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smiling dog

We’ve all heard the grumblings from co-workers, friends and family, “I wish I could talk to a 'live' person.” It’s a sure thing that you have recently encountered recorded messages, instructions to “press 1,” or long wait times.

So if someone actually does get you on the phone, he may not be in the best of moods.

As a serial tasker (thanks to Emily Wiseman for that insight!), I find it difficult to focus fully on callers and give them the attention they deserve. In the past, they have probably heard my computer keys clacking, or the shuffling of papers in the background as they try to explain the reason for their call. With our ever-increasing workloads, it is difficult to keep the focus on the caller.

So what do I do when receiving a call in the middle of a very busy workday? Stop, listen and smile.

Why smile? When talking on the phone, you are at a disadvantage in that the caller cannot see your body language: the tilt of your head, facial expressions and hand gestures. All are lost in today’s emails, texts and phone calls. Your voice is the only clue as to your attentiveness.

Professor John J. Ohala, University of California, Berkely, Department of Linguistics theorized in his research paper The Acoustic Origins of the Smile, “…words sound better to humans when accompanied by a smile. By smiling, the cheeks are pulled back reducing the size of the mouth cavity and this produces higher vocal tract resonances.”

From Improving Your Inflection on the Phone:

  • A monotone and flat voice says to the customer, "I'm bored and have absolutely no interest in what you're talking about."
  • A high-pitched and emphatic voice says, "I'm enthusiastic about this subject."

Don’t just go through the motions
According to Dr. Mark G. Frank, et al, Physiologic Effects of the Smile, a smile with Duchenne marker is the “enjoyment smile” and is one that involves specific facial muscles creating an upward pulling of the lip corners and crinkling of the eyes. Individuals who smile with the Duchenne marker “…are perceived as more sincere, honest, friendly, and approachable…” Well, that’s all well and good when someone can see your smile, but why smile when talking on the phone?

In an interview with NPR, Amy Drahota with the University of Portsmouth, discussed a study conducted by the University, in which she posited that you can tell the difference between an enjoyment smile, and one that is “non-Duchenne.” The test involved participants answering a series of questions with just one phrase. The test was designed so that the one-phrase answer, in response to the questions, would increasingly cause the participant to (a genuine, Duchenne) smile. The sound bites of the one-phrase answer were then played to a second set of participants who were asked to determine if the person in the sound bite was smiling. The study concluded that people are able to detect a genuine, enjoyment smile by the sound of your voice alone.

The sound of a smile will convey to the caller you are friendly and approachable, and able and willing to help. I find that taking the time to smile puts me in a better mood and better able to handle any of my clients' needs. 

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