It’s How You Say it — Not What You Say — That’ll Influence Gatekeepers and Candidates

Dec 28, 2012

There is no index of character so sure as the voice. — Benjamin Disraeli, British prime minister and novelist 1804-1881

When we open our mouths, we reveal all sorts of things about ourselves that can have nothing to do with the words we’re using.

We all know that our tone is important when talking with a Gatekeeper, but how many of us realize that pressing on just one word in a sentence can change the impression and sometimes even the meaning that the emphasis gives?

In all of our jobs there are times when we must think about how we’re going to say something (in order to get the best result) before we say it. So my advice below applies not just to phone sourcing but to any recruiting or business-related call, such as a call with a job candidate, not just a gatekeeper.

Nuances that include inflection, stress, and context are all meaningful signals that convey information but inflection is the one that can change entirely the meaning of a sentence and the idea(s) behind it.

The emphasis on a particular word implies additional information than what the words say.

Say the following sentences with emphasis on each bolded word.

I’m trying to reach …

I’m trying to reach …

I’m trying to reach

The emphasis on “I’m” inI’m trying to reach …” implies a sort of cold haughtiness that a Gatekeeper might react negatively to.

The emphasis on “trying” in I’m trying to reach…” implies a kind of frustration that might elicit a Gatekeeper’s helpfulness. It can also give an impression of anger — of terseness, which is not nearly so likely to evoke a helpful response.

The emphasis on “reach” in “I’m trying to reach …” implies a subtle pleasantness; a direct statement that in a way alerts a Gatekeeper you’re in earnest and also, at the same time, can elicit a willingness to assist you. It can also, again, imply frustration.

The above could lead to a negative Gatekeeper response, a positive Gatekeeper response, and an example where the response could go either way.

Which is which?

Let’s do it again. Notice how the emphasis placed on each different word draws the listener’s attention, indicating that the word is important somehow.

Can you please transfer me?

Can you please transfer me?

Can you please transfer me?

Can you please transfer me?” with the emphasis on “can” is a question within a question. Is she able (or is she not able) to transfer you?  Many Gatekeepers will attest to the fact that she can transfer you and thereby many times will transfer you.

“Can you please transfer me?” sends an impatient message; one in which a Gatekeeper could take umbrage. She hears it as a hotheaded command and in these instances is not nearly as likely to answer positively what you’re asking for. It can also sound as a polite request, can’t it?

“Can you please transfer me?” can sound either imperative, short-tempered, or a simple request. The first two are likely to meet difficult responses and the last is more likely to be put through without too much ado.

It is possible to say a sentence with no emphasis on any words. Can you please transfer me?” said with all words said alike will usually be met with politeness; in the same vein it was received.

One more time:

I might have my information wrong …

I might have my information wrong …

I might have my information wrong …

I might have my information wrong …

I might have my information wrong

“I might have my information wrong …” sounds as if you’re maybe checking with the Gatekeeper inviting her correction to your faulty facts. Once she corrects you, there’s a natural tendency to then comply with your later request.

“I might have my information wrong …” is almost asking the Gatekeeper to comply with you regardless the veracity of your information.

“I might have my information wrong …” tells the Gatekeeper (subtly challenging) that maybe your information is wrong but surely there’s someone there (maybe her) who has things right!

“I might have my information wrong …” sounds testy — rather irritated.

“I might have my information wrong …” says that regardless if I do or not, I expect her to comply with my request.

Of the five instances above which is most likely to elicit cooperation from the Gatekeeper?

I invite you to share your responses to the way in which you would say the above sentences and share them with us!

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!