Okay, boys and girls, Aunty Diane is going to teach you a few manners that will come in handy when you call people unsolicited to plead for your cause or plead for money.
1. After introducing yourself, ask if this is a good time to talk and listen to the answer. Take it seriously. The person may say no simply because he or she doesn’t want to be solicited and doesn’t want to say so. Ask if they wish to be called back. If they say, “Yes,” you’re in luck. If they say, “No,” calling them back repeatedly isn’t going to endear your organization or your cause to them. And, for the record, 5:30 p.m. is probably not a good time for anyone to be on the phone listening to a solicitation.
Bottom line: Ask, listen, and respect the answer.
Today someone from a political group called me and lurched right into her scripted spiel without asking if I cared to hear it. She was oh-so-earnest, it was painful. Twenty seconds in, I said, “Excuse me.” No pause in the spiel. A few seconds later, “Excuse me.” No pause. A few seconds later, a tad more firmly, “Excuse me, but how did you get this number?” This threw her off a few seconds, then she told me I must have given it when I signed up for this organisation (which I had never done), I must have this, I must have that. I said, “This is my work number, which I would never use in this context.” After a little more debate back and forth, during which I could tell that going that far off script was a strain, she muttered something about crossing it off the list. Why, thank you.
Don’t take it personally, but you could have asked first if I wanted to talk and saved yourself — and me — the trouble.
2. Give the person the opportunity to respond during the conversation and listen. I mean, LISTEN. Yes, you’ve been trained not to, and you’ve been trained to give your spiel as quickly as possible to wear the person down and to get as many calls in as possible, but when you don’t listen to me, I don’t wish to deal with your organization. Ever. I don’t want to associate with anyone whose core values don’t include listening. It’s a skill I find few people have mastered, but you can at least pretend to try.
One weekend I was ill with a stomach virus. Ill, weak, dehydrated, exhausted. My phone rang; I thought it might be my elderly father, to whom of course I always wanted to speak, so I dragged myself over to the phone and picked it up. The spiel began. It was to be a 20-minute survey. I said, “I can’t do this; I’ve been throwing up for three days.” Spiel continues. “I’m really sick . . . please . . .” (this was in the days when, thanks to my parents’ training, I was too polite to hang up on anyone). Spiel contines. I’m lying on the floor, barely able to hold the phone, trying not to vomit my stomach (which hadn’t had anything in it for days anyway), and in tears. After a few more attempts, I finally hung up. And I haven’t looked back. Now I hang up if it’s clear to me the other person isn’t listening. The sad thing is, this was not a recording or something of that nature. This was a man who simply didn’t have the social skills necessary to realise that he should apologise, shut up, and hang up, or to express some basic compassion.
3. If the people to whom you report say you must spit out your spiel quickly and not let the prospect interrupt, if they train you not to be polite or show basic courtesy, if they train you not to treat the prospect like a human being with whom you are interacting, get another job. You will be happier, trust me. I don’t think it will change anything; someone will always be willing to take the job or to volunteer if it’s a cause they believe in. But while the young woman today clearly believed in her cause and was trying to reach as many people as possible, she alienated me. And I don’t think any organization that relies on people can afford to do that very often and expect to succeed.
If you’re not a phone solicitor/salesperson, take note of the above anyway. And the next time you’re at work, take note too of how many times you walk up to people, especially your underlings, and just start blabbering at them without any pleasantries whatsoever, like, “Do you have a minute?” (And waiting for the answer.) And discover how much easier it is to work with people when you treat them like . . . people.