How to Use the Phone Better

How to use the phone better, so you get the biggest bang for your buck.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #157

Richard Gunther of the Richard.is blog recently posted a rant about telephones. This episode is inspired by him.

I just love communication technology. No, I don’t. I hate communication technology. Not always, of course, just mostly. Like when to find Melvin to arrange a bowling trip. We’ve been friends for years and I still need his business card to remember his three email addresses and six phone numbers. I just leave voicemail on his cell phone, his work line, and his Skype account. Then I text his home and work cell phones, and email his public email address, his private address, and his school alumni address. Sometimes, he calls back. This is progress.>

When Should You Communicate by Phone?

Communication technology does not help us get stuff done. Communicating helps us get stuff done. But technology is now often in our way. We use it the wrong way. Breaking up over text message? Tacky. Really tacky. Sure, breaking up in person might be dangerous. “What if my soon-to-be-ex is holding a bottle of nitro glycerin and accidentally drops it in shock, when I deliver the news?” C’mon, that only happens once every two or three breakups.

In a past episode, I dealt with deciding when email is the best way to handle a situation. Sharing a draft of a memo? Great for email. Explaining to your spouse-to-be the night before the wedding that you’re actually a different gender than they thought? Do that one by phone. (And no, this one isn’t made up.)

How to Use the Phone Better

The telephone is vastly underappreciated these days, and technology has helped it become a universal tool for degrading the quality of our lives. Phones used to come in one variety: reliable, decent quality, and sturdy. You could drop one off the Empire State Building and after digging it out of the resulting crater, it would still work. Now, phones come in every shape, size, and color. Everything except dependable, clear, and reliable. Don’t let your bad phone service make it harder for you to get stuff done.

When NOT to Talk on a Cell Phone

As much as we all love being disconnected, there’s no substitute for a trusty land line when the stakes are high. The wired phone network was hardened to keep working during many kinds of emergencies. As anyone who’s ever tried to use a cell phone in large crowd knows, the cell network is severely limited.

“High stakes” doesn’t just mean Martians invading the Earth. Stakes are high if you’re using many people’s time. If you’re doing a conference call on a telebridge, use land lines. You get clearer call quality and don’t waste ten people’s time trying to figure out where that weird buzzing noise is coming from.

When to Use a Land Line

Stakes are high if you’re recording a call for any reason—whether for legal purposes, to turn it into a product, or because you want to give your grandkids a copy of you being interviewed about your life-changing year living in a gummy bear factory. Always use a land line when recording a call, as most professional recording equipment works best with land lines. The one exception is that if you have strong, reliable internet service, Skype or VOIP makes for great recordings.

By the way, job telephone interviews are high stakes. Use a land line! Though a good Skype connection is clearer than a land line, use it only if you’re confident the network is stable. You want your prospective employer concentrating on how great you are, not how flaky your phone connection is.

When Should You Use a Cell Phone?

If you absolutely must use your cell phone, use your brain. Or actually, don’t use your brain. Your brain is good at filtering out wind noise, passing sirens, screaming children, bank robbers, and street-corner prophets preaching apocalyptic doom. Your phone doesn’t filter. Your other party hears everything at equal volume. Don’t make them say “What? I can’t hear you” every five seconds. Go somewhere quiet and use your mute button when you’re not talking so they can get their message across. And if you happen to wander into a zone where you’re getting really good reception, stop there and finish your conversation. Don’t inflict your cell phone’s poor coverage on the person listening.

One other thing to realize when using cell phone is that they don’t have adequate sidetone. Sidetone is when you hear your own voice through the phone. It’s how your brain controls how loud you speak. People yell into their cell phones without realizing it because there’s not enough feedback to tell their brains how much of their voice the mouthpiece is actually picking up.

With no sidetone, you think you’re talking softly, even when you’re yelling. Practice speaking softly into your cell phone and notice how that feels. When you call in public, keep a low volume by duplicating the feeling. Don’t be that person. The other people on the subway don’t need to know about the unfortunate anatomical challenge that led to the breakup of your relationship.

Bluetooth? Really? Bluetooth?

If you have a Bluetooth headset, throw it away.

If you have a Bluetooth headset, throw it away. Just trash it. There’s a special place in hell reserved for people who make us listen to them over Bluetooth headsets. That dumb little thing sticking out of your ears is not attractive and will not impress anyone, no matter what the salesperson told you.

Remember to get your free audiobook at audiblepodcast.com/done.

If you want to work less and do more, clear communication is the secret. Use a landline for anything important. Use Skype or VOIP if you need good quality recording and can get a solid connection. If you must use your cell phone for calls that matter, find a quiet place with a strong signal and learn to speak softly. And as for Bluetooth? Don’t even bother. A quick, clear conversation can accomplish wonders. Don’t let your technology get in the way.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.