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Improve Your Communication Skills


Dr. Stephen D. Boyd, CSP

About the Author

Dr. Stephen D. Boyd is a powerful speaker who does presentations throughout North America. He does seminars and workshops on such topics as presentation skills, effective listening, creativity, and the power of the spoken word. In addition to conducting workshops, Dr. Boyd also enjoys giving keynote, after-dinner, humorous, and motivational speeches. Not only does he love speaking in front of others, he loves speech competitions. Since 1970, when he won the Toastmasters International speech contest, hes coached state and national speech champions. Dr. Boyd is a graduate of the University of Illinois and a member of the National Speakers Association. For more information about Dr. Boyds energizing and entertaining work, you can browse his web site at http://www.sboyd.com.


Interpersonal Skills . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Exercise 1: Work as a Team Exercise 2: Communicate with Diverse Populations Exercise 3: Feel Empathy Listening Skills . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Exercise 4: Remember Names Exercise 5: Listen for Content Exercise 6: Overcome Bad Habits Speaking Skills . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Exercise 7: Be Specific Exercise 8: Use Open Questions Exercise 9: Speak with Variety Exercise 10: Follow Directions Exercise 11: Use Strategies to Communicate Successfully Exercise 12: Understand Body Language Exercise 13: Use Proper Grammar Exercise 14: Use Gestures Effectively Exercise 15: Use Eye Contact and Space

Telephone Skills . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Exercise 16: Improve Your Telephone Voice Exercise 17: Speak Clearly Exercise 18: Focus on the Phone Exercise 19: Improve Your Telephone Environment Exercise 20: Handle Problem Calls Exercise Answers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Exercise 7: Be Specific Exercise 8: Use Open Questions Exercise 13: Use Proper Grammar Questions

Improve Your Communication Skills

Interpersonal Skills
Living a successful, rewarding life depends on many factors. Professionally, you must be competent and reliable; personally, you must be well-rested and physically fit. But even with excellent work habits and good health, youll never capitalize on your ability to get the job done without good interpersonal skills. You might possess great technical skills, but if you cant get along with your coworkers, youre going to have a tough time in your daily interactions with them. Not to mention the fact that youll be passed up for promotions to positions where you need to delegate responsibility and solve personnel problems. Some people seem to get along quite easily with others. They naturally have a pleasant disposition and tolerant attitude. For others, dealing with coworkers seems to be a constant struggle. But, with honest assessment of problem areas, a sincere desire to change, improved interpersonal skills, and lots of practice, anyone can develop the skills necessary to communicate and relate well with others (Figure 1).
FIGURE 1You can develop the skills necessary to relate well with others.

Improve Your Communication Skills

Exercise 1: Work as a Team

The next time youre in a group setting, see yourself as the team member who motivates the group to work together. Ask questions to draw out the opinions of others on the issue. Make sure you know what all other members think about the situation before you speak. Make this happen by asking questions to draw out the opinion of others on the issue. Dont speak until youve heard from every person in the group. Then when you do speak, begin by summarizing what the others have said. With this self-discipline, youll see yourself as a team contributor rather than one speaking for himself or herself. Both you and the group will feel more positive about the situation and the way that it was handled (Figure 2).
FIGURE 2In a meeting, ask yourself what you can contribute to the group.

Exercise 2: Communicate with Diverse Populations

Cultural sensitivity is based on an awareness and acceptance of the different customs, languages, and habits of foreign cultures. Whether you work or travel abroad or live in the melting pot of North America, you need to be willing to investigate the many interesting differences of other cultures. One element that keeps you from communicating more effectively with people from other cultures is simply that you dont know enough about their culture and background. The more you learn about foreign cultures, the easier it is to be sensitive to and respectful of the differences between cultures. The following guidelines will help you understand better how to communicate with a person from a different background.

If youre speaking with someone for whom English is a second language, speak clearly with easy-to-understand language. Avoid using words, phrases, or analogies that wouldnt be understood. We need to light a fire under him, would sound strange to someone who was taking you at your word. Think of some expressions in English that wouldnt make sense to a foreign visitor or coworker. For example, Catch you later, may not make sense to someone from a different culture.

