These days when you get a call, you can normally see at a glance either who is calling or at least whether the person is calling from outside your country. A country code different to your own, usually means that you will be expected to speak in English and that can really bring you out in a sweat can’t it?
I remember when I first came to Germany, I worked at a temping agency and the most stressful 5 days of my life probably were on a telephone reception at Triumph Adler. They make typewriters and were trying to penetrate other markets at the time. Now being a non native speaker of German this was terrifying. Everybody that called had a different name (spelling became a life hazard) and a different problem. The tone of voice that was used put me soooo on edge. It seemed like the whole world was fed up with this organisation. As it turned out, that was just me misinterpreting the fact that many people in this country speak REALLY loudly on the phone. Although it seemed to me that they were deliberately talking incredibly fast, the bottom line was that they were just probably just speaking normally and not trying to make my life hell at all. Obvious on reflection, right?
You see the problem with speaking a foreign language is that you are at a disadvantage and out of your comfort zone and it is very easy to feel paranoid, frustrated and hopeless when you are caught off guard in a foreign language.
So let’s learn a few strategies to slow it down.
First of all, tune into your breathing and slow it down, by calming your own breathing and slowing your own words, the chances are that the person on the other end of the phone will automatically come down a notch too. When your breathing is under control, your voice deepens slightly – taking you out of the defensive, hence bringing you onto their level – at least in terms of voice.
Secondly buy some time by confirming your understanding of what they need or asking a question, (making your notes as you do so or looking up something if you need to), get them to spell out any names that you are unsure of and there is no need to be embarrassed that this is not your own language. You are doing a professional job and want to get it right, don’t let someone elses’ urgency make you nervous. Remember that any impatient callers tend to be more irritated in the first instance by their own inadequacies not yours.
Thirdly make yourself a cheat sheet of phrases, questions, keywords, statements and policies that you can refer to, with professional, grammatically correct and helpful terms to get your point across. This might take some time, as my bootcampers will confirm, but it is time well spent and the very fact that you have written it down and then typed it up, means that it is already partially internalised.
At the end of every call, take a deep breath and then take 30 seconds to write bullet points of terms you couldn’t call up, words you would have used if you could have remembered it, any clumsy expressions that you would like to check and ask your language trainer or a native speaker in the department for some help to update your cheat sheet. On the way home go through them in your head or practice on the cat once you get home.
It’s just the phone, don’t let calls send you into a whirl of insecurity and never ever ever ignore a call, because that is a wasted opportunity.