How to Read A Gatekeeper’s Voice

By Maureen Sharib

Reading A Gatekeeper’s Voice

You have about three seconds to read a Gatekeeper’s voice when she answers.

Thank you for calling ABC Corporation – this is Maria.  May I help you?”

That’s it.  That’s all the heads-up you get.

It’s enough.

What am I going to say?  How am I going to approach her?
In that three-second window you must decide her “DREAM”
D   Demeanor
R   Receptivity
E   Experience
A   Age
M Mood

The Sense of Hearing
It doesn’t happen all at once but as a phone sourcer matures hearing fine-tunes itself to sounds that don’t really speak to reason; but more to memory.

A phone sourcer isn’t able to “see” body posture to read that language; the ear is the only sense that provides formatting for a phone sourcer’s approach.

The ear more finely attunes to circumstances on the other end of the phone and intuition and imagination takes over when a phone sourcer is calling.

Think what a challenge this is!
Most literature says that nonverbal communication makes up about two thirds of all communication.

Just think what you don’t have to work with!  Physical features, gestures and the space used to express those elements are missing in phone sourcing.

“Sight makes up 83% of the impact on the brain of information from the senses during a visual presentation. Taste makes up 1%, hearing makes up 11%, smell 3% and touch 2%.”       Source: The Definitive Book of Body Language

Word Communication
Speech contains nonverbal elements known as paralanguage, including voice quality, rate, pitch, volume, and speaking style, as well as prosodic features such as rhythm, intonation, and stress.     Source: Wikipedia/nonverbal communication

That’s really all a phone sourcer has to work with.

Or is it?

Phone sourcers have a few other things to work with that are invaluable to us – they’re called our “inner senses.”

“Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.”
                                                                                                                                       ~ Carl Rogers
Is there noise in the Gatekeeper’s background? Are people coming and going? Are lines ringing – does she sound harried, impatient? Does she sound bored? Does she sound hesitant or timid; confident and bold? Is the connection clear or does it sound tinny?

“The fleet being thus more enclosed will more readily observe the signals, and with greater facility form itself into the line of battle, a circumstance which should be kept in view in every order of sailing.” ~William Falconer

Is it early or late in the day?

Is the Gatekeeper male or female? A 2011 study found that listeners could pinpoint sexual orientation at better-than-chance rates and by by listening to two-syllable words accuracy increased to 75 percent. The key information seemed to be contained in the vowel sounds, though the researchers weren’t sure exactly what part of that information helped identify sexual orientation.
Is the company you’re calling large or small? Is it a branch or headquarters?  What typically goes on there?

How old does the Gatekeeper sound?  In a 2010 study detailed in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology, researchers asked 97 people to listen to 100 samples of speakers ages 2 through 67. Overall, listeners tended to underestimate a speaker’s age. People performed worst at guessing the age of male speakers between ages 45 and 65, but did better with menopausal women and aced the portion identifying kids and teenagers, though the accuracy of their age estimates tended to drop off as the age of the speaker increased.

What day of the week is it? Is it a holiday or is there one approaching?

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”     ~Michelangelo

Imagine yourself there.

Imagine what’s going on around the Gatekeeper – place yourself in her office in your mind and speak with her as if you were in front of her. See her desk/her console/the pictures of her kids to her right. What color is her hair?  Her dress? Can you tell how tall she is?   A study presented at the 2013 Acoustical Society Meeting of America demonstrated that participants who heard just a few lines spoken by persons of the same sex could distinguish the tallest of two speakers about two-thirds of the time, and could also put a group of five people in order according to their heights with fairly good accuracy. Taller people tend to have deeper pitches.

Notice the color of the carpet/the shade on the walls/the lighting/the technology in the office. Is she wearing a headset? Can you hear her nails on the keys of her console?

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”       ~Alan Alda

Intuition is a response to something; it’s a sense of knowing how to act spontaneously. Pay attention to what your physical reactions are to her voice, to the sound of her nails on her console.

Visualize the images her voice conjures for you. Feel the spidey-sense tinglings in your body and let yourself go in the direction of those feelings.  If they help you relax (there’s something called autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) and it’s a euphoric experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine, precipitating relaxation and is emerging in study and popularity) and do your job better as a phone sourcer – take it!

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”    ~Walt Disney

Reading is as much about hearing as it is about listening as it is about noticing as it is about feeling as it is about visualizing as it is about imagining as it is about extrapolating as it is about phone sourcing. Your intuition will inspire you (if you allow it.) Always formulate your approach to the Gatekeeper out of these 5 elements:

Sound   Circumstance  Imagination    Intuition   Inspiration
Does this sound crazy?
To some of you it might sound silly.
You may be thinking, “Come on – really? Who can really see the color of the carpet?”

“… the color of her hair?”

“… what the place smells like?”

“… looks like?”

