After A Frustrating Call

Heidi DiGennaro

Heidi DiGennaro

Surviving the Headset

Wham! “What an idiot.”

How often have you said or heard that in the comm. center? Have you slammed a phone down, mashed a release button, and commented about your caller at the end? Executed an impressive eye roll?

Callers have the amazing gift of plucking our last nerve. In concept, we know they are in crisis. In practice, the caller’s crisis, emotions, and demeanor lead us to make judgments about them when we hang up.

So what’s the problem with complaining about callers (or field providers when they call in and ask something we consider stupid/annoying)? Justifications could be: Everyone does it. It’s a stress reliever. (Insert name here) has a nickname for every caller. (Insert name here) hates taking calls and would rather work a radio and acts like a brat when the phone rings. That’s just (insert name here)’s normal attitude.

But the question should be, “Why is it OK to judge, make fun of, insult, or otherwise talk about a person when they aren’t aware of it?” You wouldn’t tolerate someone talking about you if you were made aware of it happening. By doing these things, you don’t realize you are feeding your—and the room’s—negativity monster. Which calls are you going to remember better? Will you remember the 10 people who thanked you at the end or the jerk? Why do you want to poison yourself, hold onto that damaging negativity, and make it a semi-permanent or lifetime memory?

Why choose to contribute to turning your co-worker’s OK mood into something worse? The people around you hear all that harmful crap you’re spewing about the caller; it’s not helping them. Technologically, how sensitive is your headset or handset mikes? You’re sitting next to your co-worker and loudly announce “idiot”—maybe something stronger—when you get off your call. Your co-worker’s caller heard you and thought your co-worker called them an idiot. In the short term, your co-worker needs to regain control of the call by trying to explain the comment wasn’t directed at them. Long term, there’s a complaint and guess who—YOU—bites the bullet for that aside.

Does your system have a three-second buffer before your system stops recording? The word idiot is now part of the official records and could be released to the citizen, public, courts, and/or media. Try explaining using the word idiot to a judge or in the court of social media. Is there anything you can say that isn’t going to make things worse or make you look better?

You don’t know the caller’s circumstances. Your limited interaction is their call for help. You don’t know that you’re the fourteenth person they’ve reached out to for help. They don’t know that you’re on mandatory overtime for the second time this week, and you’re tired and mad. Or that you’re muddling through because you’re sick, don’t want to use your sick leave, don’t have any sick leave, or don’t want to subject someone else to mandatory overtime.

So what do you do? The phone just rang again, and now you must start over with a new caller. You might think just one more irritating caller, and I’m out. If you’re at the point you’re about to snap, take a break. If breaks are scheduled, call your supervisor and ask to take a few minutes outside of your scheduled time. Supervisors should recognize when you need a minute. If you can’t get up then, take a moment to close your eyes and mentally reset yourself. When you can, go outside for fresh air. Hot or cold, the fresh air does help with a reset. Your mental health should be just as important as your physical well-being.

You don’t want a single caller to drive your mood and your career. Reset yourself and don’t let the callers control you.