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March 28, 2012 12:46 PM   Subscribe

How can I learn to stay focused while talking (and listening) on the phone, particularly in professional contexts?

I've searched many threads on AskMe, and have found some useful hints, but I haven't found an answer yet. So Hivemind: How do you stay focused and organized during telephone conversations?

Tips and tricks would be welcome! I'm especially interested in tips for participating in conference calls and interviews where I'd be speaking with multiple people at once.

I suspect that my attention span is on the shorter end of the spectrum. This tendency towards mind-wandering and frequent task/topic-switching kicks into high gear whenever I'm on the phone. I guess this is because I can't seen the person, so all I have to anchor to is a voice. I frequently forget what I was going to say in person, but do so far more often while talking on the phone.

I don't mind if I switch topics every sentence or so while chatting with friends (although they sometimes mind), but it has become a problem in professional contexts like phone interviews. Confused facial expressions act as a cue when I've wandered off-topic in face-to-face conversations. Obviously this hint is lacking during a phone call.

I realize that to an extent, many people are less polished on the phone than they are in other contexts. Yet I've been told more than once (e.g. during practice phone interviews) that I come across as disorganized and spacey on the phone. I focus so hard on staying on track that I forget to mention important details (like half of my qualifications for the position).

All usual disclaimers apply: YANAD, YANAPdoc, etc. And because it will likely be asked about: I haven't been formally diagnosed with AD(H)D although my primary care physician suggested getting assessed.
posted by brackish.line to Human Relations (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If it is a phone call you will be repeating often, develop a script.
You can basically have set pieces you say, and questions you ask. I used an example from a job search book called Knock'em Dead, for job hunting.

For other conversations on the phone, get a piece of paper and a pen. Divide the paper into at least two sides, and on one side, bullet point the pieces of information you need to cover. On the other side, take notes as you are listening. Keep the pen moving, just scrawl enough that *you* know what you mean (although you may need more context than you thought!).
Important - manually cross out each bullet point as you cover each point, so you can visually see when you have finished.
If you are confident that all the things you have to cover are written down in front of you, you should be able to spend less time mentally juggling the things you have to go over, and therefore, be able to pay attention better.

Further, even though you're on the phone, try and feel as put-together as if you were in front of someone. Sit up straight, smile, tie your hair back, make sure your clothes are neat, and give your face a splash of cold water if you need to freshen up. This will carry over into your attitude as you talk.

Best of luck!
posted by Elysum at 1:06 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I write stuff down.

If I'm going to say something, I'll outline it a little. Even just the three big topics I'll talk about in a few words works to keep my thoughts organized. And maybe some questions I wanted to ask.

Likewise, I write down what they're saying. Even as simple as names connected by arrows to times, places, or things. And I'll write down things I want to come back to.

Writing things down also helps me summarize at the end of phone conversations and again in follow-up emails. Both these things will make you appear to be organized.
posted by Mercaptan at 1:06 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have the same issues with phone calls. I'm a very visual person, so not being able to see the people I'm talking to definitely contributes. I'm sure it goes without saying, but don't try to multitask!

The thing that works best for me is to reduce all visual and audible distractions as much as possible. I don't sit in front of the computer if I can help it, but if it's a conference call at work I will turn the screen off (unless I need a document up on the screen for the call). I don't have the TV on, I don't have the radio going in the background. I don't look out the window or pay attention to who is walking past my office door.

Also as stated above, preparing notes for myself, as well as taking notes as I go, helps to stay on track. When I was doing job interviews via phone, I always made sure to write down the names of everyone on the other end so I could thank them by name at the end of the call. I also had an extra copy of my resume, with certain points pre-highlighted that I wanted to address so I didn't have to keep scanning up and down the page to find what I wanted to say next.

Finally - and this can be really hard if you're not used to it - actually listen to what's being said to you. Just focus on the other person/people speaking, don't think about what you want to say next. You can do that when it's your turn to speak. Don't be afraid of a few moments of silence when you are thinking about your response, it shows you to be thoughtful and purposeful with your words. If that makes you nervous, you can always let them know near the start of the interview after introductions that you like to take a second to compose your answers, so you apologize in advance for any 'dead air' throughout the call.
posted by trivia genius at 1:23 PM on March 28, 2012

I've taken the opposite approach to trivia genius -- I play Chuzzle, specifically the 'Zen' version. It manages to occupy the distractible side of my brain without actually distracting me.
posted by MeiraV at 6:10 PM on March 28, 2012

Something really super repetitive that you can do with your hands may help -- knitting, for example. Playing with silly putty. Stuff that's quiet but a tiny bit distracting, but non-verbal.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:23 PM on March 28, 2012

If I'm sitting in front of a computer I need to either turn off the screen or close the laptop lid, otherwise I'll end up devoting about 20% of my attention to my caller.
posted by schrodycat at 5:07 PM on March 29, 2012

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