“… feels like?”

I can.

Oftentimes a visual image forms for me when I’m speaking with a Gatekeeper.  I “see” her as if I’m standing before her.  She is a real person to me – I speak to her as I would as if I’d just walked into her reception lobby and up to her desk.  It doesn’t matter to me what color her hair/skin/eyes are or what the place looks like around her or what she’s wearing (it’s all different.)

To me, she’s the only person in the world to me at that one moment in time.

“This doesn’t make sense.”

Doesn’t it?

Physics is a funny thing.  It involves interpretation. We can “see” images evoked by written text, can’t we?

We can “see” meaning in data. We can “see” literal and metaphysical meaning. We “see” things that are pertinent to the task at hand.

What Our Senses Tell Us
We can see dots on a map that represent cities but political boundaries, zip code boundaries or Internet usage may not be outlined.

We know they’re there.

They’re abstract concepts.


Abstract though they may be, those dots can be quantified.

Meaning can be affixed to them through interpretation.

Using the phone sourcer’s inner sense of Sound, when I call and there’s noise in the Gatekeeper’s background and I can hear people coming and going and lines ringing and she sounds harried – I immediately adjust my sails and tune my pitchfork to all those signals to accommodate her needs as they present themselves while she’s on the phone with me.  If she needs to answer a ringing telephone, I offer, “Do you need to get that?” to which she gratefully and quickly answers “Yes!” and I’ll say,” “No problem, I’ll hold,” and this may go on several times throughout an extended period to the point she forgets who she’s talking to while she thumbs through a company’s organizational chart giving me every name in it along with titles, extension numbers and who reports to who along with what their dog’s names are!

Depending on the inner sense of Circumstance as a phone sourcer if there’s a holiday or one approaching I know there’s a very good chance the Gatekeeper who answers may not be the usual one on duty.  Because I keep pristine notes on every call I make I have many Gatekeeper names recorded at offices all over the world so when I call a medical device manufacturing office in Boston and Alice answers when Betty answered last time I might say, “Oh!  I was expecting Betty!”  This gives me an unexpected advantage over Alice who may be left wondering if that note Betty left not to tell anyone anything may not apply to me.

If I call an office and am transferred willy-nilly somewhere as receptionists and people inside companies are so wont to do and someone answers and the connection sounds different and the person answering is male who just says his name and a “May I help you?” my phone sourcer’s inner sense of Imagination flares into focus and I wonder if maybe I haven’t been transferred to an offsite sales office that might also house a sales engineering function as many do; particularly in companies with a technical focus.  Many times these offices are hidden from public view and call information is very difficult to find so one of the first things I attempt to do is find out the number to which I’ve been transferred.

I immediately laser in on the person’s voice and respond with an inquiry that I call “stabbing in” – one of my most forceful and very effective techniques in phone sourcing that I’ll touch on in a later article.

“I think I may have been transferred to sales – is this sales?” I’ll say to which I’m usually treated to some polite helpful reply either in the affirmative or, in the event that it’s not, correcting my mistaken assumption and offering corrective information and action advice.

“Thanks so much,” I’ll say back.  “So I don’t make the same dumb mistake again, I called 510 xxx xxxx.  What number am I reaching?”

The helpful hardware man usually tells me.  I make a note of it so I have it for my research notes moving forward.

Where would a phone sourcer be without Intuition?  This inner sense is probably the most important of all of them because without it all of the others don’t really have any place to go.  The thing that holds most people back from phone sourcing is misplaced fear of the Gatekeeper.  If you can psychologically adjust yourself to look forward to the sounds of the Gatekeeper and your ensuing reactions you’ll flourish in this activity.  I write about the Neuroscience of Phone Sourcing here.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

Inspiration, the fifth and final inner sense of phone sourcers, serves the industry of sourcing and recruiting, ever driving it forward into new frontiers and opening boundaries and crashing through borders and walls that the Internet cannot traverse – as Walt Disney said many years ago:
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”


We’ve spent some time on the “inner senses” subject of phone sourcing and being able to read and discern a Gatekeeper’s voice and personality characteristics within seconds of her greeting us on the telephone.
These are important matters to phone sourcers and to anyone involved in the subject of recruiting and dealing with people.

One of the fundamental aspects of phone sourcing is self-knowledge and self-knowledge doesn’t come easily.  Some never gain it in this life and in fact, I believe it’s a gift granted to few.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” ~ Lou Holtz

I firmly believe that to be attuned to others we must be attuned to ourselves.

We have to be willing to challenge the voice of fear in our heads.

We have to be willing to acknowledge the lump in our throats, the sweat in the palms of our hands and the churning knot in our gut.

We must be willing to quiet those challenges by facing them down.

Phone sourcing is a mixture of art and science.
There’s far more science involved than most suspect.

One part of the science is the science of human behavior.

Once we get that, the art follows.