Improve Your Communication Skills

Be aware of etiquette differences among other cultures. Learning as much as you can about diverse cultures can keep you from unfortunate cross-cultural misunderstandings. Without some background information, would you know that a Chinese businessperson would be offended when given a gift by a business associate? Did you know that people from many cultures look away when speaking, so as not to insult you? Theyve learned that its rude to look you straight in the eye. Yet, without realizing it, you might judge them to be dishonest. Use hand gestures and other forms of nonverbal communication carefully. Hand signals and gestures arent universalthey mean different things in different parts of the world. For example, an okay gesture (making a circle with your thumb and forefinger) means everything is OK in the United States, but not in Germany. Be tolerant and patient with accents and grammatical mistakes. You might be speaking with someone who is very intelligent and extremely capable, yet he or she might make simple pronunciation or grammatical mistakes when speaking in a second language. North Americans take it for granted that people from all over the world speak English. The next time you feel yourself becoming annoyed or amused by someones attempts at English, ask yourself if you could communicate as well using their native language. Be gracious and accepting of different styles of dress. What is acceptable business attire to you seems completely foreign to someone from another culture. Its said that variety is the spice of life, and no where is that more true than in the individual way we clothe and adorn ourselves. Such diversity can be a colorful, exotic break from the norm (Figure 3).

FIGURE 3Exposure to diverse languages, customs, and dress helps to make our lives more interesting.

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Each time you learn more about another persons culture and background, youll become more effective in communicating, because youll know more about that persons culture and will be able to see some of the challenges the person faces in communicating with you.

Exercise 3: Feel Empathy

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another persons shoes. Its being able to see things from the other persons point of view (Figure 4). With a diverse workforce this becomes extremely important.
FIGURE 4Coworkers can be stressed by circumstances outside the workplace.

With this exercise, youll need two friends or associates to work with you. One of you will be the person with a problem, one will be the empathic listener, and the other will be the observer. The observer will have a pen and paper to write down observations on the person demonstrating empathy. To begin the exercise, the person with the problem will share it with the empathic listener. Its the listeners responsibility to keep the person talking about his or her problem by showing empathy. Give the person three to five minutes to share the problem and the listener to respond in an empathic way. Then have the observer give his or her reactions to the way the person showed empathy. Remember that empathy is demonstrated by the following traits:
r r r r r

Willingness to listen without interrupting Giving feedback that doesnt judge the persons actions Looking at the person and leaning slightly towards him or her as that person tells his or her problem Asking open questions to get more information and to keep the person talking Nodding your head and looking concerned as you listen

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After the observer makes comments on the characteristics above, the talker will make observations about the one who was empathic, and then the empathic listener will react to how the talker did. Then change positions so that another person is the empathic person and a different person is the problem teller and another is the observer. Repeat the process of giving the person three to five minutes to share the problem with the empathic listener, who will encourage the person talking. At the end, repeat the process of giving feedback to the one showing empathy. Then repeat the process for the third time, so that each person has an opportunity of practicing empathy. By the third time, youll become more natural in showing empathy and appreciating how important empathy is in effective human relations.

Listening Skills
We spend more time than we realize each day listening. We listen to the radio on the way to work; we listen to coworkers at meetings during the day; we listen to friends at lunch; we listen to our children, spouses, or friends after work. But how much of what we listen to do we actually process, remember, or respond to accurately? Not listening properly can mean missed appointments, school plays, or flights. Poor listening is costly both personally and professionally. Effective listening does wonders to improve interpersonal relationshipspeople need to be listened to and understood. To be a good, effective listener, you must actively listen to the speaker so that you can feed back the information youve been given. When the speaker is finished, you should be able to summarize what he or she has just said.

