How’s your telephone technique? Despite the rising popularity of text-based electronic communication, the phone is still an essential business tool. Many just prefer the convenience of text messaging, but others have a fear of speaking, especially to strangers. Darlene Price, founder of Well Said, Inc., tells us why.

“The fear, uncertainty, and doubt of what to say and how to say it prevents many would-be callers from smiling and dialing. Unlike texting or emailing where you have the luxury of editing and proofing your words, speaking over the phone is live in real-time. Once you’ve said something, there’s no taking it back. What’s more, you can’t even see the people to whom you’re talking or gauge their reactions to your message. Whether you fear tripping over your words, forgetting your key points, or saying the wrong thing, talking over the phone can be scary.”

Yet a good phone technique can often be the difference between clinching a sale or losing a customer, between landing that job or hanging up disappointed. As Jacqueline Smith of Forbes points out, it’s necessary in most lines of work—and employees need to know how to speak with impact on the phone.

You will only ever get one chance at making a great first impression. That chance frequently happens in a phone call. Price adds, “The first 10 to 15 seconds of that phone call can make or break your chances of getting the outcome you desire.… Callers form critical opinions based primarily on the combination of your words and voice tone: What you say and how you say it.”

Here are five do’s and don’ts to help you be the best you can be on the phone:

  1. Before you call, prepare what you want to say. Do you have clearly in mind the approach you will take and the right form of address, whether for a colleague, a supervisor, or a customer? Make sure you have all the information you require at your fingertips.
  2. Right at the outset, identify yourself clearly and check that the other party can give you the time you need.
  3. Avoid a distracted tone. Price says, “A voice tone that is monotone, impolite, distracted, or unprofessional in any way sends an immediate negative message.” Are you too busy for this call? Are you in a bad mood? Or just not enthusiastic? Do you not really know what you want to say? Fix these issues before you dial.
  4. Smile! James Baker, CEO of Baker Communications, reminds us that “your voice sounds different when you are smiling, and your customers can hear it. Not only that, you will feel different if you smile…. You will be able to approach your job with a better attitude, and respond more positively and sympathetically.”
  5. Avoid multitasking. You will give the impression that something else is more important than the person on the other end of the call. They will detect unnatural pauses, or you will miss important details. And no one likes to hear surreptitious paper shuffles or keyboard clicks when they are trying to engage your attention.

Dozens of other tips could be included in a post like this. But almost all of them reflect the fact that communication and a good telephone technique is about relationships between people. And people appreciate being treated with courtesy.

So return that call if you’ve promised to, don’t eat or drink on the phone, and never be so loud that your call disturbs everyone around you. Treat everyone with respect, and you will increase your value as an employee, and you will make your company more attractive to deal with.