Have you ever stopped to consider how you sound on voicemail messages or on telephone calls? What does our vocal manner suggest about you and about how you conduct business with others?
A case in point: I received a voicemail message earlier today from a nurse at my doctor’s office. I had expected her call, but I was busy at the time, so I let it go to voicemail. When I heard the message some time later, several things about the way the nurse left the message made me think about my opening questions. Her manner of speaking was rushed and somewhat disjointed, making it hard to follow her train of thought. As a representative of the doctor’s office, she came across as inefficient and disorganized, though I’m sure that was not her intent, nor her regular practice. It’s just the impression she made.
As much as we strive to be polite and professional when communicating by phone, sometimes that doesn’t always happen the way we imagine it does. Seriously, how often have any of us listened to our phone conversation? Not often, if at all. The only way we would know that we did not communicate well would be if we got feedback from our listener.
But back to my nurse. After listening to her message several times, I made several observations about how she spoke that we all can learn from. Here’s what we can do to project a professional image through our phone messages and conversations.
1. Keep a steady pace. The first issue I had with the nurse was the pace of her speech. The nurse spoke rapidly, her words tumbling out of her mouth almost as quickly as her brain could process them. It made me wonder how many cups of expresso she had consumed this morning. She came across as rushed and overly busy. In fact, I had to listen to her message several times to make sure I got all the details right. If you suspect you speak too quickly, slow down your speech. It may seem slow to your own ears, but it may be the right pace for your listeners. You want to make your listener understands your message completely so there is no communication issues later on.
2. Keep the message brief and to the point. In the nearly one-minute message, the nurse provided a fairly detailed list of instructions to make follow up appointments. For something so detailed and important as medical tests and doctor appointments, I think it might have been better if the nurse simply asked that I call her back so she could go over the instructions with me personally rather than leave them on my voicemail. For example, she could have said, “I have completed and processed all your doctor’s orders. Please call me at your earliest convenience so I can go over all the instructions for your follow up tests.”
3. Stay focused on the conversation. Give your listener your full attention. When I called her back to ask a few questions, I could tell she was multi-tasking, frantically looking up information on the computer and print out a document from the printer while talking with me. Granted, this happens often in the business world. But as the computer program slowed and the printer stalled, she grumbled on the phone about how slow everything was taking. “I can’t believe how slow the printer is today. It’s like working in a black hole.”
It’s okay to make small talk. It’s also okay to apologize for any delays in getting information to the listener. But don’t dwell on how slow the new computer equipment is operating. No one really cares about that, and in fact, that kind of conversation can make you, or the nurse in this case, come across as disorganized and ill-prepared to deal with problems.
4. Complete any supplemental paperwork before conversing on the phone. The nurse’s original message conveyed a sense of urgency to make appointments for a follow up test. The only problem was, when I called to make that test appointment, the doctor’s order had not been faxed over and it was not in the system yet. Moral of the story: make sure all accompanying paperwork is complete before finalizing plans with the patient. Another glitch in the process that came across as disorganized.
This is just one example of how a simple phone conversation or voicemail message can convey different meaning than what we intend. Perhaps this nurse is new to this doctor’s office and is still trying to keep up with the work load, or perhaps she’s just having an off day. While she may intend to come across as efficient and productive, her messages were anything bu.
As you go about your own day-to-day business, think about how you come across in your telephone communications, especially if you conduct business for yourself or on behalf of someone else. Even a simple voicemail message or phone conversation can cause confusion for clients, patients or vendors. Slow down, keep your message brief and to the point, and make sure your listener understands everything you are trying to tell them.