Exercise 4: Remember Names

To remember any information, there are three principles involved: association, repetition, and impression. Associate the information with something familiar. Repeat the information youve received. Impress the information in your mind in some tangible way. This system for remembering names is called the A.C.E.S. approach. AWhen you meet someone for the first time, anticipate getting the name first. Often youre thinking of what you want to say, and you miss the name. Make your first objective in meeting a new person to get his or her name.

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CThen as you process the name, connect the name with the face. Maybe its hair color, bright eyes, or a smile, but draw a bridge in your mind between the name and the face. EDuring the conversation express the name three times. Begin the conversation by mentioning the name. Im delighted to meet you, Mary. In the middle of the conversation say, Mary, what kind of work do you do? Finally end by saying, I hope to see you at the next meeting, Mary. SDuring the conversation, work to see a picture that demonstrates in your mind the name of the person. A person named Carole, for example, might motivate you to picture a person singing a carol. Practicing the A.C.E.S. approach will encourage you to use your listening skills to remember names.

Exercise 5: Listen for Content

Dont try to write down everything you hear while getting instructions or attending a lecture (Figure 5). Its frustrating, and youll miss important information while writing. Instead, get into the habit of listening for main ideas in both conversations and lectures. A way to get this habit is to capture the content of conversations with a summary sentence or phrase every few minutes. Seek to capture in that sentence the essence of what has been said over the past minutes.
FIGURE 5Listen for the main points and write a summary sentence when necessary.

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Perhaps begin this note-taking approach by dividing a sermon or lecture youre listening to into 10-minute segments. At the end of each segment, write down a sentence summary of what has been said and then do the same for the next ten minutes, repeating until the speaker finishes. This will encourage you to listen for content and avoid materials that distract you from the main thoughts.

Exercise 6: Overcome Bad Habits

One of the major problems in listening is being able to concentrate. There are always many distractions, not the least of which is that we can think so much faster than a person can talk. Because of this, we often interrupt the speaker. This exercise motivates you to make better use of the extra thinking time you have, since you can think about four times faster than a person can talk (Figure 6).
FIGURE 6Instead of drifting off to daydream, use the extra time to think and analyze whats being said.

You need a partner, preferably someone who is also concerned about increasing his or her interpersonal skills. Find a place where you can carry on a conversation without being easily distracted. Tell the person you want him or her to share a problem with you. Youre going to be the listener. As the listener, you cant talk except to ask a clarifying question. You cant give advice or interrupt for any reason. When the other person finishes telling you his or her problem, youre to summarize the heart of the problem in two or three sentences. Remember, you cant give advice; you can only summarize the problem. To help you do this exercise well, remember the following effective listening techniques. 1. Think of how the subject is of interest to you, or how you could use the information. 2. Concentrate on what the speaker is saying, not how he or she says it. 3. Avoid distractions and use body language to stay interested.

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4. Think while youre listening. Use the time to summarize whats being said and to listen between the lines for suggestive tones and messages. To help you concentrate as you do the exercise, ask yourself while youre listening, What is the point of the problem? Also, review in your mind what he or she has said. Remember, whenever that person stops talking, its your turn to summarize. So you must stay on track. You cant be doing other things as the person is talking to you. You cant take notes as the person speaks. Youre seeking to develop skills in concentration so that you can listen more efficiently. When youve summarized without giving advice, then its time to switch positions. The problem teller becomes the problem summarizer and the problem summarizer becomes the problem teller. Repeat the process. When both of you have finished, then discuss what went well and what could be improved. This exercise will help you learn ways to be more attentive and less easily distracted as you listen to the other person.

Speaking Skills
How often have you heard, Its not what you said, but how you said it? You might be very excited about a new project or idea, but when you speak to your coworker about it, you get the sense that the person is bored with the project already. Your tone of voice says much more about you than you may realize. We spend more time than we would care to admit to nagging, whining, and complaining. Be aware that people judge you on the quality of your speech. Remember, being an effective communicator depends as much on the presentation as on the content.

