If, like most people, you conduct business on the telephone, you realize how challenging it is to pick up on meaning and nuance effectively. You can improve with effort.  

Try these 8 strategies to improve your listening effectiveness on the phone. 

  1. Don’t listen when you can’t.  If you are in the middle of something important when a call comes in, don’t give the caller half your attention – ask if you can call them back (or they you) when you can give the call your undivided attention.
  2. Show you are listening.  Give clear verbal clues that you are tuned in. “So what’s on your mind?” or, “I’m all yours, what’s up?”
  3. Take notes.  Keep a note pad nearby and write down key points, actions, recommendations and commitments.  Let the caller know that you want to jot down that point so they don’t keep talking while you aren’t listening.
  4. Don’t assume. If you aren’t sure what the caller meant, ask for clarification.
  5. Check out emotions. If you sense feelings, disappointment or disapproval, check it out, i.e.“It sounds like that was really frustrating for you….”
  6. Slow down. Speak more slowly than normal and enunciate.  It is harder to understand full intent when you can’t see someone’s face.  If someone is mumbling or speaking too fast, don’t be afraid to ask them to slow down.
  7. Be clear about your position or disposition.  Use phrases  like, “I’m really pleased…,” “I am disappointed,” etc. to convey your mood.
  8. End on a positive note. Close out a telephone call, especially one that has been strained or difficult, on a positive note.  “I appreciate your time.” “I think we made some progress.” “I look forward to resolving this and I know you do too.” All these are relationship-building/acknowledging words that will help you listen respectfully to each other in the future.