WHAT TO DO WHEN PHONE CALLS GET OVERWHELMING
Some calls come with pressure, and a sense of urgency followed by different accusations when we don’t pick up or delay returning the calls.
In this two-part blog, I share what you can do when your call isn’t answered and what you can do if you feel overwhelmed with too many calls.
In the course of writing this blog, I had assumptions. So, I reached out to a few people in my professional space that challenged some of those assumptions and provided additional insight into how we can better manage our phone call obligations. Their experiences were eye-opening. It turns out, phone calls don’t have to get overwhelming.
If you are currently overwhelmed by the work calls you get, and want more control, here are the five tips you can consider.
Communicate your availability hours:
I reached out to Dianah (not real name), who provides leadership oversight to about 13 projects and several staff that work with those projects to ask if she gets overwhelmed by phone calls and her calmness surprised me. She says the calls are there, but they are not a problem. In probing further, she shared how she manages. “I share my monthly schedule with the entire team and the projects I support; therein, I indicate when I will be having field trips or engaged in meetings”. She says she has communicated with her team on what to do and how to reach her in those moments ie, during lunch breaks, early mornings, and evenings. Her team members understand and respect the schedule she shares. In moments of true emergencies, she has asked them to text and she always finds ways to handle those few moments. This affirms what Grace Munyira, the proprietor of Vine pharmaceuticals told me earlier last week, “You train people on how to react to you”
Check the culture you may have inadvertently built
Sometimes, without meaning to, you could have disempowered your team. Perhaps they think they must run everything by you because of a past experience. If you are getting too many calls, I challenge you to observe what the next few calls are all about and ask yourself why they felt the need to call you. It could even be an inefficiency in the work system you’ve built or the lack of it. Doing a reflection around this will enable you to fix something that will improve your overall effectiveness. Another person I asked said the only season he felt overwhelmed with calls was when there was a crisis in his workspace caused by some delays. Everyone then went into panic mode and was calling him. When that got sorted, things calmed down. Again, perhaps something deeper needs addressing and you need a better system for managing your work.
Designate a work day for consultations
Does your role include a support component? Perhaps you are in IT or you are the Tech/product/service support person on your team.
You may not have full control regarding when a customer will have a challenge but you can create a system where non-urgent support can be handled better. You could have your customers know that you are available twice a week from 9:00 am- 12:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays to answer all questions and handle any challenges. That way, you encourage people to plan better and you too can make allowances to be fully available to offer that kind of support on designated days.
Schedule phone-free time
To have some control over your life, set some phone-free time in your schedule. This could mean a regular time when you are unavailable to attend to calls.
It is important to set some boundaries around your accessibility to allow for things like family or self-care. People don’t know when they are breaking boundaries so it is our duty to safeguard those boundaries. It could be that you don’t receive work calls after 7:00 pm, on Sundays or before 9:00 am. Having a routine or policy around this will help you to focus on other things.
Schedule intervals to return calls
As you plan some hours to work without interruption, schedule time to check and return calls or respond to texts.
This could be hourly or during breaks if you are involved in long meetings. It is a good thing to attend to our customers within reasonable timeframes. It is possible they actually need your input into what they are doing.
Tell your closest workmates what form of communication is most preferred.
If you work with a close-knit team that communicates frequently, it helps to know what each member of the team prefers, and you all adhere to each other’s preferences. Alternatively, you could make a joint agreement on what form of communication you will all use, that will be the most effective eg a Teams channel, a WhatsApp group, a Mailing group etc.
For personal contact, I may like e-mails while a colleague likes calls. It is okay to tell each other what’s best. A colleague once told me to follow all crucial e-mails to her with a call. While I, on the other hand, had to tell one of my colleagues that they didn’t have to call or text me after sending an e-mail. It may be impractical to share our preferences with everyone, and it would be exhausting to try to adhere to everyone’s style. Still, you can do it with your small teams and accommodate the rest of the world by managing your space and setting boundaries that save you from chaos. Make sure the preferred communication form is very efficient lest you create another problem.
Request texts where possible
If you are in position to answer a call, please do. After all, the good book says do not withhold good when it is in your power to do so. If you can’t answer but can request the person to text, do so. Many things can be resolved through texts. Only do this if the act is not interrupting an engagement you are having. It is rude to keep answering calls and responding to texts when in a meeting.
Turn off your ringtones and notifications
There’s a compulsion or a trigger you get when the phone rings. I think the tones are designed with a sense of urgency that demands you stop everything you are doing and respond. You may feel totally out of control when the phone keeps ringing and that can be a huge distraction. Take back your life. If the phone is quiet in your bag, no technology is compelling you to do anything you aren't ready for. If the phone is in your bedroom, you can surely finish bonding with your child over homework without interruption. The phone is yours, don’t let it control you.
The ultimate goal is to be intentional about how you use your phone and how you want it to affect or help you as a professional. People will call you anytime they want to; regardless of what’s on your plate or what’s going on in your life, the rest is up to you.