Strategies for Difficult Conversations – Part II

October 19, 2014
Mary Jane Copps

Thanks to friend and colleague Wendell Waldron, partner at IOL Marketing,  for suggesting this series. If you have a specific “difficult”  you’d like me to include here, please leave me a comment.

One person always makes an appearance at my customer service workshops and coaching sessions – someone I’ve named the “constant talker”. This is the person who loves a good, long conversation and believes the stories they have to tell are vital and necessary. In fact, their stories are so vital and necessary they are often worth repeating – and repeating – and repeating.

Being on the phone with a constant talker is difficult for a number of reasons: 1) it is hard to keep them focused on the information you need. Each new question you ask inspires them to share another story with you, taking you farther and farther away from completing the phone call; 2) it feels impossible to end the call politely, so you often stay on the call much longer than necessary, and sometimes end up responding with impatience or frustration; and 3) the extended conversation can be exhausting, which then impacts your ability to provide excellent service to your next customer.

So what can you do? How can you provide polite and professional customer service to a constant talker while still getting the information you need and keeping the call short?

Use their name!

We all respond to our names. We all stop, look and listen when someone calls out our name. By using the constant talker’s name, you can create a small space in their monologue in which you can refocus their thoughts or complete the call.

For example, let’s say your customer Larry is describing, in minute detail, what happened on the day that his basement flooded. He’s talking about when the storm started and where he was and what he was doing and what the neighbours were doing and … you get the picture. In a gentle but clear tone of voice simply say his name “Larry“.

He will stop talking. There will be a brief bit of space before he says “Yes?” where you can redirect his conversation: “It was a crazy storm that day. How much water came into your basement?” You may have to do this several times in order to get all the details you need but every time you say his name, Larry will stop talking.

Once you get all the details you need, Larry may still keep talking. Now you can use his name to create the space you need to end the call. “Larry … thanks so much for providing all these details today. It is always a pleasure speaking with you. Know that I will get back to you with the information you need no later than tomorrow morning. I do apologize, but right now I must take another call (or run to a meeting, or speak with a someone in your office). Thanks again for giving me all the details I need and you’ll hear from me very soon. Bye now.” And hang up.

You will find this technique quite uncomfortable the first time you use it. In fact, I encourage you to practice by using it on your friends or your partner. While they are sharing a story with you, simply say their name in a clear and friendly way. You’ll see that they do stop talking and leave you a moment to interrupt them.

This technique is easier to use to refocus a conversation. It is much more uncomfortable when you want to end a call, but it does work. And remember that staying on the phone with a constant talker unnecessarily takes away from your ability to provide excellent service to your next customer. By keeping your voice friendly and clear, using words like thank you and sorry, and giving them a reason they can visualize for why you are ending the call, you can maintain your reputation for great customer service while avoiding frustration and exhaustion.

Enjoy your PhoneWork everyone!


  1. Cheryl says:

    Great tips! I recently have encountered a talker and have had a tough time keeping our calls to a reasonable length and on point. I will definitely give this a try!

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thanks, Cheryl. I hope you’ll come back and let me know how it goes. The feedback I get is that the first time you do it, it feels very awkward and uncomfortable but because it works, you get over that quickly.

  2. Linda Daley says:

    AND… even though the other person (the talker) may be enjoying their discussion with me, once they hang up and realize how much time has been ‘wasted’, they won’t be so pleased, and may even project the blame for that onto me. Keeping our clients focused is a gift we can give them.

    I can certainly be a talker and appreciate being kept on track and focused.

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thanks for this perspective, Linda. I hadn’t thought of it this way. In a business-to-business setting, it makes sense that both parties would appreciate staying focused. I’ll include this in upcoming workshops.

  3. […] happens, interrupt the salesperson immediately. If you have their name, say it clearly and loudly. It’s human nature to stop talking when someone says our name, so this should create a small gap of silence into which you can redirect the conversation. You […]

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