After reading my post about a recent car accident and compassionate communication, Duncan Ebata of Shift! Food in Wolfville, NS, sent me this question on Instagram: “How do we structure conversations to have more compassion and still get what we need done?” Great question!
How can we be both compassionate and focused? How can compassion create an effective phone conversation?
The word compassion comes to us from 14th century Old French and literally means “to suffer with another”. Of course, unless we are in the same car accident, fire or earthquake, we can’t truly suffer with someone else. But we can create an experience of caring that acknowledges their situation and results in communication excellence. Here are my top seven skills for connecting with our compassion:
- Listen – Fully – Yes, I know, we all think we listen fully all the time. But when we are continually answering phone calls, our listening can become a bit sluggish. We tend to focus only on the question being asked and forget to hear the “why” or background of the question. For example, I’ve called CAA for assistance with a dead battery from a hotel parking lot. While I was unhappy with my situation, I wasn’t in any danger and the hotel lobby offered a comfortable place to wait. My circumstances meant I could easily respond to the CAA representative’s questions; the call was fast and efficient. However, if we imagine that same scenario but on the side of the road in a snowstorm or heavy fog (think Cobequid Pass), I would be frightened, agitated, stressed. My ability to hear and respond to questions would be impacted by my circumstances. Listening fully allows us to embrace the needs of our caller and meet them where they are. This doesn’t extend the length of the call, it makes it more efficient.
- Slow Down – Big emotions (fear, stress, shock, etc.) overtake logic and our ability to listen is compromised. We signal our compassion for others by speaking slower, allowing them more time to join the conversation, to focus and to hear us. While slowing down may imply the conversation will take longer, in actuality, we will repeat ourselves less and get the necessary information we need much faster.
- Use Your “Warm” Voice – So often we are focused on outcomes. The phone rings and we want to get the information we need as quickly as possible and move on. This focus gives our voice a “hard” tone, somewhat automated in its sound. To connect to compassion we must use the voice we share with our dearest friends.
- Introduce Yourself Clearly – We’ve all had it happen … we call customer service and the person who answers the phone says their name so quickly we have no idea who is speaking with us. While we should always answer our phone with our name, and say it slowly and clearly, expressing compassion demands a personal connection – and this starts with our name. A person in a stressful situation needs a friend. If they’ve called you, be that friend. Make sure they know your name.
- Use the Word “Help” – During the conversation use the word “help” as often as possible. Phrases such as “Here’s what I can do to help you” or “I can tell you that help will arrive in the next 30 minutes” or “I can help you today very quickly” or “There are three things we can do together to help you.” By using the word “help” we reinforce that we are indeed helping and strong emotions will begin to subside.
- Give Options – Depending on what the caller is experiencing, they may not be able to make a decision quickly … or at all. Presenting options can be useful here, and when appropriate you can support the options with your experience or knowledge. For example: “Given everything you’ve shared with me, the next best step is for you to … “ or “Given everything you’ve shared with me, I believe there are three choices to consider. Let’s review these together.”
- Offer an Out – Is there a way to give the caller time to adjust to their circumstances? Will a bit more time dissipate some of their fear, shock or frustration? If so, we can offer to stay on the line with them but let them know we are not in a rush, i.e. “I know it is difficult to make a decision right now. Take your time. I’ll stay on the line with you but we can talk when you’re ready.” Or, if they are not in any danger, we could say “I know it is difficult to make a decision quickly right now. Would you like time to think and then give us a call back? I can give you my direct line. (Or I’ll alert my colleagues that you will be calling back.)”
Compassion is evident when we speak slowly, with warmth and stay present to what the caller says to us, how they say it and why. It is not always easy, but connecting with our compassion is an essential communication skill.