Chapter One: Master the Hello and Good-Bye
Life is a series of hellos and good-byes.
You’ll make an impression just by not taking for granted that [someone] was lying there in a hammock, eating chocolates and reading movie magazines, hoping someone would telephone.
In early 2008, when Great on the Job was nothing more than an idea and a set of PowerPoint slides, I sent my materials to a friend and mentor up at Cornell business school for his review. Clint Sidle, the director of the Park Leadership Fellows Program, had coached me through my transition from Peace Corps volunteer to investment banker years before, and he and I had maintained a close friendship ever since.
Clint thought the slides were great but he had one question early on: The hello and good-bye—did it really need to be taught? My husband, Eric, concurred. He thought it was insulting to people’s intelligence to talk to a room full of MBAs and role-play the beginning and end of a phone conversation.
But here’s the thing. How many times have you picked up the phone and the person on the other end—your friend, colleague, client, or mother for that matter—launches into a diatribe about something that you’re either (a) not interested in, (b) not prepared to discuss, or (c) don’t have time to listen to? And you politely (or impolitely) think to yourself,How do I get off the damn phone?
Too many of us have been on the receiving end of a call when we weren’t awarded the common courtesy of being asked if we had a moment to speak. Unfortunately, we found ourselves wondering how to end the call or thinking about the hundreds of other things on our to-do list that did not include speaking to the person on the other end.
The easiest thing in the world to do is to ask someone at the outset of every conversation—on the phone or in person—if he or she has a moment to speak. Is this a good time? Do you have a few minutes? Am I catching you at a bad time? The concept is so simple, yet so often overlooked.
The subtext is that you respect the person with whom you’re speaking and you understand that his or her time is valuable. By clearly stating who you are (introduction), why you’re calling (purpose of call), and then inquiring whether he or she has the time or inclination to speak with you at that moment (key question), you establish yourself as respectful and professional. With the key question you generously give the other person an “out” to reschedule the call if it’s not a good time or to refer you to someone else if he or she is not the right person to speak with.
Failing to start with the key question can be the difference between getting what you need (or not), making a good first impression (or not), or rubbing someone the right (or wrong) way. Are you going to achieve your intended goal if the person on the other end of the line is only half listening? Will you actually get the follow-up meeting if your counterparty has only two minutes for you and you don’t think to ask if there’s a better time to talk?
The Strategy: The Three-Step Hello
2. Purpose of your call
3. Key question
Hi, Pam, this is Nelson Blair calling from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. I was referred to you by Arthur Braniff.
This is a no-brainer, but please don’t assume everyone knows who you are or remembers what firm you’re with (or what school you’re from or how your aunt Margaret introduced the two of you last summer).
Start with your full name and, if you’re affiliated with an organization, make it known up front. If you’ve been referred by someone else, state that clearly. Don’t make the person on the other end of the line spend the first few minutes of the call racking his or her brain trying to figure out who you are or how he or she knows you.
2. Purpose of Your Call
I am calling to follow up on the e-mail I sent you last Friday regarding next month’s charity auction.
Let me know up front and center what the call or conversation is regarding. Then I can decide whether to engage, ask to speak at a different time, or suggest that you speak with someone else. Whether you have information to share, you need information, or you’re reaching out on behalf of someone else, I’ll be more likely to take your call if I know why you’re calling or dropping by. Tell me right away so that I can shift gears to focus on the topic at hand or let you know that now is not a good time to talk.
3. The Key Question
Do you have a few minutes to speak?
In 2009, I reached out to a business school prospect to pitch the Great on the Job training program. I had been referred to the school’s director of career services, Pat Harding. After sending Pat an introductory e-mail, I followed up with a phone call. Unlike with many business-development calls I make, Pat actually picked up her own line. Here’s how the conversation went:
“Hi, Pat, this is Jodi Glickman calling from Great on the Job. I was referred to you by Karin Ash at the Johnson School.”
“Oh, hello, Jodi. How are you?”
“I’m great, thanks. I was wondering if you had a few minutes to follow up on the e-mail I sent you last week regarding Great on the Job and to talk about whether this might be of interest to your MBA students.”
“Jodi, thanks so much for calling. Actually I’m headed into a meeting right now, but let me have Katherine Leeds follow up with you. She handles student programming.”
“Okay, thanks so much, Pat. I will look forward to hearing from Katherine.”
I hung up the phone slightly dejected—it was a quick call and I didn’t get a chance to pitch my product. Nonetheless, I had been professional (I identified myself and stated the purpose of my call) and respectful of Pat’s time (by asking her if she had a few minutes to speak, which she did not).
