I remember clearly the day my boss called me into his office to have a “talk” with me about the manner in which I was answering the phone.
I had been receptionist for about five months and my boss was usually that guy who dashed passed me in the morning to get into a meeting on time and was often still working when I left at 5pm. The thought of a one on one conversation with him pretty much terrified me. He was calling me into his office to discuss what I now understand was my horrific phone skills.
Interestingly, this conversation is to date, fifteen years later, one of the most powerful conversations I’ve had in my life. Rather than giving me the expected scolding for poor phone skills, he explained to me that we were an estate planning law firm. Now, being twenty-one and new to this job, estate planning didn’t mean a hill of beans to me. But he made it relevant. He explained how often the people calling us may have recently lost a loved one or may be dealing with a sick family member. He shared how when I answer the phone, I could be the first person a woman who has lost her husband of fifty years is speaking to for help. And if I sound brusque or agitated, because I’m busy doing something else and the phone interrupted me that it may be that widow I’m treating that way. Now I may not understand estate planning, but I had a grandmother I loved dearly and I remembered how devastated she was when my grandfather died. The thought that I could have been short with someone who was hurting like my grandmother had was a punch in the gut. I understood fundamentally in that moment, that even though I was “just the receptionist” I was empowered to make a tremendous difference for people who called our law firm simply by being present, kind and patient when I answered the phone. I got that this was so much more important than whatever task I was working on when the phone rang. Rather than walking out of that meeting with my head hung low, or with an attitude because I’d gotten reprimanded, I walked out excited for the next time the phone rang and I could make a difference. And never, ever has anyone had to discuss with me my phone skills. In fact, I’ve gone on to lead training programs on how to connect with clients when you answer the phone.
We’ve all had to be on the giving and the receiving end of these uncomfortable, tough conversations with people, either professionally or personally. Often, because we are uncomfortable, we rush through the conversation as quickly and emotionless as possible. However, the cornerstone of success and being at peace with yourself is the ability to have an empowering conversation. This is a conversation where you leave the other person empowered. You light the fire within them and it stays lit. When you rush through a tough conversation you end up having to have the same talk over and over again, because it doesn’t connect or empower the other person.
Having an empowering conversation can be broken down into eight essential keys. One of the simplest, but most powerful, of those keys is “Time and Place”. Often a conversation goes immediately off track because we didn’t pay attention to the timing and the place. For instance, don’t start a tough conversation with your co-worker when they only have 10 minutes before they leave work. It isn’t sufficient time and now they are just worrying about being late to pick their daughter up from daycare, not concentrating on what you are saying. Don’t have a “come to Jesus” talk with your boss about your maxed out workload when he is walking into a meeting with his biggest client. Not only does he not have time to talk but it’s distracting him from an important meeting. When you do have your empowering conversation, be conscious of ‘place’. Let the receptionist know to hold all calls and close the door so you can both speak comfortably and without interruption. Or step out of the office, go to Starbucks and talk there, away from the distractions of flashing voicemail and email notifications. Carve out the time and the proper place to be able to have an honest, empowering conversation. You’ll be surprised at the results of this simple key.
If you are ready to begin having empowering conversations, but not sure how to being, join us for our free webinar, “What Your Support Team Needs to Know to Help You Succeed” on September 28th at 11am-noon EST. To register email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Champions of your continued success,
Molly and Laney