If you have a telephone, you have had the experience of talking to a support center person or a sales person with an accent.  My mother, who is very hearing impaired struggles with this.   And….so do many of the managers and their international teams, who are not hearing impaired.  The phone is better than straight email.  It allows for flexibility of Q & A’s. Until, someone stops listening… Why?

Sometimes it feels like we are dealing with multiple “distortions” on these phone conferences. So, we move closer to the phone.  Then we have others speak LOUDER, s-l-o-w-er, ask for repetitions or clarification.

Finally we ask the other person or get asked, “Can you send me an email about that?” or worse, someone just …..Stops Listening.

And, no matter how valuable the information is – the other person is not “buying” our ideas.  The tenet for many in sales is:  “A confused mind never buys.”

Why do people seem to understand each other when someone is talking live and yet struggle when they are on the phone?

Several reasons.

1. When speaking face to face we subconsciously use facial gestures and body language that cues the listener on the emotional tone as well as (even small) gestures that indicated size and shape of what we are discussing. Also a speaker can subconsciously monitor the listener’s body language and modify their message if they observe confusion.   We cannot observe each other on the phone.  Even videoconferencing is difficult as we feel constrained to  one position. In person, our subconscious gives us lots of information, letting us modify and edit much quicker. We do not get that with phone call meetings.

2. We all know that Native English speakers have a much more difficult time understanding speakers of English as a second language (L2 English speakers) than do the L2 speakers seem to understand each other.  Why?  “Not because it’s less difficult

It is because they are already accustomed to paying attention for longer periods.  However, they still get confused as we get confused with the differences in the pronunciation; the dropped syllables (“Idee” for “Ide-a”) strange vowels, (“Tex” for “Takes), different stress patterns (“e-CON-o-mic” for “e-co-NOM-ic”), along with different sentence rhythms that we are accustomed to in native English.

Most L2 English speakers will not tell you that they do not understand.  Most Native English speakers do not tell the L2 speakers that they do not understand.  They each get off of the phone and complain.

GOAL: Get the information on the First Call.

STRATEGY: Avoid confusion:

(a) Send a full transcript of information and information requests (in sentences) of your side of the conversation. Have them send their response, also.
(b) Speak slower and use repetition.
(c) Simplify the number of topics to be in the phone call.  Keep it to 3 or 4 topics at most:  (d) Have only one, yes, just  (1), primary “call to action” per phone call.  – Teams from Asia often feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of “deliverables” that their Western counterparts demand.

And often the language of the requests is filled with colloquialisms that are unfamiliar to them. So…they get confused and do not “deliver”. When they successfully deliver two or three different times, then make it two “deliverables”.  You need them to perform, so break it into small bites.

In my flexible editorial planning calendar, I had wanted to talk about how to dress for summer business events….then, I spotted Kare Anderson’s June 2012 article in the Harvard Business Review.

It reminded me that most folks won’t care what we are wearing when we listen to them attentively. When we do, these folks think we are the most interesting person in the world…. Ms. Anderson stated that the value of giving undivided attention is as beneficial to the giver as the receiver.

As a child, I spent many hours in an Andrew Carnegie library; the kind of library with granite steps leading up to solid doors that opened into a world of ideas, experiences and wondrous stories. I also spent time at my father’s real estate office. His office was often the gathering place of business people. They spoke about their own world of ideas, experiences, wondrous stories and life’s learning.

In my mind, the people I met at my dad’s office were each like libraries – I needed to learn their content too. It was easy: all I had to do was sit back and be enlightened, educated and entertained.

Learning how to listen, how ask the right questions, how to empathize and still contribute meaningfully is a life-long endeavor. However, attempting to be the center of attention is so much more work and, more importantly, ineffective. Our audience gets bored with us.

There’s a professional association with chapters around the world where people go to learn how to listen well and speak well: Toastmasters International. Visit a club near you; you can get invited as a guest (for free).

I’ve belonged to clubs in several US cities as well as China. By participating, I’ve benefited from many fascinating stories and a wealth of knowledge.

The world is full of walking libraries that come in all sizes and shapes. Two-year-old to 102 year-old folks are equally fascinating. Especially when you actively listen.