Pick Up the Phone! (II)

In my previous article I emphasized the fact that even though email is one of the greatest productivity contributors of the past 30 years, it has a major problem: email lacks the ability to sufficiently communicate intent.

So, the next time you experience an issue over email, ask yourself if it is something that would be better solved by a real conversation, then have the courage to stop emailing and pick up the phone.

But before you press the call button, first try taking these steps:

Take A Time Out

In any conflict scenario, the first move you should be making is nothing at all. I talk about this in my article called Taking A Time Out. When something upsets you, your body develops a fight or flight response. Your brain’s emotional center, known as the amygdala, is in overdrive and you lose the capability to think as rationally. This is a recipe for disaster when it comes to communicating effectively, and therefore it is crucial to take three to five minutes to cool down.

Have a Plan

I’m a fervent believer that there is no substitute for preparation. Here is no exception. Grab a pen and paper to write down your main points before the call. This will help you organize your thoughts and serve as a cheat sheet during the discussion.

Once the notes or points you want to discuss are ready, consider what most negotiation experts will tell you: Prioritize them. If you’re making the phone call you can certainly prioritize the topics in the order that you want them. Besides, preparing your thoughts and points will also make you a better listener. With notes at your fingertips, you will be less distracted in formulating or scrambling to find your argument, making you more available to really listen to your counterpart. 

The Right Time

There are certain situations when calling someone is not a reasonable option. If it is after 11 pm or before 7 am, a phone call is quite alarming. In the case that it simply cannot wait, and an email must be sent, try to be as clear and concise as possible and suggest a time when you are available to talk about it over the phone. This keeps the dialogue alive and shows that you are willing to hear their side of the issue.

Once you are cooled down, prepared, and have the right moment, it’s now showtime:

Three Tips for Nailing the Call

  1. As mentioned, we can never be completely sure of anyone’s intentions. Your counterpart could very well be upset with you. Then again, it is possible your counterpart has not perceived any ill will. In both cases, a nice and cordial greeting, when done genuinely, is a soft opening to the conversation. A simple “How are you doing?” or “How is your week going?” will do, whereas jumping immediately into the problem could escalate the situation or catch someone off guard.
  2. Try to speak in I-messages during the discussion. Phrases like “I felt that I was wronged” or “I believe I made the right choice” are useful in disagreements, because your perception of the situation is not up for debate. You-messages like “You were wrong” or “You are always late” immediately put your counterpart in defense mode and stymies productive dialogue.
  3. After you have talked things out, it is important to end on a high note. The first thing to do is thank the person for their time. Even if nothing was accomplished, you can at least show this bit of gratitude. If the conversation went well, then it’s  useful to summarize the main points of the conversation and/or have a deliverable going forward. This ensures you are both on the same page in terms of understanding and accountability

As we’ve seen there are good things and not so good things about email. While email is essential to our daily work, it should not be a tool for every job. In fact, email is a crutch for conflict. It gives us a false sense of safety to toss a digital grenade and take cover as it explodes. This helps no one in the long run, especially not the sender. And although there is no single solution for resolving conflicts, there is certainly a better way than sending an onerous nastygram.

When you pick up the phone, you are making a smart and professional move toward working out your disagreement. The next time you pick up the phone reflect on how your sense of courage has saved you time and reduced overall stress.


About Paul Renaud

Paul Renaud is a Certified Executive Coach, Networking specialist, and sought-after public speaker focused on helping executives at all stages in their careers optimize their opportunities for success. To learn more, visit www.paul-renaud.com

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