Tips for Effective Telephone Communication

How do we develop good rapport and relationships and manage effective communication on the telephone?

Considering most research suggests that non-verbal language plays such large part in effective human communications (50-80 per cent), what are the implications of this to ‘verbal only’ communication?

Communication and rapport…..without body- language?

Communication is a cycle or loop that involves at least two people. Communication involves pro-active and re-active choices and behaviour.

When we communicate with another person, we perceive their response and react with our own thoughts and feelings. Underlying this is our own agenda, which, consciously (purpose) or unconsciously (filters and beliefs), guides our choices and reactions. We are also affected by our environmental context – is it noisy or calm, dirty or ordered, spacious or confined, familiar or unfamiliar, safe or not and so on.

We communicate with our words, our silences and our vocal quality. We communicate with our bodies, our stance, our gestures and facial expressions and even, possibly, with extra sensory attributes we cannot measure (as yet) such as ‘gut feelings’ in how we interpret another person’s communicative efforts (and/or absence of).

Past research has shown that in presentations before groups of people, 55 per cent of the impact is determined by our body language, 38 per cent by our tone of voice and only 7 per cent by the content of your presentation (Mehrabian and Ferris, ‘Inference of attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels’ in The Journal of Counselling Psychology Vol.31 1967, pp248-52). More recently experts have agreed that up to 80 percent of all human communications are non- verbal (

How do we know when two or more people are communicating smoothly and effectively? When they appear to be in rapport. When each party is appreciating and respecting the other’s view of the world while maintaining their own. They appear to mirror and match each other in tonality, posture, gesture and eye contact, complimenting and validating each other’s positions.

Rapport engenders trust. When people ARE like each other, they like each other. The best teachers are those who establish rapport and enter into the world of the learner, thereby allowing the learner to acquire greater understanding of the subject through personal relevance.

So how can we create rapport and trust to improve relationships, achieve our goals and help others achieve theirs, without relying hugely on our body language?! For example on the telephone…………

Pacing and Leading

We pace ourselves to fit into different situations. We pace our emotions. If we want to show we care about someone when they are sad we respond with a sympathetic tone of voice and manner of speech, not an aggressive shout of ‘come on, cheer up!’ We use a tonality that matches how they are feeling, build rapport then use this to move them into a better place with brighter, quicker, louder tonality. If the bridge is built they will follow our lead.

Content and style

Demonstrating an appreciation of what people say without necessarily agreeing with them also builds rapport. One very good way of doing this verbally is to eliminate the word ‘but’ from your vocabulary. Replace it with ‘and’. ‘But’ is conditional, critical, and sends a negative message. Using ‘and’ instead works like a bridge or an uplifting wind that keeps the conversation moving in a positive direction. It is neutral.

How we talk to each other makes or breaks rapport. If we see communication as a transaction between people (I say something – you say something back) we can monitor our style of delivery, tonality and content accordingly. Berne’s transactional analysis theory and others extensions of it, suggest we can hear ourselves (if we choose to) take up different roles or ego states such as Parent, Adult or Child.

Putting it simply, our Parent state means we tend to ‘tell’ people what to do, how to behave and how to think, we define and enforce ‘the rules’, values and beliefs. We use judgmental words, critical words, patronising language and posturing language. We are influenced by our own parents’ terms and conditions for parenting. One way of controlling this state is to listen for the word ‘should’ in what we say to ourselves and others: ‘he should have emailed me’, ‘she should have phoned her mother’, ‘they should say thankyou’ etc. etc. Replace it with ‘could’.

‘Should’ imposes our view of the world on the other person and will limit our capacity to understand what matters to them, inhibiting rapport. ‘Could’ validates each person’s right to their own view, opening up a world of options and differences.

Our Child state means our thoughts, feelings and behaviour are determined by our emotional responses over that of reason.

Our Adult state is defined by our ability to think and determine our own choices.

So being aware of and managing our ‘state’, calibrating it to people we communicate with, can make a significant, positive difference to the quality of our relationships and outcomes. Taking care how we ‘come across’ to others reminds us that when we meet, we are all crossing each other’s paths.

Context and environment

Telephone meetings and conference calls are best carried out in quiet, safe, dedicated spaces to avoid all unnecessary distractions. We need to focus.

Using a basic format for leading meetings increases the chances that all participants will get what they want out of the meeting.

Making notes and encouraging others to do so is also very valuable.

Using final checklists strengthens relationships and overall effectiveness


1. 1. Know what you want.

2. 2. Know what others want

3. 3 Set the evidence that will let you know you have reached your agreed outcome.


1. Be in a resourceful, flexible state of mind

2. Establish rapport

3. Get consensus on a shared outcome and the evidence for it.

4. Challenge irrelevancy by matching to desired outcome evidence

5. Use ‘If……..?’ questions to stimulate and elicit more ideas.

6. Summarise and clarify key agreements.

7. Keep moving towards your outcome


1. Check-list for congruence and agreement

2. Summarise actions

3. Test agreement if necessary

4. Decide and agree on future steps

There is an old Chinese saying:

I hear and I forget

I see and I remember

I do and I understand

If we relate this to telephone communications, we can see how crucial it is to:

  • - Manage our ‘states’ to align with others
  • - Express and explain ourselves carefully, simply and accurately (tonality, words, pace and lead)
  • - Listen carefully
  • - Match, clarify and check for understanding and congruence
  • - Visualise and empathise.
  • - Manage our environments
  • - Manage information

Penny Ann Budgen 2013

Refs: O’Connor J. Seymour.J Introducing NLP, Harper Collins.2002.

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