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THE VIRTUAL EXECUTIVE
How to Act Like a CEO Online and Offline
By DEBRA A. BENTON
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012Debra A. Benton
All rights reserved.
Mobile devices and smart phones are obviously not just for talking. You can use them to check e-mail; listen to music; play games; watch videos; download and display TV shows; browse the web; schedule and organize your calendar; get voice-guided directions; and take and send photos and videos. The cell phone is a watch, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a calculator, an address book, a wallet to pay for bar-coded purchases, and a portal to access thousands of apps. It's pretty much up to the human imagination as to what one can do with a mobile device today, let alone in the future!
"A self-defense expert taught me that if people are acting suspiciously around me, I should hold up my phone toward them and say they're live on the phone and being recorded. That generally stops them."
The drawback of mobile devices is that you are undeniably reachable at all times, and you have an obligation to respond. There is a perceived accessibility expected seven days out of seven. Senders hold an implied connectedness whether you want to be reached or not.
"The only relief I get from the cell phone is when I'm in the dentist chair. I've found myself looking forward to those appointments."
A cell phone, however, is for your convenience. You don't have to be a slave to it or be at its disposal. One time I overheard some people weighing which bike trail to take and ask, "Which has the best cell phone reception?" I think that's just not right. Such technology should improve our lives, not become a distraction.
* 27 percent of U.S. homes do not have a landline.
* 23 percent are likely to give up the landline in the near future.
USING YOUR MOBILE DEVICE
Unless your phone is bugged, it's generally a good communication channel for discussing confidential information, touchy subjects, and sensitive issues. If you have bad news or things are getting tense and you need to challenge, correct, or disapprove of someone's behavior, the phone is better than putting it in writing. If there is anything that could be misinterpreted in writing, or if you need to reduce the risk of being misread, use the phone. Also, though it shows more nerve to deliver bad news in person, it is not always possible, so the phone is the next best option.
With an oral exchange, you have a better chance of getting people to tell you what's on their mind than when communication is being screened through a written channel. Furthermore, intonation helps you convey appreciation for the time and attention of the people you are talking with.
* 18 percent of people fake a phone call to avoid having to interact with others.
ONE-ON-ONE PHONE CALLS
With so many ways to reach people, a direct phone call out of the blue can be considered rude and disruptive by some. Many have told me that they prefer a text message inquiring, "Are you able to talk now?" or an appointment call time arranged via e-mail.
KNOW YOUR PHONE'S FEATURES
Know how to use the features on your phone before you make and take calls, especially if you have a new device. It is annoying and waste of time for people on the other end of the line when you accidentally cut them off or tell them to wait as you learn to transfer the call or put on the speaker.
It's also pretty embarrassing if you think you put a call on hold but didn't and the person can hear your conversation. This situation has the potential to become your personal Wikileaks moment. For example, a financial advisor I know was talking to his client by phone. The advisor thought he had hung up when he pushed the wrong feature to answer an incoming call. He ended up in an accidental three-way call, with the clients overhearing pejorative comments between the two advisors about the client. Needless to say, that professional affiliation was soon severed.
Practice how to properly use the device in advance, not while someone is on the other end of the line. People will tolerate poor quality sound and functionality when unavoidable, but they will think you're lazy if you don't control what you can. There is also a risk that a lot of what you think you communicated will have been lost.
* 67 percent of all calls are considered less important than the work they interrupt.
* 50 percent of all calls are longer than they need to be to exchange information due to chitchat about weather, vacations, and weekends.
CONSIDER YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Be aware of background noise when you're going to make or take a phone call. If you want to be fully understood, use a landline for better transmission so as to minimize static and dropped calls. I had more clarity in a landline phone call from Kabul, Afghanistan, than I had from a cell phone call from Silicon Valley last week.
Be aware when multitasking and clicking away on your keyboard that you can easily be heard; it's disrespectful, no matter how talented or capable you are in doing it. One human resources manager told me she lost interest in a job candidate that she was interviewing when she kept hearing him type away; he even took another call at one point. In defense of the candidate, if he was taking notes about the interview, he should have said, "Do you mind if I'm typing some information you're giving me? That's how I take notes. I'm fully engaged with you in this conversation, but you might hear the keystrokes, and I don't want you to think otherwise."
Another good rule to remember about your surroundings: don't talk on the phone in the bathroom; it's gross.
MAKE THE CALL
When you are the originator of the call, know what you want as the outcome. If you don't know where you're going in the conversation, how will you know you got there? Be prepared to talk without fumbling around when the other party picks up. If she doesn't answer, you'll be ready to leave a nonrambling message.
