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Improving Communication in Difficult Circumstances

August 18, 2009
Mary Jane Copps

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The question below cites time delays but there are many other ways telephone communication can be difficult. Sore throats and colds, surprise visitors to your office, calling into a marketplace where your accent is unfamiliar, and the sounds of infants or children in the background are all disruptive. In my own office, I have a fax machine that produces a loud beep when it’s receiving. The best way I’ve found to deal with these things is mentioning the potential difficulty as soon as possible. For example: “I want to let you know that I often experience time delays on my phone equipment. I apologize and hope it doesn’t disrupt our conversation.” Or “I know my accent can be difficult for some people. Please don’t hesitate to tell me to speak slower or repeat myself if that’s what you need.” Or “My fax machine is about to make a loud noise in the background. I apologize!” What this does is a) shows your client/potential client that you are straightforward, able to take charge and accept responsibility; b) eliminates the stress associated with pretending the difficult circumstance isn’t there; c) eliminates the need for your client/potential client to raise the issue with you; and d) puts you both in a position where you can overcome the difficulty together. In the case of the time delay, you’ll end up working as a team to find the correct rhythm for your conversation – and probably end up laughing about it along the way!

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