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December 26, 2019

How to Analyze a Phone Conversation

A Beginner’s Guide to Conversational Analysis Over the Phone (News - Alert)

Have you ever wondered what the person on the other end of the phone conversation is really thinking? Or have you thought back to a previous phone conversation and wondered what the person meant when they asked, “are you sure about that?’ Conversations are often more complex than the surface-level sentences would suggest, and the only way to tap into those complexities is with a kind of conversational analysis.

Why Conversational Analysis?

First, you may wonder what the value is in analyzing a conversation. Ultimately, there are a few potential goals you could achieve, including:

  • Sales prospect disposition. If you’re a real estate agent talking to a prospective buyer or a salesperson on the line with a major client, you’ll need to understand what the other person is thinking and feeling. Are they warmly interested in everything you say, or do they seem hesitant and standoffish? Are there certain conversational beats that cause them to flinch or recoil?
  • Negotiation tactics. This is also useful during ongoing negotiations. Good negotiators will often try to adopt a “poker face,” speaking as neutrally as possible and refusing to allow their emotions to enter the equation. However, even the most coolheaded people often give themselves away eventually; if you can figure out what the other person is thinking, you can position yourself much better.
  • Self-analysis. Analyzing the conversation isn’t just about better understanding the other party; it’s also about better understanding yourself. This is your opportunity to listen to yourself. Are you presenting your ideas the best possible way? Are you stumbling at any point, or are there points where you reveal what you’re feeling?
  • Education and training. Conversational analysis is also a good teaching opportunity. You can show the conversation to other people on your team and request their input; depending on the situation, you may be able to learn from their insights, or you may be able to teach them more about their positions and roles.

Recording the Conversation

While it’s possible to analyze a running conversation on-the-fly, most salespeople and decision makers will be better served analyzing a conversation in retrospect. The only reliable way to do this is to record the conversation in its entirety. Get in the habit of recording all your phone calls, whether for personal or business-wide purposes. That way, you can take your time and replay certain sections to make sure you’re interpreting everything correctly.

Tone of Voice (and Changes)

You can judge a lot by a person’s tone of voice and how it changes throughout the conversation. First, you need to have a baseline; everyone will have some characteristics unique to their voice. For example, some people are naturally more monotone than others; they consistently have fewer inflection points and are harder to read. Some people are naturally louder, or quieter, or faster, or slower. But once you’ve established a clear pattern with an individual, you can start monitoring changes in that tone. Do they seem to convey more inflections after a certain point in the conversation? Do they seem to adopt a harsher or friendlier tone in response to the topic at hand?

Word Choices

You can also read into the word choices of your conversational partner. Again, there are firm individual differences that will provide a foundation for the rest of the conversation. Some people will have a broader, more diverse vocabulary than others, and some people will be predisposed to certain regional word choices, like favoring the word “soda” over “pop.” But beyond that, you can listen to peculiar word choices that might reveal what the other person is feeling. For example, do they start using more vague language when you get down to brass tacks? They may be trying to avoid overplaying their hand.

Symmetry and Asymmetry

It’s a good idea to pay attention to any symmetry or asymmetry that is apparent in your conversation as well. For example, let’s say you open with a simple, “Hi! How are you?” A symmetrical response would be something like, “I’m good! And you?” It engages with your question and responds to you in kind. But what if they respond with “Hello. Let’s get to it”? Asymmetry in tone and secondary signals is also worth noting.

Broken Records, Echoes, and Other Patterns

Different patterns can also give you cues to the person’s underlying disposition. For example, do they tend to repeat the same phrase over and over? It could be a sign that they feel unheard, or else that they don’t know what else to say. Do they seem to echo back whatever you’re saying? It could be an attempt to process what you’re saying. Also be on the lookout for filler phrases like “uh-huh” and laughter; how and when do these arise?


Most people take pauses in conversation at intervals unique to them. However, when the pause timing changes, it’s usually a sign that the person’s disposition has changed. If they start pausing longer, or more frequently, it could be a sign that they’re trying to think something through, or a sign that they’re no longer fully engaged in the conversation.

The Limitations of Audio

Of course, there are some limitations when analyzing a conversation over the phone. It can be difficult to read a person’s tone fully without being able to see their facial expressions and body language, and the subtleties of response are somewhat lost over the phone. If you can combine analysis of both a verbal conversation and an in-person one, you’ll walk away with a much better understanding of your prospect.

Conversational analysis is an art that takes time to master, but with a good telecommunications service provider, accurate recording, and ongoing practice, you should improve over time. While you’re at it, pay attention to the nuances of speech in all your phone conversations, even before you review the recordings. The better you understand them, the better your responses will be—regardless of the circumstances.

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