Exercise 7: Be Specific
One common communication barrier we face is being too general or vague with word choice. We tend to use phrases like Get that to me soon, or You did a fine job. Neither statement is specific, and the person receiving the message may miss the point youre making. To demonstrate how difficult it is to identify specifics in messages, fill in the blank for the following questions. 1. How many are a few? ______________________________________ 2. How many are several? ____________________________________ 3. How many are a bunch?____________________________________ 4. How many are many?______________________________________ 5. How many are a lot? _______________________________________

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Its frustrating to seek to identify a specific number for each of the previous questions. The difference between a bunch and many is in the mind of the person talking or listening. To avoid possible confusion by being too vague, try to use language that indicates an action or something that can be observed. In the previous questions, be more specific than a bunch or a few so the receiver can better visualize an amount. We can see two people for a few or twelve for a bunch. This activity will motivate you to concentrate on the person and help you eliminate distractions that make you lose track of the message and your response to it. After the following sentences, write down a specific rewording that indicates either a specific action or observation. 1. What does Do it soon mean? ______________________________ 2. What does Thats close to the curb mean?___________________ When youve written your answers, check them against the answers given at the end of this supplement.

Exercise 8: Use Open Questions

An effective way to communicate is to ask open questions. Closed questions that have a yes or no answer or a this or that response dont often give you adequate information or help you know what the other persons feelings or ideas are. Is it hot? gives you only a yes or no response, but if you ask, What is the weather like? youll get much more information from which to draw conclusions. Are you angry? doesnt give you enough information about the other persons feelings. But if you ask, Why are you upset over our discussion? youll be provided with an opportunity to gain much more information about the other persons feelings. Open questions usually begin with Why. . .? How. . .? or What. . .? Identify whether each of the questions below are open or closed questions by writing an O or a C in the blank provided. If the question is a closed question, rewrite it as an open question, on a separate sheet of paper. _____ 1. When are you going on vacation? _____ 2. How do you feel about going on vacation? _____ 3. What is the weather like in Ft. Myers? _____ 4. What is the name of the hotel where youll be staying? _____ 5. What are your favorite parts about going on vacation? _____ 6. Are you relaxed when you go on vacation?


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_____ 7. Do you like to take people with you on vacation? _____ 8. Do you enjoy meeting new people on vacation? _____ 9. Why do you like to take vacations? _____10. How do you handle work responsibilities when youre on vacation? When youve written your answers, check them against the answers given at the end of this supplement.

Exercise 9: Speak with Variety

Speaking in a monotone is a common problem. You bore others when you speak and sound disinterested. The following exercise can improve your skills. In the sentences below, speak in different ways by punching out a different word each time you say it. THAT is the dumbest dog I have ever seen. That IS the dumbest dog I have ever seen. That is THE dumbest dog I have ever seen. That is the DUMBEST dog I have ever seen. That is the dumbest DOG I have ever seen. That is the dumbest dog I have ever seen. That is the dumbest dog I HAVE ever seen. That is the dumbest dog I have EVER seen. That is the dumbest dog I have ever SEEN. Practicing saying this sentence will encourage you to change and emphasize tone and volume to enhance your message. Think of sentences that you routinely say as you work, and try stressing different words to adjust the meaning. Even a statement as common as Ms. Foster isnt in at this time can show a variety of meanings based on which word is stressed. Listen to yourself as you speak. Be sure that youre stressing the key words that you want to emphasize.

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Exercise 10: Follow Directions

Following directions involves careful listening (Figure 7). To develop this skill, find a partner and have him or her tell you directions to a restaurant or place of business in your city with which youre not familiar. As the person is telling you directions, practice the following listening skills: 1. Connect at least part of the directions with a place you already know. 2. Ask a question when you dont understand a part of the directions. 3. Take notes as you listen. 4. Visualize the location in your mind.
FIGURE 7When given directions, listen carefully; ask questions, if necessary; and repeat the directions back to the speaker.

When he or she finishes, paraphrase the directions to your partner to check for accuracy. Repeat this exercise two or three times with different people and locations until these techniques have become a habit.

