Friday, August 29, 2014

11:00 AM - No comments

~adult skills~: The Dreaded Phone Calls

Whether you’re applying for a scholarship, treating with customer service, or ordering pizza, at some point you’re going to have to call other people. And this will inevitably lead to (dun dun dun) interaction. For a lot of us, that can be really intimidating. I can wander around a store searching every shelf so I won’t have to ask a clerk, or waste precious battery on my phone looking at a map so I’ll be spared the agony of choosing an innocent passerby to flag down. I hate feeling like I’m being obtrusive, and the only thing I hate more than that is feeling like I’m being obtrusive on the phone. There’s something profoundly terrifying about casting a signal into a great void, and not knowing who or what is going to pick up on the other side.

admitting old, overused memes can still be on point is the first step to progress. for looking into the cat's face, we see our own.

But here’s the black-on-white: learning how to do these things is a necessity, and honestly? It’s going to make a lot of things much easier for you. Remember that it’s your needs and problems that are going to be met by doing these things: you’ll nail that scholarship, change that order, get that pizza, and all to your greatest satisfaction if only you dare take that step.

It’s hard, though; I’m not going to pretend it isn’t. But the more you do it, the more you’re able to develop a strategy for dealing with those things you hate to do. Under the cut are some tidbits from mine.

1. Put yourself in their shoes
Would you be sent into a murderous rage or a fit of uninhibited character-judging if a stranger asked you for help? If your answer is yes, you probably need to work on your people skills. If your answer is no - and it probably is - then not to worry, because in nine out of ten chances, so is theirs. Even if you perceive the answer you get as a bit distant or cold, remember all the times you’ve felt awkward in your skin, and those words you meant to be polite just refused to come out right. It’s not about you, and even if it was - hey, you did it and it’s likely you got the information you needed. Mission success!

2. It’s business
If you’re not dealing with strangers on the street, but with shopkeepers or people on the phone, then always remember that it’s their job to help you out and answer your questions. A lot of times, these people want to do their job well, and will treat you accordingly ... even if you feel like you’re making a complete fool of yourself. You will, however, encounter bad eggs. And that really sucks. It’s never fun to have a chat with a rude, unhelpful person, and it certainly doesn’t help your plans of stepping up and making contact again. But never forget that if that person is getting paid to do the exact opposite thing, then it’s not on you. They’re the professional, and they’re the one making the mistake. They, and only they, are the one who messed up.

3. Write a script
Knowing what you’re going to say is a huge comfort when you’re interacting with somebody new and, as far as you know, unpredictable. Too often, the words that were crystal clear in your mind just seconds ago dribble away like water down the drain the moment you open your mouth. Actually having them written down on a piece of paper is a nice preventative measure, giving you something to fall back on when that happens. Write down the questions you’re going to ask, and then ask them one at a time. Read off your paper if you need to. On the phone, they’ll never know; in real life, you’ll look well prepared.

4. Make a friend
Depending on your particular endeavor, you might be in a position where you might need to keep calling or visiting the same place over and over again. When this happens, it’s a huge relief to know somebody on the inside, who’s already acquainted with you and the details of your situation. If you encounter somebody who answers your questions well and puts you at ease, then, if possible, make sure that you can get a-hold of this person again. Ask for their name at the very least, so you can ask for them the next time you call, and if you’re feeling feisty, try getting a (business!) phone number that will let you reach them directly. I know this can feel embarrassing, but noting down this information once is a lot easier than going through the process of explaining your situation to a new person all over again. And remember #2: It’s their job, and if they’ve helped you once they’re more likely to help you again.

5. Play pretend
Sometimes I feel that I’m not up to whatever daunting task is set before me. In these dark hours, I find it helps to simply pretend that I am someone else. Usually a person with obvious authority, with a clear and reassuring voice. I have 100% honestly pretended I was Obama while I was talking on the phone. And 100% honestly, it worked.


Finally, all I can say is that it will get better! I spent countless mornings with the phone in my hand, angsting about calling the Chinese Embassy. If they picked up at all, they’d answer in Chinese, with no greeting to speak of, and only grunt at me when I asked to be transferred to my contact on the inside - a genuinely helpful man whose accent I could nevertheless have trouble understanding, and would sometimes end up answering a completely different question than the one I had asked. I often came away from those conversations feeling more confused than I had been before. But after all that, calling a restaurant or a Swedish customer service center was a breeze - no language barriers, no half-answers, no calling over and over again, no terrible feeling of dread for the future and the unknown. I got my answers and my pizza. And with practice and perseverance, so will you.


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