Pat no doubt appreciated the “easy out,” given that she was headed into another meeting. The very next day Katherine Leeds gave me a call to follow up, and there began the beginning of my relationship with the business school, which I am happy to report is today a client.
Who knows what would have happened had I opened the conversation with a quick hello and launched right into the GOTJ sales pitch. Given that Pat was about to go into a meeting, she would have had to cut the conversation off early. Perhaps she would have been annoyed that I’d interrupted her before an important meeting. She would likely have been distracted thinking about the meeting. Perhaps she would have half listened with one ear and politely said thanks, but no thanks, we’re not interested, just to get rid of me.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about Pat’s being annoyed, distracted, or eager to hang up the phone. I didn’t put her in an awkward or uncomfortable position. I simply gave her an out, which she took me up on, ending the call quickly but promising to put me in touch with her colleague.
Here is some additional sample language that I could have used in my three-step hello with Pat and that you can use at the outset of any conversation.
• Hi, Pat, this is Nelson Blair calling from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. I was referred to you by Arthur Braniff.
• Hello, this is Roger Hollis calling from the retail division at Nike.
• Hello, my name is Brendan Davies and I’m a student at the University of Michigan.
• Hi, Brent, this is Alex Harding from Vanderbilt University; Professor Thomas introduced us this spring on campus.
2. PURPOSE OF YOUR CALL
• I’m calling to follow up on the e-mail I sent you regarding next month’s charity auction.
• I’d like to give you an update on the spring fund-raising campaign.
• May I fill you in on the details of last night’s committee meeting?
• I’d like to ask for your help drafting a job description for the executive assistant position.
3. THE KEY QUESTION
• Do you have a few minutes?
• Is this a good time?
• Do you have a moment to speak?
• Am I catching you at a bad time?
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The same approach works for in-person drop-bys. The three-step hello is just as critical when you pop over to your boss’s or colleague’s office or cubicle to give a quick update, ask a question, or just say hello. Just because the door to someone’s office is open doesn’t mean he’s eager to stop what he’s doing the moment you decide to drop by.
Will your manager drop everything she’s doing and give you her full attention if you catch her at a bad time? Starting with a knock on the door followed by a “Do you have minute?” will invariably get you further in the long term than will barging into people’s offices and assuming they’re ready and willing to chat.
* * *
I’m also going to see how they treat the receptionist. I always get feedback from them. I’ll want to know if someone comes in and if they weren’t polite, if they didn’t say “Hello” or ask them how they were. It’s really important to me.
—Jana Eggers, former CEO, Spreadshirt, from New York Times interview “Should I Hire You? I’ll Ask the Receptionist”
When my literary agent’s assistant, Sara, answers the phone at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth and says, “Good morning, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth, this is Sara, how may I help you?” I immediately address Sara by name and ask her how she is doing, inquire about her weekend, or wish her a happy holiday if appropriate.
Sara and I have never met in person but we speak on the phone occasionally, and I am always gracious and considerate when we speak. If I’m rude or dismissive of Sara, disrespectful or abrupt, it’s probably going to make its way back to my agent and potentially impede my access to him. After all, Sara doesn’t have to pass along my message right away, track him down when I need him, or help me fax a document to him if she doesn’t want to.
When an assistant answers the phone, you should add two steps to your “hello”:
1. Greet by name.
2. Ask how they are doing.
Then proceed as before with your introduction, purpose of the call (whom you are calling and why), and the key question—is so-and-so available?
Here are some ideas of how to handle the opening conversation with someone’s assistant.
1. INTRODUCTION (GREET BY NAME)
• Hi, Sara. This is Jodi Glickman calling for Todd Shuster.
• Hello, Brian, how are you? This is Patricia Palermo from Skadden Arps.
• Susan, hello, this is Erin Edwards calling from Dr. Cannon’s office.
• Hello, my name is Anderson Byers and I’m a student at the University of Illinois School of Engineering.
2. HOW ARE YOU?
• How are you?
• How’s everything going?
• Did you have a nice weekend?
• Happy New Year! Is the week getting crazy for you already?
3. & 4. PURPOSE OF CALL & KEY QUESTION
• I am calling to speak with Todd about the book proposal. Is he available by chance?
• I was hoping to speak with Nancy about tomorrow’s presentation. Is she in?
• Is Lisa planning to be in the office this afternoon? I’d like to speak with her about the Vios account.
• I’m looking for Jordan. I need to reach him urgently before we go to press tonight.
Forward Momentum: Good-Bye
The “good-bye” is actually not an ending point, but rather a transition for your next call or conversation. With the close of every conversation, you want to leave the door open for all future interactions. A professional and courteous good-bye reinforces that you’re a respectful colleague and sets the stage for positive interactions going forward.
