As a new social worker I used to feel so nervous before picking up the phone. I'd write a script (still doing this now), I'd practice what to say and it would still take me 20 minutes that I didn't have to start dialling the numbers.
I had a perception that everyone else in the office was listening in and judging me, and irrational nerves about what the person on the other end was going to say.
We have to talk about the idea of difficult phone calls. New social workers rely so much on phone contact with the people they are supporting yet sometimes its expected that they know exactly what to do and why they are doing it.
The first step is acknowledging that however nervous you are about picking up the phone, the person at the receiving end is going to be feeling far more fear and anxiety about answering the phone to a social worker, no matter how lovely you think you are.
We lose so much communication through a phone call. No eye contact, body language and over reliance of verbal information make it a challenging situation for whoever you are talking to.
Here are just three reminders if you can come back to the next time you can sense yourself putting off a phone call:
Check where someone is
If you know you have difficult news to deliver and it has to be over the phone, you need to know where someone is. 'Difficult' means different things to different people. It might be a conversation about processes or it may be arranging a visit. Don't underestimate the fear and anxiety it can cause. Be mindful of safety; if someone can talk openly and the emotional safety of children if they are going to hear a phone call.
Say it’s going to be difficult
You can't change the way someone receives what you say, but a small phrase to give someone an idea of what you may be talking about can help. An individual might say they are fine to talk when you check where they are, but it's always worth double checking.
Follow it up
If a phone call is challenging, maybe you are going round in circles, maybe you are getting verbal abuse, maybe there are miscommunications, don’t just leave it there. I would always recommend face to face conversations so if you have no other choice but to share information over the phone, make sure you follow this up.
Phone calls in any other job might not seem like a big issue but we rely so much on phones in our job that it is something we need to think about.
Phone conversations stay in peoples memories. What you say and how you say it, matters.
If you regularly avoid phone calls or put them off, start shifting your perspective to the other persons experience, rather than your perceived fear and anxiety.
Listen to the supporting podcast episode here or on the link below: