How to Be Your Best Self on That Tough Phone Call
Take the time to prepare. One of the challenges that come from a hectic work schedule is that we usually jump on phone calls, often without getting ourselves ready for the conversation. Going in unprepared usually just causes more time in putting fires out, instead of just taking a couple minutes to organize your thoughts beforehand.
I used to be really ineffective during tough phone calls because I let my emotions get the better of me. I would speak too quickly, rush through my words, interject random thoughts, and regularly put my foot in my mouth. Sound familiar?
Most of the things we tend to say under stressful situations can backfire. If we’re not prepared for tough conversations, we can easily make the problem worse before it gets better. And being effective during a tough phone call is important because it’s live, versus email or another situation where you have time to consider and revise your message.
I’ve learned that the hard way many times. Here are a few things I do to positively prime and prepare myself for a good phone call:
First, prime yourself ahead of time by thinking about the common goals you have with the person you will be talking with. This puts you into a collaborative mind-frame, and shows in your tone of voice, and even helps you choose more teamwork type words. To take it to the next level, think about what you most like or admire about the person you’re about to call. You may need to take a few minutes to develop regard for them, but it really does also help you be more thoughtful and respectful. This is particularly important if you’ve been focusing on problems.
Now, identify what the person most needs to hear to inspire them towards those common goals with you.
Don’t say things like, “Don’t take this wrong …” This statement negatively primes your listeners to “take wrong” what you’re going to say next. Instead focus on a good outcome and try to guide the call in the right direction, instead of trying to stop bad things from happening.
Don’t let your anxiety make you breathless and scattered. Determine what tone of voice the other person needs to hear to get them into the right mood. Take deep breaths to calm yourself and refocus on helping the other person.
Get physical. There are also ways to physically improve your confidence. This one makes sense if you’ve heard the research: Do a power pose. One example is the victory pose. Put your hands up in the air in a “V” as if you just won a sports contest. (Ideally do this in a place where not everyone is watching you J.) This affects your tone of voice and even the words you choose are more confident. Research says doing this for two minutes does it, but even thirty seconds works for me now that I’ve practiced. Another power pose is to put your arms behind your head and lean back in your chair.
Don’t make conflict worse. Don’t say something like, “I don’t want this problem to get worse …” This type of statement usually feels insulting to the other person or at the least they get defensive. Instead, say something like, “My goal is to come up with a solution that works for both of us,” which means the same thing, but takes the conversation in a different direction. Particularly if you’re in conflict with somebody think about something you value about that person. That helps me to be more open to them and makes my voice warmer. Plus, they’re more likely to respond positively to what you’re proposing.
If you want more priming tips, check out my YouTube channel. It’s full of fun and entertaining videos, and priming advice! And I’d love to hear your tips for tough phone calls. Just comment below.
Priming for Human Resource Pros
As in many jobs, you in HR have the huge challenge of influencing people without being able to simply tell them what to do. Because you are usually not the direct manager of the people you are working with, you will often find yourself in a situation where you have to manage up—you have to convince people above you in the organization about how decisions are going to affect employees.
Another unique challenge for you HR pros is finding the balance between helping people fulfill their potential and holding them accountable. And if all of this weren’t challenging enough, you also have to help guide change you didn’t initiate. Whew!
Many of these situations apply to other managers as well, but you HR pros have some very interesting challenges when it comes to managing the dynamics of people.
In my book, Energize, I talk about the three characters in your mind that are necessary for motivation. You HR pros have to be good at doing all three:
Calming the Cavemen
On a daily basis, you are going to have someone (or a group of someones) in your office who need calming. Since the cavemen part of our brains—the survival instinct—is always looking for threats, this can result in rigidity, irrationality and overreaction. When you encounter employees with an overactive caveman response, you must help them calm their fears, straighten out misconceptions, come up with solutions to their challenges, or simply find a positive attitude if they are angry. HR pros need to be able to empathize as part of calming people down.
Convincing the Thinker
The thinker is the part of the brain that is able to think clearly, consider the future, and process complex ideas. As an HR pro, you need to be able to help convince the thinker when it comes to your colleagues. To do this when managing up, make sure you have facts to back up your suggestions. Talking about how to positively affect the bottom line will make managers more open to your ideas. When it comes to motivating employees around change or resolving issues, you can use tools such as listing long-term benefits for achieving a challenge and brainstorming multiple plans and consequences. If employees feel like they are part of a solution, they are more apt to participate in it.
Energizing the Artist
Being able to activate the artist in others is a powerful motivational skill. The artist fuels our passion for things we feel deeply about. When you’re guiding change, it’s especially beneficial to help people tap into their artists. You can do this by identifying how the change applies to their passions and values, as well as highlighting the benefits of the change for their jobs and duties.
One of the key things to remember when guiding or influencing change is that motivating people around the change is critical. When we are overworked and life is hectic, it can be easy to treat change like a transaction, and simply tell people that they must do it. That occasionally works with some people, but usually backfires if employees don’t understand the need for the change and aren’t emotionally invested in it.
Being in HR is in some ways like being a parent. A big portion of your job is trying to influence. (But one hint here: Don’t ever think of your employees as children, even though they may act like it from time to time!)
If you’d like to chat more about HR challenges, I would love to help. And check out these additional blog posts to watch fun videos on how to Calm the Caveman, Convince the Thinker and Energize the Artist.