Exercise 11: Use Strategies to Communicate Successfully

The opening seconds of a conversation are critical to your success. People make judgments about you in the first minute of a conversation. Be prepared to get off to a good start. A common conversation topic is how your work is going. This is especially important when coming from the boss or perhaps a new customer who is sizing you up. This exercise is to help you develop a script to use when a person asks you how things are going (Figure 8). You want to write out a brief script and practice using it with people who will ask you about your day or your work.


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FIGURE 8Be prepared to respond when asked how your work is going.

1. Begin your script by responding with a very positive word such as Great, Fantastic, or Terrific. People dont want to hear about your problems or any illness you might have. 2. Once youve given a positive response, follow up with a statement of what youre looking forward to accomplishing that day. Im looking forward to working on the XYZ company project, or I think we may get to finish the XYZ company project today. 3. If youre just passing by in the hall, that may be enough, but if youre in the elevator with the person or youre in the same waiting room, you might then give a short narrative of what youre doing. We get the drawings back today, and we can find out if they match the outline weve already made. 4. Sign off with a pleasant, Hope you have a good day, too! These points developed into your script will leave a positive impression on the person with whom youve just spoken. This brief response allows for follow-up questions that the boss might have, or it stands alone if theres not time or it seems inappropriate to pursue the topic. Try it out on a friend and see how long it takes. Practice using different phrases, but keep in mind the positive adjective to begin with, the anticipation statement, and finally a brief description before signing off.

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Exercise 12: Understand Body Language

Its important to be able to interpret body language in the context of the message. Its probably best to do this activity with another person, but its certainly possible to do it alone. Pick a favorite television comedy and videotape it. As youre watching the program, turn off the sound. Observe the nonverbal facial expressions, gestures, and postures of the characters on the television screen. Either write down what you think the content of the conversation is or discuss it with a partner as the program unfolds. At the end of the 30-minute program, rewind the tape and start playing it back with the sound turned on. After each five-minute segment, stop the tape and discuss how accurate you were in predicting the content of the conversation based on what you observed in the nonverbal. A variation of this exercise is to play back the tape in five-minute intervals and take notes again or discuss what you believe the content of the conversation is. Then, play the tape back with sound and discuss how accurate you were. Watching the nonverbal clues instead of listening to the conversation makes you become more aware of body language. Therefore, you become more accurate in connecting the verbal message with the nonverbal expressions in conversation. It should also make you more aware of your own body language.

Exercise 13: Use Proper Grammar

Using proper grammar in writing is easier than in speaking because once youve written something you can look at it again and check to be sure the grammatical construction is correct. You dont have that luxury with spoken words. Youre thinking of what you want to say next and concentrating on communicating to the person with whom youre talking. As a result, youve more opportunities to make grammatical errors. Concentrate in every conversation for a while to train yourself to use the correct form so that youll be able to use correct grammar as you communicate interpersonally. This exercise is to help you deal with some of the most common errors in grammar. In the sentences that follow, circle the correct word in the parentheses. 1. Her list of accomplishments (are, is) impressive. 2. (Hopefully, I hope) he will pay me. 3. I could (have, of) played all day. 4. This car has a (very unique, unique) color design. 5. The media (is, are) not worth watching.


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6. (May, Can) I read your letter from Mom? 7. Cincinnati is (farther, further) east than St. Louis. 8. (Fewer, Less) people voted this year. 9. This ice cream tastes (good, well). 10. The woman (who, that) won was very happy. When youve written your answers, check them against the answers given at the end of this supplement.

Exercise 14: Use Gestures Effectively

To communicate a message to another person, you must not only use excitement in voice and variety in facial expression, you must also use gestures to either reinforce or describe the message youre communicating to the other person (Figure 9). Its a dull message when the person communicating it shows no feeling by not using hands and arms to help make the point. This exercise will motivate you to use hands and gestures more easily and more frequently in interpersonal opportunities.
FIGURE 9Gestures can reinforce the message youre communicating.