To increase the chance of her taking your call and having the time to talk, be interesting and worth talking to so she will pick up. Prepare to have something to say that adds value, and say it with an attitude of good cheer. When she answers, take a slight pause to slow yourself down, and then, with a small smile on your face, give a verbal handshake. "Good morning, Carol. This is Rashid calling. Did I get you at a good time?" Or ask, "Do you have a few minutes to talk?"
"People need to improve their phone etiquette. They call and say, 'I'd like to talk to Glenn (my boss),' and my reaction is, 'I bet you would!' They should say, 'Good morning. How are you? I'm so and so, and I'd like to talk to Glenn if he is available.' They would have a lot better chance of getting put through."
By the way, if someone calls you and asks the "Do you have a minute?" question, an appreciated response is, "I'll take one."
If she says that she has time to talk, continue the verbal handshake with anything pertaining to her. Good humor works, as do questions. The conversation point of interest could be a comment that you remember from the last exchange you had with the person (it's flattering that you recollect) or something you learned from a social media post or Internet search on the person.
Let her respond, then transition into what you are phoning about and what you would like to get out of the conversation. Your words and tone must have a presence and appeal, and they must stand apart from others so people are compelled to stop, listen, and want more. Simply show you care about someone or something other than yourself.
The presence, appeal, and standing apart come from an attitude and choice of pre–thought about words that communicate, "I understand your needs, and I want to work with you or help you help yourself."
Just as you shake hands in person when you enter, you shake hands when you leave, right? So give similarly at the end of the phone conversation. "Thank you for your time. I have a clearer view of what we need to do next. I'll keep you posted." Then refer back to the personal exchange from the beginning. By personalizing the call with something of interest to her, you take the edge off the intrusion into her day.
MAKE IT PERSONAL
People like to say that business isn't personal, but it is personal. All of life is people personally interacting with other people. Work is people interacting with people but with money and title attached to the interactions. Personal doesn't mean inappropriately intimate; you needn't border on sexting.
If you connect on a human level, you more quickly connect on a business one. How do you connect? Simply ask people about their interests, goals, and objectives; listen and remember what they said; later, bring it up. Connect human to human, not role to role, or gadget to gadget, or mano to monitor.
Who, what, when, why, and how are good words to use. Your tone must be one of honest interest and sincere inquisitiveness, not interrogation. Get to know the people behind the computers and the cell phones. Volunteer information about yourself as you ask about others. Then in every conversation, add a little bit more connection between you aside from the business purpose.
Find out, make note, and remember names of spouses, children, hobbies, and things going on in other people's lives. Remembering a small thing like a company anniversary, promotion, birthday, child's name, or interest will put you miles ahead of others. (Make note of my numerous references to questions throughout the book.)
Some hesitate to volunteer personal information, or they hang back when asked. They are not sure yet as to whether they can trust you. Over time they will learn they can. Even if they hesitate, inquire anyway. Give your own answer to the questions you ask of them even if they don't ask. Provide it nonetheless. You make it easy for them to get to know you and therefore to be more open with you.
We all think we're different, but there are more similarities than differences between us. What is most universal is most personal. Most people:
Feel not fully understood
Are the center of their own universe
Want to see what they own go up in value all of the time
Want to be appreciated, to feel powerful, and to appear clever or smart
Want to be happy
Want to make their children laugh
Have a dark side, a part of them the world doesn't see
In a time of trouble will assess their own exposure first, then gradually assess the implications for their friends, their town, the social fabric, and their country
"Just like everyone else in the world, I am the smartest, have all the right answers, know what needs to be done, and am the best in the room ... Oh, I almost forgot, I am the only one in the room!"
The faster you get to contact people, connect with them, know them, and have an affinity with them, the faster you make an impact and difference. Humor helps.
To stay focused on the phone, anchor your eyes on something. If you are talking face-to-face, you give eye contact, right? You center your attention on someone's face to have direct, level, straightforward eye contact to show and pay close attention.
On the phone, similarly, pick a focal point so you pay close attention to what is being said and help your mind wander less. Minimize distractions, and you will sound more engaging. Gaze outside your window, at a painting, a trinket on your desk, anything but your live computer monitor. However, it can be helpful to look at web pages that profile the person you are talking to. Look at a picture of the person if possible; some signatures include photos, and most social media sites also include photos.
Or close your eyes while talking on the phone. (Obviously not while talking and driving!) Closing your eyes takes away your sense of sight, but it ramps up your sense of hearing. You can shut out all that is going on around you and zero in on everything other people are saying.
* You speak, on the average, at the rate of 130 words per minute, but you listen, on the average, at the rate of 425 words per minute.
