you’re calling and what you want to let the person know. Be concise – no one wants to hear a life story here.
  5. The Action Item: Do you want them to call you back ASAP? Then say so. Do you want them to listen to an FYI (For Your Information)? Then say so. Do you want them to do something for you like create a report and send it before the next day? Then say so. Always have an action, or state a lack thereof.
  6. Your Number: Even if you don’t think the person you’re calling should call you back, always leave your number – they might need it. E-N-U-N-C-I-A-T-E and speak slowly. You can also mention when it’s best to call you back and the time zone you’re in if you have a preference.
  7. Your Number Again: Chances are that even though you spoke slowly the first time, the person would have fondled to find a pen and missed writing your number down anyway. Although they can replay the voice message to hear it again, you’ll win major cool points if you repeat it for them at the end.

No one has the patience to go through the option menu to retrieve the time and date you called, so do the person a favor and tell them when you called. This puts things into context if multiple voice messages have been left.