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Youll need a friend to give you feedback on how well you do this activity. Tell your friend that you want to practice using gestures to deliver your ideas more powerfully to others. Explain to your friend how to do something. Tell your friend that you must use gestures to help explain the process. For example, explain how to make a pizza, change a tire, play the harmonica, or eat corn on the cob. Explain to your observer and critic that if you give a descriptive idea without using a gesture, he or she should stop you and remind you to use the gesture. When you do use gestures, exaggerate them so that theres no doubt that youre using the movements to reinforce or describe your process. After the person has given you feedback on your use of gestures, try it again, but this time tell your friend a story and find places where you can use gestures to help tell the story. This will be more challenging because youll have to be more creative in finding places to use gestures. For example, if you talk about taking a trip, make yourself use a gesture that shows you traveling down a road. Show the curve in the road with a hand movement. When you refer to yourself while on the trip, point to yourself as you speak. Any description in your story should include a hand gesture or movement that reinforces the description or action. Your story could be an embarrassing moment in your life, an experience that taught you a lesson, or a story that made a significant change in your life. It should be a story you feel comfortable telling and one that you know well so that you can concentrate on using gestures to tell your story. When youve finished, ask the person to give you feedback on where you might use more gestures in telling the story. Also, have him or her tell you when you best used gestures in the telling of the story. Finally, tell the story again and include the suggestions your critic gave you in the first telling of the story. By this time youll find that the use of gestures to help deliver your message will be much easier and more natural.

Exercise 15: Use Eye Contact and Space

When you meet people, you want to look them in the eye and move to about four feet away from them to speak. To realize how important this can be in conversation, complete the following exercise. Choose a department store or grocery store where you can start a conversation with a stranger without seeming to be out of place (Figure 10). Walk up to a stranger, and ask directions to another section of the grocery store like, Can you tell me where the bread section is? Or if youre in a department store, ask, Can you tell me where to find boys jeans? Dont look directly at the person when you make the request. Also, move in to about two feet from the person when you make the request. After you


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FIGURE 10Experiment to discover how comfortable people are when standing at different distances.

leave the store, write down observations about the reaction of the person of whom you made the request. Then, go to a different store and again find a stranger to make a similar request. But this time when you make the request, look the person in the eye and move to about four feet away from him or her. When you leave the store, write down your observations and compare notes with the first time you did the exercise. The third part of this exercise is to make a request of a person you know well; perhaps someone in your home or work setting. In both situations, begin by looking away and standing very close to the person. As the person responds to your request, look directly at the person and move to the four feet distance. When the request is answered, tell the person about your experiment with eye contact and space and ask for the persons reaction to your different behavior. Once theyve given you their reactions, tell them about your written reactions to the strangers you made similar requests of. By combining your written observations with the discussions you had with the people you know, youll be better able to understand the importance of eye contact and appropriate personal space when youre talking one-on-one.

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Telephone Skills
There are few people in the industrialized world who dont use the telephone daily. Whether youre calling to check on your mother, making reservations for dinner, or sealing a million-dollar deal, you need to successfully communicate your feelings, requests, or positions effectively. Youve learned that people form an opinion about you from how you present yourself. This is especially true when speaking on the telephone, where your voice is the only means by which people can judge you. Its essential, both personally and professionally, to be able to communicate effectively via the telephone.

Exercise 16: Improve Your Telephone Voice

The only way you communicate by telephone is with your voice. The person youre talking to cant see you or observe your posture, your hand gestures, or your facial expression, so you have to be very sensitive to the use of your voice. Train your voice to help communicate a feeling or emotion. A key trait is pleasantness. People respond well to a pleasant voice on the phone. Put a small mirror by your phone and look at it as youre speaking on the phone. Note the expression on your face as you speak. Smile into the mirror and concentrate on the expression youre making. As you smile and react to your own image, the smile will show in your voice. Its hard to look in the mirror without looking more pleasant, and this transforms your voice to be more pleasant. Exaggerate your facial expression as you see yourself in the mirror. This exaggeration will continue to make your voice more positive and communicate more pleasantness to your telephone listener.

