How to make a phone call with someone you don’t know but want to help you

June 16, 2015 by Joshua
in Entrepreneurship, Exercises, Habits, Leadership, Relationships, Tips

[This post is part of a series on Communication Skills Exercises for Business and Life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I just got off the phone with a client who was preparing for a call with someone important to help her. She was nervous because of his status and not sure how to make the call work. She typically would talk too much about herself, which didn’t get the results she wanted of the other person wanting to help her.

I told her, based on “Fundamentals and technique: what you do when you don’t know what to do,” that in such situation I fall back on technique I know will work. I see no value in winging it or falling prey to my anxieties. I want to do what works. I don’t see value of the call in the originality of structure. I see it in the relationship we form.

I recounted the phone call structure I’ve developed for such situations. She found it useful enough that she plans to use that structure. Since most of us need to ask people we don’t know to help us, I figure it will be useful to others.

I’m not saying it’s the best or only structure, that it’s right for you next call, or that it will always work. But it’s worked for me many times. I can’t think of a time it’s failed me.

It may look like a lot of steps, but you can finish a call with this structure in ten minutes. You can also stretch it to an hour if you want.

The Structure

Step 1: Thank them for their time. Example: “Hi, how are you. Before getting started, I wanted to thank you for taking time for this call. I know your time is important.” Respecting their time helps the conversation. Not respecting it risks making them feel taken for granted, which will discourage them from helping you.

(Optional, if appropriate Step 1a: Refer kindly to the person who put you two together)

Step 2: Check how long you have. Example: “I hope now is still a good time. About how much time do you have, by the way… Five minutes? Thirty? An hour?” Running out of time helps no one. If they associate you with being late to their next appointment, they won’t take your calls later. You have to lead a five-minute call differently than a sixty-minute call.

Step 3: Lead the call to quick introductions. Example: “Why don’t we start with quick introductions? Do you prefer to go first or should I?” Who goes first doesn’t matter, but starting the process does. Introductions create intimacy.

Step 4: Do introductions. On my turn I start by asking them how much depth they want. Example: “Do you prefer the thirty-second version, the two-minute version, or the five-minute version?” I want to give them what they want without wasting time. Then I can feel comfortable not talking too long or leaving out important things.

Step 5: During their description, start the Meaningful Connection exercise. They’ll usually show they care about something they describe related to the call. Start the exercise there. Example: “When you talked about [something they cared about relevant to the call] it sounded like you cared about it more than most. Is that your main interest here?” If so, you finished step 2 of Meaningful Connection.

Step 6: Finish Meaningful Connection.

Step 7: Do the Make People Feel Understood exercise. Meaningful Connection usually ends with them talking about their passion. If so, you can start the confirmation cycle there. Keep confirming until they share a Universal Emotion motivating them.

Step 8: Connect their passion to the task of how they can help you. If you’ve done this step before, it’s an easy step. It’s hard to give an example without the specifics of the conversation. If you do this step, the other person will feel understood and motivated to help you.

Step 9: Establish how to follow up. I recommend asking them to hold you accountable without any effort from them, usually by having you report back how you did. That way you can email, call, or visit them again.

Step 10: After you finish following up, report back and, if you want them in your life more, ask for more help or advice. Astute readers will see this step establishes a mentorship relationship, as in “How to get a mentor in two easy steps that work.”


This structure allows for variation. My examples are shorter than I usually say, for example. The point isn’t to follow it perfectly, but to fall back on it when you aren’t sure what to say next.

This call needs very little preparation after you’ve developed all the skills and makes the other person feel understood about something meaningful to them. It holds you back from talking about yourself unnecessarily or guessing at what’s meaningful to them.

Good luck!

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3 responses on “How to make a phone call with someone you don’t know but want to help you

  1. Pingback: Communication skills exercises for business and life » Joshua Spodek

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