Sit up straight, or, better yet, stand. Your voice volume improves because your breathing is less constricted. You think better on your feet. Hunched and bent over your computer hinders your tone of voice, spine, and general health. (Note: See page 85 on squaring your shoulders.) Talk to people as you would if you were face-to-face. First, it keeps you in practice for when you are talking to other people in person, and second, you sound better.
Slow down your verbal pacing on the phone, but keep your energy up. Speaking speedily makes you look nervous, preoccupied, impatient, busy, uninterested, or lacking in self-confidence. A fast talker is difficult for anyone to understand, in person or not. Then you have people who've worn ear buds too long and too loud and have poor hearing, people for whom English is a second language, older people with hearing loss, and ex-military people with damaged hearing. The list of possibilities goes on and on.
Refrain from trying to hurry the people along even if they are excruciatingly slow. Make supportive noises: "Hmmm ... ah-ha...." Don't interrupt their train of thought. Instead, jot down what you want to say and ask, but don't insert it until it's your turn to talk. Smoothly challenge the speakers if you do not like their direction, or ask them for clarification. Then allow them time to explain.
SHUT UP AND LISTEN
When you're on the phone, speak when you have something to say; don't feel compelled to say a lot. Use fewer words than you are tempted to, and then stay silent longer. Don't fill awkward silences with chatter or always be the one to wrap up the conversation.
"Say the right thing by not saying anything. Better to talk low, slow, and work out what you are going to say."
Set yourself apart with your use of appropriate silence. That does not mean stonewalling, stalling, disproportionate stoicism, or stubbornness. It does mean using an on-purpose and for-a-purpose quiet. Your ability to pause will get the listeners' attention.
Be in a listen mode versus a broadcast mode online and off. Even when you are talking, use high quality listening by paying attention to the person's breathing, agreement or disagreement sounds, eagerness or lack of. You are rightfully taught early in your work life that you learn more (and usually earn more) with your mouth shut and ears and eyes open rather than the other way around.
Pay total attention to what is going on around you; try a forget-about-self approach on the phone and off.
"In a free society you have right to say whatever the heck you want, but that doesn't mean anyone has to pay attention."
Listen for other people's intended feelings behind their words; encourage them to continue by saying "yes ... uh-huh ... go on ...." Don't disrupt their train of thought or discourage their participation by your interrupting them. When listening, do not simultaneously prepare your follow-up comments or retorts because you think you know what they are saying or they are going to say. Just pay attention. Do not hear only what you want to hear. Concentrate on what is actually being said. Every once in a while, shut up and listen up. Speak less, and have it mean more.
"My CEO rests his forehead on his intertwined fingers, holds the meaty part of his palms over his eyes, closes his eyes, opens them, and asks a question."
ANSWER YOUR PHONE
Have a nonirritating ring tone when receiving calls. Rap, cussing, train whistles, or Lady Gaga shouldn't be your first choice—better to be subtle, not bizarre. Be careful too in using the vibrate mode because a cell phone when it vibrates on some hard surfaces can sound like muffled flatulence.
Answer in as few rings as possible and with a pleasant sounding "Hello, this is Debra speaking ...," not a grunt (regardless of who caller ID shows is calling). Maybe your boss is borrowing the phone of a coworker you don't get along with. If you answer rudely because you expect the coworker, you'll have some explaining to do to your boss. Be consistent; everybody gets the same pass-the- salt tone.
The first thing to do when you pick up the phone is have a smile on your face, and maybe a corresponding twinkle in your eye. Callers can instantly hear a frown. If you can't convey pleasantness, or at least neutrality, why will anyone want to speak with you? Make callers feel comfortable, happy to speak with you, and glad they called.
DON'T STARE AT YOUR PHONE
Don't gaze at, be buried in, or be glued to your cell phone as if your life depended on it. Smart people on smart phones can look dumb when they are so engrossed in their devices that they don't pay attention to anything or anyone around them. Unless you have a job for which you are on call (for example, you are a brain surgeon), you do not need to be staring at your phone all the time. Reholster it.
Besides, if you stare at it, you'll get BlackBerry neck: wrinkled from excessively bending your head down. It's costly to correct by plastic surgeons (I've checked into it!). Or worse, you could end up with chiropractic problems. Better to not bend your neck and spine.
"When I see a person absorbed in his cell phone, sporting earbuds or a Bluetooth, I decide he's not worth a minute of my time."
Ask before you pull your phone out at dinner. And don't hide it under the table, behind your menu, or inside your napkin to surreptitiously peek at it.
Excerpted from THE VIRTUAL EXECUTIVE by DEBRA A. BENTON. Copyright © 2012 by Debra A. Benton. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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