Exercise 17: Speak Clearly

Its easy to get the mumbles when youre talking on the phone. You cant see the person youre talking to and you tend to put your mouth close to the receiver. If youre not careful, your voice will be muffled or the words will run together (Figure 11). If the other person often asks you to repeat what youve said, you probably have a problem with your enunciation (speaking clearly and carefully). This activity will counteract the mumbles. The paragraph that follows contains many of the vowel and consonant sounds in the English language. Concentrate on saying each word with clarity. Articulate (say) both the beginning and ends of words distinctly. Punch out the words with force.


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FIGURE 11Be careful to speak clearly and carefully.

There was once a thistle sifter named Christopher and next door to him lived Peter Piper, the pickled pepper picker. Unfortunately, Christopher often thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb, and Peter, while pickling peppers, often got pickled himself. They would often have to go to the sea shore to put the thumb in the bubbling waves to lessen the powerful pain. Practice speaking the paragraph above until you can say it with clarity. Then, as you speak on the phone, youll find youll have much better enunciation and pronunciation.

Exercise 18: Focus on the Phone

People tend to be easily distracted when they speak on the phone. Have you ever noticed that a movement in another part of the room will often make you look in that direction. You also have things on your desk or table which attract your attention as you speak. Here is a way to combat that challenge. The next time you answer the phone, dont pick up the receiver until you mentally think, Im going to listen as though I have to report this conversation to someone else. Always have a pen and paper nearby to write down any necessary information. When you do pick up the receiver, visualize the person youre talking to; picture him or her sitting or standing at a specific spot in your room or office and make eye contact with that spot. It might be a potted plant, a picture on the wall, or an empty chair or bed. Talk to that spot as though it were the other person. See that person in your mind. Gesture toward that spot and nod your head in that direction. Do everything you would do if that person were in the room with you.

Exercise 19: Improve Your Telephone Environment

Sometimes its not the actual conversation on the phone that creates a problem in communicating effectively, but rather the physical surroundings that keep you from communicating (Figure 12). This exercise is to help you

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FIGURE 12A wellorganized desk creates a comfortable, focused atmosphere.

make sure that your telephone surroundings encourage you to communicate effectively. First, just observe the location of the phone(s) in your office or home. What surrounds your phone, and how are the furniture and equipment arranged around the phone? Whats on the desk or table or wall where the phone is located? Is the phone easy to get to from anywhere in the room? Once youve made these observations, here are some suggestions for rearranging the surroundings so that you can more easily communicate by phone. 1. Place your phone opposite the hand you use the most. That is, if youre right-handed, the phone should be on your left. If youre left-handed, the phone should be on your right. By positioning the phone that way, you can easily take notes with the hand you normally write with. Youre more likely to take legible notes when its convenient to do so. 2. Have a notepad and pen wherever you have a phone. Even if you dont have to take notes, having the notepad there will encourage you to take a note instead of doing a task thats also on your desk or table. Every phone in your office or home should have a pen and pad nearby to encourage you to note any pertinent information from your telephone conversations. 3. Place the phone where youre not easily distracted by people walking by or machines making noises that attract your attention away from your telephone conversation or make it difficult for you to hear. Put the phone where you can stare at a neutral object that wont make you think about irrelevant things. You need to be able to concentrate on what the other person is saying to you. Your surroundings should be as calm and as quiet at possible because this environment will be apparent to the listener. If your surroundings are chaotic, youll have difficulty concentrating, speaking calmly, and giving your listener the attention they desire.


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4. Tape a smiley face to the front of the phone to remind you to look pleasant as you talk. As discussed earlier, the smile on your face comes through in your speaking voice (Figure 13).
FIGURE 13Remember that a smile and pleasant attitude create a lasting impression on your caller.

