How to Have Good Phone Conversations

At particular periods in all our lives, it isn’t possible to have face-to-face contact with the people who matter to us. It doesn’t matter that much these days, we say blithely, because of all the possibilities for voice and video calls. We can still see each other. We can still talk to each other. In fact, we can see and talk to more people in more ways than we ever could IRL.

But an old-school phone call is just the thing for a proper conversation or discussion, the kind that leaves you feeling pleased and satisfied that you have had a meaningful, enjoyable, worthwhile exchange with someone close to you. If using the phone is a habit you have got out of, or is something that you shy away from, why not give it a try.

Set it up

You don’t need to think much about regular or spontaneous calls to people in your life, especially if the calls are functional or tend to follow a particular pattern. But when you want a good conversation, a real catch-up, it’s worth arranging the telephone meet-up in the same way that you would arrange to meet for a coffee or drink. You could text or message to agree a suitable time to catch up with each other.

Time and place

Talking remotely can be more tiring than talking face-to-face. You don’t have quite the same rhythm of pauses and lulls in the conversation as you respond whatever distractions and interruptions the surroundings impose. Instead, you have pretty much undiluted communication, which requires a lot of concentration.

Agree a time when neither of you will be too tired to make the most of the call. It would help to choose a slot when you are not likely to be constantly interrupted. As for place, yes of course you can use your phone anywhere, but the physical situation will affect how you communicate.

Give a heads-up

If you want to talk about something specific, give the other person an idea of what it is. Imagine if you received a message from someone asking when would be a good time to phone because they need to talk about a child/a significant other/a health problem/a family problem/a mutual friend/a decision they have to make… It’s quite helpful, isn’t it?

You may not consciously think about whatever it is, but it’s there at the back of your mind, and it means you are on the same wavelength as your friend from the beginning.

Make notes

If there is anything that you really want to talk about, you need to remember what it is! It’s easy to get caught up in the flow of conversation, and only when it’s over do you realise that you didn’t mention your son’s engagement, or a film you wanted to discuss, or exam results, or an invitation you meant to give.

Tune in

You might think you have nothing interesting to talk about. Often, of course, nothing much has happened in the way of noteworthy events, but it isn’t always the big things which make for a good conversation. Just focus on the other person.

You can make random observations about what you’ve seen or heard, little anecdotes which your phone companion will enjoy, a bit of gossip, perhaps something that you have stored up to share — really, all the things you would say if you were sitting in front of each other.

Give full attention

Because you can’t be seen, it’s tempting to do something else while you talk. You think you’ll ‘just get on with’ something while you chat. Sometimes that works. Often, though, the task distracts us, even if it’s a routine or automatic activity. Our attention shifts, just for a moment or two — and it shows.

You can probably tell when someone you’re talking to on the phone lets their mind wander. And you can certainly tell if someone is checking their emails, answering texts,watching a film. The focus of your communication weakens, creating a space for an element of uncertainty or anxiety to hijack the conversation.

How to end the conversation

You could say, ‘Sorry, got to go now, bye’. It does the trick just fine. But there are more graceful ways of taking leave of each other, and you’ll find that you develop a way which suits each situation.

You could draw a conversation to an end by saying something like:

  • ‘What are you going to do for the rest of the evening/day/week?’

Or you could refer to something that was said earlier:

  • ‘Let me know how you get on at the dentist.’
  • ‘I hope you enjoy the play/hen do/holiday. I’ll look forward to hearing about it.’
  • ‘I’ll let you get on with making that cake/your bike ride/your homework/’

You could say something like:

  • ‘It’s been really nice talking to you.’
  • ‘I’m so pleased we did this.’
  • ‘Let’s speak again next week/month.’
  • ‘I’ll say goodbye to you now. Let me know/let’s talk again soon/’
  • ‘Well, give my love to..’

Notes to finish

When you’ve finished chatting (or during your conversation) you could jot down the odd word or phrase to help you remember details. You might think this turns a personal conversation into a work or business one, but it’s actually a very good way to maintain concentration and really focus on what is being said.

The act of writing impresses the spoken words on your mind, so you avoid the awkwardness of asking later in the conversation, ‘Sorry, when did you say you were having the operation?’ or ‘Who was it again you had the row with?’

Another advantage of notes is that you can refer to them before you speak to the person again. We think we remember things people say, but our memories are selective. If you know the significant content of your last chat, you are well placed to ask meaningful questions and make involved comments.

And this might be an opportunity for you to buy a lovely notebook. Always a pleasure.

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