Tips for Keeping Your Cool on the Phone

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In certain ways, a face-to-face encounter can be easier and less stressful than a phone conversation, especially if the topic of discussion is unfamiliar or complex. This is why, despite the importance of the phone in setting up business meetings, people still value face-to-face interactions.

Since the introduction of mobile phones in the mid to late 1980s, people have been talking on the phone more frequently and can be reached at any time and place, whether they are at home, at work, on the go, or on vacation. I’ll go into more detail on how this causes stress for us and those around us in a subsequent piece.

In light of this, the calls we make on a regular basis to institutions like banks, utility companies, doctors, and employers will be the primary emphasis of this piece. The most common sources of anxiety I’ve heard from customers over the years will be highlighted, along with my advice for how to deal with that anxiety.

FAILURE TO HAVE APPROPRIATE DATA AVAILABLE

Preparation is the key to success in many aspects of life, and phone conversations are no exception. Not only does this make us look bad, but it can also hurt our chances of getting the job or other opportunity we’re trying to pursue. Paperwork disarray during conversation can be just as bad as an organization. If, for some reason, we can’t locate the piece of paper on which we wrote the password we need in order to gain access to the information we need, we’re not only wasting our time and the other person’s but also likely to become more stressed out in the process of shuffling our papers.

The best way to avoid this is to have all of your paperwork in order before you make the call. If we’re going to a bank, for example, we should bring along copies of our most recent bank statements, along with any necessary passwords and other security details, so that we can read them quickly and get back to work.

STANDING IN LINE FOR AN EXTENDED TIME – Some businesses and institutions are streamlined to the point where waiting in line is barely noticeable, but this is not always the case. I’m not going to name any specific establishments here. Many times when we call, we get an answering machine with several options: “Press 1 for…” “Press 2 for…” “Press 3 for…” and so on. While this can be frustrating, it’s nothing compared to hearing the dreaded “we’re sorry, but all of our operators are currently busy; please stand by and we’ll be with you shortly” message. After this, music will play, usually a rendition of “Greensleeves.”

While it may be tempting to let out some steam, doing so is counterproductive because by the time someone answers the phone, we are either (a) too agitated to think clearly and forget what we called about/what needs doing, or (b) too rude, which is unpleasant for the person doing their job and may result in the phone being put down on us.

There are a number of options available to us here that will help quell this rage. The first is to calm down and reframe the experience of listening to this music as a time to relax and unwind rather than a waste of time. Here, it can be useful to prepare ahead of time what we will say when the phone is answered.

Holding the phone away from our ears slightly can help in situations where we keep getting repeated messages, such as when we are in a queue so that we can still hear when somebody eventually answers. The loudspeaker feature is helpful like it is on many newer phones. Putting the phone on loudspeaker allows us to multitask, even if it’s only shuffling papers around until we’re summoned to answer it.

If this is still too difficult or upsetting, we should hang up and try again when we are more composed. For the reasons I’ve already said, there’s not much sense in trying to reason with anyone when we’re upset. Hang up and try calling back when you can talk more rationally. It’s possible that if we do this, we can avoid having to wait in line.

Being passed from one person to another and having to explain the same information over and over again is not only time-consuming but can also be very stressful, especially if there are a lot of details to state or if the information being conveyed is complex. When we’ve been working with one individual on a problem for a while, it’s discouraging to be transferred to someone else and have to start from square one. In most cases, unfortunately, there is no way around doing this. However, it may be beneficial to put everything we need to say down on paper. I’ve already mentioned that it’s a good idea to jot down the main elements of what we want to say on paper before picking up the phone and calling someone. Even if we have to go over this material more than once, at least we won’t forget any crucial details if we have them written down in front of us, and we won’t have to worry about the order in which we present the information, which should reduce tension and anger.

Speaking jumbled sentences and forgetting what we were about to say is something we can avoid by planning ahead, much like the first issue. The meeting will go more smoothly if you take notes on the most important points before we meet and jot down some quick notes as we talk.

YELLING TO BE HEARD OVER DISTURBING BACKGROUND NOISE If the noise is coming from our immediate surroundings, it’s advisable to choose a more peaceful setting if at all possible. If this is not possible, we can always ask the offending party to lower the volume or simply hang up and try again when the environment is less noisy.

When the source of the background noise is on the other end of the phone, the problem becomes even more intractable. In a busy environment like a contact center, office, store, or factory, this might happen rather frequently. In particular, mobile phone use while walking is infamous for being a bad idea. Not being able to hear well and having to repeat ourselves (or having the other person repeat themselves) may be quite unpleasant, especially if we are already feeling anxious. It’s best to just admit that we’re having trouble hearing rather than strain ourselves further. Then, they might make adjustments to assist us hear better, suggest we call back when it’s calmer, or at least figure out why we’re getting worked up in the first place.

This may seem like a piece of basic advice, but at times of stress, it may make a world of difference. It’s already challenging to make an impression over the phone in a business setting. These methods, while seemingly basic sense, may help alleviate some of that pressure. There are times when the most straightforward methods are the ones we overlook.

Birmingham, UK-based stress and anger management expert Martin Hogg is the man behind Citizen Coaching CIC. http://www.CitizenCoaching.com Live workshops, one-on-one support, and online/home study are all part of our individualized approach to anger management. Visit http://www.myangercoach.co.uk/anger-management-online to receive Martin’s First Steps in Anger Management at no cost.

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