5. Place the phone where its easy to stand occasionally as you talk. Of course, thats easy if the telephone is attached to a wall, but even if its on a desk or table, have enough room around your chair so that you can stand comfortably as you speak. Standing occasionally will put more energy into your voice and allow you to use more gestures so that you can be more persuasive as you communicate with the person on the other end of the line. Making these environmental changes will improve your ability to concentrate and to express yourself more freely when talking on the telephone. By improving your concentration and your expression, youll retain more information when the conversation is over.

Exercise 20: Handle Problem Calls

One of the most difficult things to handle in phone conversation is the problem call. Often its a call you werent expecting or a conversation that you didnt think would become a problem call. Its best to plan how to handle these calls in advance, so that you can simply plug in your communication techniques to handle any problem situation. You can use the following techniques to respond to a problem call courteously and efficiently.

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1. When you can tell that the person is angry or emotionally involved, simply ask the person to give you more information. Im not sure I understand. Would you give me more information? Usually the person will repeat the problem and give you valuable time to think about how you want to respond. Having the person repeat the problem will also help to get the problem out of his or her system and will help to diffuse his or her anger. 2. Pause when the person is finished. Often this will motivate him or her to say more. At the least it will show the other person that you really care about listening to his or her point of view. Often what the person wants most is simply someone to listen to him or her. 3. Ask a question about something the person has said. Again, youre getting more information and allowing the person to talk. An example might be, Where did this happen? or Are there other people involved? You want to show that youre interested and trying to get to the heart of the problem. 4. Then say, I can appreciate that that would make you upset, or I can understand that this matter is very important to you. You dont need to use the exact wording, but you want to say something that lets the other person know youre trying to empathize. 5. After youve responded to the ways suggested above, then you can tell what youll do to help solve the problem or make the person feel better about the situation. Whatever you do at this point, give him or her specific information. Dont give the person a vague response that doesnt actively say anything. 6. When ending the conversation, say something positive, such as, The next time this happens well avoid the problem by. . . If possible, let the other person know that his or her concern will be taken care of in the future. 7. If the person gets nasty with you, ask that he or she call back when he or she has had time to cool off. No person should take verbal abuse from anyone. With these techniques in mind, ask a friend to call you with a problem or complaint so you can try out some communicating techniques youre given in this exercise. Dont allow the person to tell you the problem before he or she calls you. Let it be a surprise to you so you can imitate a real situation as much as possible. When the phone conversation is over, talk about what happened with your partner. Did your partner feel listened to? Did he or she feel that you effectively dealt with his or her problem? Use your partners evaluation to improve the way you handle your next problem phone call.


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Suggested Exercise Answers

Exercise 7: Be Specific
1. Do it soon could be changed to Do it by 5:00 or Do it tomorrow morning at 8:00. This would be much less likely to be misinterpreted, because a time indicates an action by looking at the hands move on the clock. 2. Youre a foot from the curb would be more specific than Thats close to the curb. You should stress a scene that can be observed and will be less likely to be misinterpreted.

Exercise 8: Use Open Questions

Questions 2, 3, 5, 9, and 10 are all open questions. Here are possible ways of making closed Questions 1, 4, 6, 7, and 8 into open questions. Answers may vary. 1. When are your favorite times to take a vacation? 4. What kinds of places do you like to stay at when on vacation? 6. How do you make sure youre relaxed when on vacation? 7. How do you feel about taking people with you on vacation? 8. What do you think about meeting new people when visiting a new place?

Exercise 13: Use Proper Grammar

1. is The subject is list, which is singular, so the verb must be singular. 2. I hope Hopefully indicates how he will pay younot if he will pay you. 3. Have Have is the verb in this sentence; of is never a verb. 4. Unique Unique is one of a kind and never takes a modifier. 5. Are The word media is plural; medium is the singular form.

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6. May When you ask permission may is correct; can indicates ability. 7. Farther When you refer to physical distance, always use farther. 8. Fewer Fewer refers to things that can be counted. 9. Good Good should be used with descriptive joining verbs such as look, feel, sound, and taste.

10. Who Always use who to refer to a person or persons.