Since my Netflix subscription expired, I’ve resorted to watching a fair bit of YouTube. On there, I came across Community Channel, by Australian comedian Natalie Tran, who covers a relatable range of first world problems in a fashion. She’s great. I might start referring to her video The Yep System in training.
I recommend you watch it above, but here’s the gist of it: Nat gets stressed out when she’s communicating a long sequence of numbers (e.g. credit card number) to a call agent. When she pauses after each group of numbers, the agent just remains silent instead of acknowledging they’re there with a “yep.” When she encounters the silence, she doesn’t know when to continue the next set of numbers. Is the agent just slow because they have trouble with numbers? Have they been kidnapped? Is there romantic tension? Who knows!
Words like “yep” are what Glisten Training refers to as non-verbal responses. These are a component of the key Listening Indicators we teach as the second of the 5 CLEAR Keys to communication. These listening indicators show you’re present and paying attention in the conversation, and non-verbal responses are especially crucial on the phone.
The value of non-verbal responses is well established. Customers evaluation of service is consistently improved by good non-verbal communication. You can read more about this in this article in the European Journal of Marketing.
Not a Waste of Time
Although people argue that saying “yep” is a waste of time, Nat points out that saying “hello” when picking up the phone is a similar situation. When the phone stops ringing, it’s safe to assume that someone has picked up. But of course she says “hello” because callers “want to know that I’m there because they can’t see me.” Similarly, “yep” indicates this during silences in the middle of the call.
This is a great explanation of why non-verbal responses are particularly important on the phone. I actually hadn’t thought of the “hello” comparison that Nat makes, but it’s a very good one. I would argue that non-verbal responses like “yep” are just as important as the greeting at the start of a call.
When to Use the System
The Yep System isn’t just for strings of numbers though! Any longer silence in a conversation, whether on the phone or in person, usually benefits from some sort of non-verbal response. This indicates that you’re present and paying attention.
When you’re listening to someone, usually a non-verbal response between sentences or at the end of a long phrase is appropriate. This becomes clearer with practise.
While I would argue that non-verbal responses are important in person, they are even more important on the phone. As Nat points out, she can’t see the call agent, so the “yep” is the only indicator that the agent is still there. In person, you can somewhat compensate for a lack of non-verbal responses with other listening indicators that I teach in training.
Yep Isn’t Ideal Though
While I do like The Yep System concept, I don’t particularly like the word “yep.” It can work with strings of numbers or other neutral information, but with anything emotive, an affirmative indicator like “yep” can be wildly inappropriate. It also seems a bit too casual for an office setting.
It’s best to stick to something like “mmhmm” or “ok”. Context, tone, timing are important, too. For example “yep” in the context of something self-deprecating could be very insulting, so your choice of non-verbal response should be appropriate. Your tone should be neutral, or appropriate for the emotional content of what you’re hearing. In terms of timing, your non-verbals should not come immediately, but rather a second or two after your speaker has completed a phrase or sentence.
Exactly how to do this correctly is hard to express in writing, so it’s best to check out my coaching or training for more details on that! Good non-verbal responses are best taught with example demonstrations and lots of practise.