Work & Career
12 Career-Killing Mistakes to Avoid When on a Work Call
These communication mistakes you’re making on business calls could hurt relationships, cost you money, and make you come across as less than professional. Career experts discuss proper phone etiquette in a modern world.
You’re not prepared for why you’re on the call
Have you ever been in a meeting or on a conference call and not sure why you’re there? So you simply dialed in and sat there, mostly in silence while another person ran the meeting? “Many people don’t know what the agenda of the call is, so they’re not prepared to contribute,” says Sarah Kaler, co-founder and CEO of Soul Powered, a women’s leadership and education and research company. When you don’t know what the agenda is, you’re not able to fully prepared in advance in a way that will add value and make meeting productive and efficient, says Kaler. In order to maximize your time and everyone else’s on the call, request information via email from the call initiator to get a sense of the purpose and desired outcome of the call so you’re prepared. Get more tips on today’s business etiquette.
You’re not primed to take notes
If you’re on a work call, always have a pen and paper, or a tablet ready, says Sharon Schweitzer, founder of Access to Culture Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. “When the caller is about to provide an important phone number or address, and you aren’t ready, it’s mistake that speaks volumes. Don’t make them listen to you shuffling around trying to find a piece of paper.” Note taking goes further than getting a phone number, shares Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster.com. “Taking notes is incredibly helpful as it gives you something to refer back to and follow up with questions you may have on your mind” she says. Here are some things highly organized people do every morning, so you’ll always be prepared.
You’re typing and responding to e-mails
If you plan to take notes on a keyboard during the call, let the person on the call know ahead of time. “Although the person you’re speaking to may not say it, the click-clacks on your keyboard are definitely discernible,” says Schweitzer. Otherwise, they might think you’re checking e-mails, commenting on social media, or not paying attention. “Don’t embarrass yourself by sending the message that your e-mail is more important than the person on the call. Your e-mail will still be there after the phone call ends,” she says.
You forgot to turn off notifications
Ever jump on a work call on your cell and then your BFF starts texting you message after message that’s pinging through? Yes, the caller on the other end can hear that. “There are more distractions than ever in our world,” says Kaler. “It’s so important to get present when you’re over the phone, especially. Take the time to eliminate those distractions, whether that’s Slack, Facebook, Twitter, or notifications on your phone.” This is super important if you work remotely, and don’t have that advantage of having the visual cues, reading facial expressions, or seeing body language, she says. “It’s more important than ever to be able to eliminate distractions and have your ability to listen really turned on.” And be sure to avoid these social media mistakes that could hurt your career.
You don’t take pauses in talking to check in
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“We all know it’s important to listen, but also when you are speaking in the meeting, you really have the ability to take pauses, check in, and check in for understanding with the people that you are communicating with,” suggests Kaler. “When we’re speaking over the phone, one of the most important things is to take intentional pauses to check in and ask a few questions to check for understanding on the other side. Because we don’t have that advantage to have those visual cues like we would in a face-to-face meeting, it’s difficult to know whether or not what we are communicating is translating,” says Kaler. Communication is just one of the soft skills you need to have in the business world.
You didn’t tell the caller you put them on speaker
If you wish to take notes during a client call, ask if you may place the caller on speaker, suggests Schweitzer. Address this in the beginning, before they hear an echo and ask, “Am I on speaker?” If there’s another person present in the room with you and you want to put the call on speaker, let them know you’re not alone, advises Schweitzer. Being honest an upfront will help the caller feel like they know who’s hearing what they’re saying on the call.
You forgot to confirm the time zone
Whether you’re traveling and you have a scheduled call to make, or you have clients and business associates across the country and globe, verify the time zone for the call. “It’s important to communicate and re-confirm the call the day before with your counterpart, via e-mail,” says Schweitzer. Confirming prior to making the phone call helps to avoid any misunderstandings. Psst! Traveling for work? Here’s how to never pay for in-flight entertainment again.
You’re not listening
Ever zone out on a conference call and then realize your name is being called and you don’t know what’s going on? (Bueller? Bueller?) Sometimes you’re asked to speak up on a call, but when you’re not listening you could miss the context, says Salemi. The classic “Sorry, I had you on mute! Would you mind repeating the question?” cover up can only go so far. “If you miss the background of the discussion, your answer could miss the mark and leave you looking clueless or bad at your job. It can happen to the best of us, but it shows your client and/or colleagues on the line that a work call isn’t a priority,” she says. These are the signs that you’re a terrible listener.
You’re not in a quiet enough place or on a spotty connection
“Communication is key and when you hear static on the line or background noise like a barking dog, it’s a sign of unprofessionalism,” says Salemi. It’s a reflection of you even though sometimes things are outside your control. Plan accordingly and, if you can, have a quiet backup location in mind to take the call if things unexpectedly get noisy. “If you are going to be in any environment that is out of the norm for the day or for that moment—like driving and taking a call—give people the heads up in advance,” suggests Kaler. “And if you don’t have that opportunity to at the top of the meeting, just let the person who’s running the meeting know and your peers.” Depending on the noise levels of the situation, you may want to mute yourself and let them know so that they’re not concerned, “Why is this person more quiet than usual?” suggests Kaler.
You don’t have a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door
Just as you’re trying to impress a client, your boss, colleagues or all of the above, someone loudly bursts into your office. “Treat every conference call, even if it’s a low maintenance 30-minute check in with your team, like it’s a Skype job interview,” suggests Salemi. Find a quiet place and put a “do not disturb” sign on your door, shut off your cell phone, and get in the zone for that small amount of time, Salemi suggests.
You’re chewing gum or eating
Taking a sip of water is one thing if you’re very thirsty, but ditch the gum and hold out on eating your lunch, suggests Salemi. “People can hear you! And even if you’re on mute, what happens if you’re asked for input? Again, treat this like a Skype job interview. Would you chew gum during it? Eat a sandwich? No. The next time you’re tempted, simply refrain.”
You ended the call without checking that you’re understood.
Closing the call on a professional note is crucial for maintaining good business relations. Before wishing your counterpart well, and saying goodbye, confirm that you’ve fully answered all of their questions, noted down an action plan for following up and addressing their concerns. When you’ve verified that all points are addressed, wish them a good rest of their day and say “Goodbye,” rather than “Bye-bye” or “Talk to you later,” suggests Schweitzer.