The Strategy: The Two-Step Good-Bye
1. Thank you
2. Forward momentum
1. Thank You
Jane, it was great speaking with you this morning, thanks so much for your help.
When someone is helpful, it’s easy to end a conversation. The words thank you so much come to mind readily and typically give you a good way to get off the phone or leave someone’s office. However, many conversations are not particularly helpful. Some are outright boring or unproductive.
Nonetheless, people deserve the courtesy of being thanked for their time, if not for their helpfulness, insight, or intuition. Even if a conversation is a total bust, go ahead and thank your counterpart for his or her time. When people take up your time, you can expect a thank-you for having shared it with them. You should do the same.
2. Forward Momentum
I will look forward to staying in touch and working together in the future.
Every conversation presents an opportunity to build upon and expand your network. With each new interaction, you have an opportunity to establish or build rapport and leverage professional relationships going forward. Building on the “thank you” is where the true skill comes in.
A hint of forward momentum—letting someone know how or when you plan to follow up, offering to give a heads-up or a posting when things change, or just committing to share your contact details or touch base in the near term—gives you the footing you need to stay in touch and keep the door open.
Moreover, even when it looks as if there’ll be no future interaction—you’ll no longer be working on a project together, you didn’t get the position, the other person is leaving the firm, you got what you needed, etc.—don’t be fooled. You never know when you will cross paths again. Leaving one door open is infinitely easier than having to open a new one next time around.
Here is some additional sample language you can use to end your conversations skillfully and maintain forward momentum.
1. THANK YOU
• Jane, it was great speaking with you this morning, thanks so much for your help.
• Thank you for raising some interesting issues I hadn’t considered before. You’ve inspired me to revisit the issue.
• Brian, thanks again for taking the time this afternoon to connect.
• Thanks for sharing your time generously. I know how busy you are.
2. FORWARD MOMENTUM
• I will look forward to staying in touch and returning the favor one day.
• I’m sorry we won’t be working together, but I’d love to stay in touch and grab coffee at some point.
• I will let you know the outcome of the meeting and keep you posted on how things shake out.
• If you need any additional information from my team, please don’t hesitate to ask.
• Is there anyone else you think I should speak to about lighting and set design?
• I may come back to you with further questions if that’s all right?
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Getting off to a good start is key to making good first impressions and critical to establishing long-term relationships. Using these strategies will enable you to engender goodwill with others and encourage people to take your calls or stop what they’re doing to really listen to you.
Keeping the door open at the end of your conversations will allow you to create the “currency” of forward momentum, building goodwill you can use in the future for a whole host of things—asking for help or feedback, networking internally, or building external relationships to leverage throughout your career. Equally important, mastering the hello and good-bye will allow you to focus on the more important aspects of your interactions, i.e., the actual content of your message.
Q: If I drop by someone’s office, should I stand or take a seat while I speak?
A: A safe rule of thumb is to stand until you are invited to sit. If you don’t get an invitation to sit down, take it as a sign that this drop-by is intended to be quick—so get to your point and then take your leave politely.
Q: Sometimes I find myself trapped in a manager’s office after finishing a conversation and I don’t know how to exit. What should I do?
A: A great way to end an awkward (or potentially awkward) conversation is to acknowledge that people are busy and let them know that you don’t want to take any more of their time.
Thanks so much, you’ve been very helpful. I don’t want to take any more of your time.
Or, if you’ve been discussing an assignment or task or deal you’re working on, then always appropriate is the exit-on-account-of-the-topic-at-hand option.
Okay, I’d better go finish up the memo. Or: Thanks so much, I’m going to go ahead and call Andrea now to follow up on the report.
Q: If I’m speaking with an important client or a senior person in my organization, should I address that person as Mr. or Ms. or use his or her first name?
A: Your default should be to address people by their first name—in person, on the phone, and via e-mail. Using first names puts you on more equal footing with colleagues and clients, even when people are senior to you.
The exception to the rule is if / when other people in your organization use more formal greetings with certain clients or executives—in that case follow their lead and do the same. If you are introduced to someone with a title, such as “This is Professor Michaels” or “I’d like you to meet Dr. Cummins” or “Please say hello to Mr. Drummond,” then use that title until the other person tells you not to.
Copyright © 2011 by Jodi Glickman Jodi Glickman is the founder of Great on the Job, LLC. She previously worked in the investment banking division at Goldman Sachs and was a policy analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency. She holds a B.S. in Social Policy from Northwestern University and an M.B.A. from the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.