Anxiety or fear of phone calls is not new, but is more pervasive as we spend less and less time using our phones to talk to people. One of the main reasons for this anxiety is: “How will the person I’m calling react when they pick up the phone?” In the 30 years I’ve been making outbound calls, I’ve had perhaps 10 *difficult* calls. One of them was last week.
What did I learn from this difficult call? What skills can you use to handle such a call?
We can never be 100% sure of “who” will answer our phone call. Yes, we usually know their name, and yes, we usually know their title or some other information about them. It’s what we don’t know that sometimes (very seldom, mind you) causes problems. We don’t know if they are under extreme stress at work, in their personal lives or both. We don’t know anything about their health, such as if they live with chronic pain or are dealing with cancer treatments. We don’t know anything about their culture, and how they are hearing or interpreting our words.
Whatever the reason, here’s what to do if you ever have a phone call that erupts into something difficult, confrontational or angry as soon as you say “Hello”:
- Stay calm in the knowledge that it is not about you. When the person you are calling quickly takes offence, know with certainty that it has nothing to do with you. Remain compassionate and empathetic to the fact that they have something else going on in their lives causing their behaviour.
- Stop talking. When someone is upset they cannot hear. If you keep talking, all they experience is your refusal to listen to them, and this fuels their anger. It is vital you stop speaking and allow them to completely express whatever they are feeling. This is difficult, I know, but in these situations, silence is the best audience.
- Apologize. I know this is also difficult for some but the phrase “I’m sorry” can de-escalate a situation very quickly. It isn’t about accepting blame for anything; it’s about creating calm and either changing the tone of the conversation or moving toward ending the call.
- End the call as soon as you can. While it’s certainly possible to change the tone completely and have a great conversation after an explosive beginning, remember the call has had an impact on you (even though you’ve remained calm) and the best choice, for you, is to get out of the emotional situation quickly.
When making outbound calls, know that this situation is very, very rare. I’ve easily made over 10,000 calls in my career and, as I mentioned earlier, this has happened to me maybe 10 times. When it does, I keep these words in mind:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” – Plato