First, some creds. What makes me an authority on phone conversation tips? Just this – I am the queen of awkward. Many conversations with me are awkward, but phone conversations top the lot.
There’s something about not looking someone in the eye, not catching their facial expressions, and the very theme of talking on the phone (small talk) that just lends itself to awkwardness. Strange silences. Throat clearing. Repeating questions about the weather and “what did you cook for lunch/dinner?”. Asking whether “you can hear me?” a few times. Trying to sound chirpy and charged because hey, look who called. So, I have several years of experience in trying to evade, whine over, and eventually endure phone calls.
Here are the three valuable tips that have held me in good stead. Sharing this at the risk of personal offence to people I have tried these on – but hey, those times were genuine, I swear.
Tip #1: Ignore the Initial 2 Minutes of the Call
If you too find phone conversations difficult, chances are you’ll be getting into these after long periods of time. Here are a few things I get to hear in the initial 2 minutes:
“Oh you finally got time?”
“Wow, you still remember me.”
“You should really try and talk more often. That is customary. It is part of our tradition.”
“WHY DON’T YOU EVER CALL ME?”
There was a time when I genuinely tried to answer these complaints/grievances. Tried to establish how I had been tied up, how not calling every week didn’t mean I had forgotten about them, how I really struggled with talking over the phone, how it was okay if they called me and did it really make a difference. But over the years, the effort to reward ratio has thinned out – it’s really not worth it. They might sigh and say “okay” now, but next time, the complaints are going to get right back.
So, best course of action – ignore the first 2 minutes. Just ho-hum, put the receiver away, and by the time you are back, the person at the other end would have moved to the actual subject. It helps to say there was static/poor network/phone volume down in those initial minutes – when repeated often enough, some people do understand that they need to stop going over their tirade of complaints every single time.
Tip #2: Keep a List of Handy Subjects Per Caller
Just because I am feeling generous today, I am sharing with you some of the subjects that work for me. The trick here is not to broach topics of mutual interest or topics that need thought sharing, because that will mean you need to talk too! We are looking at topics that will get the person on the other side to talk at length and give you the time to work on your computer, eat your cookie, stare out of the window…whatever. And yet, it will seem like one productive phone conversation!
Tips & Subjects to Get Callers Talking (without bugging you for response)
- Their passion in life – cooking (tell me about that idli-dosa you made for the party), gardening (tell me about the crops that are now flourishing in your land), window-shopping (tell me about the brands you saw at the mall), etc.
- Their sworn enemy (what did she do to you this time?)
- Their baby boy/girl (oh, has he/she started walking in marathons now?)
- The conversations happening on the family/friends WhatsApp groups (because one medium of conversation is never enough)
- Their new house, car, electronic device…
- The political party they blindly support (usually something negative, which will set off a long monologue about the multiple plus points of said party)
- Politics, films, neighbours, irritating relatives
Bonus: Subjects to Get Callers to Say Goodbye*
- Studies (so, what is the chapter currently being taught in class?)
- Books (the other day I was reading blah and it talked so beautifully about blah)
- Yourself (I have been thinking/wanting/planning/wailing – nobody really cares!)
- Donald Trump (talk-inducing topic for only 2 minutes, beyond which many callers have zilch information to carry on the conversation)
Tip #3: Try Out New Things You’ve Learnt
Before I get misconstrued, let me clarify – this one is about trying new voices, tones and roles. It can be fun; it can also be weird and off-putting enough for the caller to decide he/she has had enough. Here are a few things you can try:
- Over-enthusiastic, excitable, happy puppy voice – ‘Oh hellloooo! Sooo good to hear from you, my munchkin strawberry!”
- Role play – e.g. the good Indian bahu dialogue –‘Oh I was just waiting for Him to freshen up, then I’ll serve the seven course meal I have prepared. Oh I have become such an expert cook, you have no idea.’
- Deadpan – e.g. a fixed, monosyllabic response to all questions
- Deep breathing – ‘My yoga instructor told me it’s great to take deep breaths while talking on the mobile phone. You know, that way the radiations can’t get to me. Sorry, I was breathing – did you say something?’
- Phobia – ‘I have developed a fear of mobile phones. Or touching any surfaces. Or answering to a voice I cannot see the face of.’
That’s it – my survival kit for phone conversations. When I showed this to R, he rolled his eyes and made a face at me. “You seemed perfectly happy talking to me for hours back when we were dating. Or did you just endure me too?” I rolled my eyes back at him and put on my best Jamie-Lannister-but-with-a-boring-jawline expression, “The things we do for love!”