Put Your Best Foot Forward - Practicing Good Phone Etiquette

Whether you're trying to find a new job, or seeking to advance your current position, learning positive communication skills is an important factor. In the RPM for Trucker's article, “Communicating Gooder” by Dan Anderson, he states that according to USA Truck recruiter Staci Huff only 80% of the decision to hire a driver is based on their information. The other 20% is based largely on the driver's communication skills.

Now I know from personal experience that there are plenty of drivers out there that have learned to flex their proverbial communication muscles. Some might argue that they've learned to flex them a little too much! (However being a good conversationalist will hardly count against you in my book, whether I want to hear about Aunt Zelda or not.) But then there are still plenty of other drivers I try to help that contact me and continue to communicate in such abominating ways it honestly shocks me that they've gotten this far in life.

As a phone professional, I think I've just about heard it all, from death threats to sexual propositions, there is just something about a phone that makes people say and do some crazy things. So I thought I'd take a moment and examine the top three “communication faux pas” I deal with on a day to day basis, and try to offer constructive alternatives.

Faux pas #1: People call me with questions seeking answers and then interrupt me continuously when I'm trying to help.

To state the obvious here, and please pardon any offense you might take to this – But how in blue blazes am I supposed to help you if you never let me complete a sentence? Picture if President Bush held a press conference and the news reporters just kept firing questions without letting him complete a thought. There wouldn't be much news to report, maybe other than “President Bush gets frustrated with eager press and walks out”. Interrupting makes the person on the other end of the phone feel like what they have to say is not significant enough to warrant your attention, which is frustrating in any social setting. Key #1 to good communication is focusing your attention on your subject, whether it's your mother, your wife, or a nameless, faceless person at the other end of a toll free number. On the phone it is as simple as saying “ok” or any other verbal sign of acknowledgment at the end of an explanation.

Faux pas #2: People call me and insult me and my intelligence to the point where I don't want to help.

When I worked at Disney I had to learn to deal with a lot of negative attention from guests. For example, on 9/11/01 when we had to close the park I was yelled at, cursed at, and called a thief. Through it all I had to maintain my smile and politely direct people to exit the park in a safe and timely manner. It is a scene that haunts me emotionally to this day. On the inside I was afraid, lonely, and sad, and I had to calmly and politely deal with families that could have happily spit in my face. Key #2 to good communication – everyone is human. Everyone has feelings, has problems, has needs and desires. You have to be willing to think of that far off voice on the other end as a real person, probably sitting at a desk wondering what they're going to make for dinner that night.

Faux pas #3: People curse, swear and holler at me to the point where I beg them to hang up the phone.

This scenario usually plays out after Faux pas #1 and #2 have already been committed, however that's not always the case. Sometimes I get calls from people who just curse as part of their vocabulary. Now, I understand that cursing may not be a “big deal” to some people, but it is still a good idea to keep that portion of your vocabulary separate from your professional life. You never know when you might offend someone, especially if you are speaking to a female. Usually, if you're using curse words as adjectives in a conversational tone, I'm more inclined to let it slide. But if you start yelling at me, you'll either get hung up on, or I'll tell you to hang up on me. Key #3 to good communication is learning to deal with your own emotions, problems, wants and desires and figuring out how to effectively and pro actively explain those to the person on the other end of the line. The clearer you are with your instructions, the more likely you are to get the results you want.

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