PHONE RAGE: Are you a Victim or an Unwitting Perpetrator?

PHONE RAGE: Are you a Victim or an Unwitting Perpetrator?

By Susan Berkley

Is it just me, or have you noticed an epidemic of telephone rudeness lately?

At best, the voice can be used as an instrument of persuasion, motivation, even seduction. At worst, it can be used as a weapon.

Consider these shocking yet true examples of sheer rudeness:

  • Carla called a company inquiring about a product and was told it was out of stock. She asked how long it would be on back order and was told by an indignant rep “How should I know? It’s out of stock. What part of “out-of-stock” don’t you understand?”
  • Fred had some questions about a part he was trying to order. He went to the company’s website but couldn’t find tech support. He gave them a call. The person who answered the phone said: “To find support you type ‘forward slash’ support. Are you dumb, stupid or what?”
  • My assistant hung up on a particularly insistent telemarketer. He called her back and said: “Are you the decision maker or just some rude #$$ who works there?”

If you are a victim of phone rage, the answer is simple. Don’t put up with it. Make a complaint to the head of the company and take your business elsewhere. But what if you (or someone on your team) are the perpetrator?

I know. You’d never be deliberately rude. But the scary thing is, when you’re under stress or in a bad mood your tone of voice will tend to automatically mirror your emotions. And because it’s hard to hear ourselves as others hear us you’ll probably have no idea that you are coming across as less than your normally pleasant professional self until you get a complaint. And it doesn’t take much. Sometimes even a mild tone of condescension will be enough to send a sensitive customer elsewhere.

Feeling stressed? You’ll probably sound snippy or annoyed. In a hurry? Your customers might get the idea that you are trying to brush them off. Depressed? Your lack of enthusiasm and low vocal energy is a definite turn-off. Just had a fight? The anger you feel will be hard to conceal.

Here’s how to rage-proof your voice:

  1. PAUSE FOR REFLECTION – Often the things that irritate us most in others are the things we can’t stand to see in ourselves. A dose of humility is a powerful cure.
  2. MIRROR MIRROR – Keep a mirror by the phone and glance at yourself before picking up the receiver. If the expression on your face is less than pleasant, that’s what your caller will hear. Smile before you dial or say hello, even if you don’t feel like it.
  3. TAPE YOURSELF – The way you sound on tape is how you sound to others. Keep a cassette player on your desk and monitor your phone calls, especially during times of stress.
  4. WATCH YOUR BODY LANGUAGE – Keep it relaxed. Your voice is easily affected by physical tension. Try standing if your energy is low, or sitting comfortably if you need to chill out.
  5. BREATHE DEEPLY TO CLEAR YOUR HEAD – For breathing exercises see chapter 2 of my book “Speak To Influence” available online at
  6. IF YOU ARE REALLY UPSET, QUARANTINE YOURSELF – It takes 7 positive impressions to undo a negative one. Don’t risk it. Let voice mail or someone else take over until you’ve had a chance to compose yourself.
  7. STAND FOR SELF CONTROL – I believe that venting rage, anger or irritation in the work place is never acceptable, despite what we see in the movies. If it persists it is clearly a sign of mental imbalance and must be treated accordingly. If you supervise others, monitor carefully and make it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated.

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Susan Berkley is a top voice over artist and founder of The Great Voice Company, a company devoted to teaching great voices around the world how to become successful voice over actors. The Great Voice Company is an international leader in voice over training and in providing top quality voice over recordings in all languages to discerning businesses and marketers. For additional information visit

Copyright 2012, The Great Voice Company. All Rights Reserved. PHONE RAGE: Are you a Victim or an Unwitting Perpetrator?

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