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Hanging on the telephone (Think Blondie 1978)


It’s possible that some of you will recognise the picture of Blondie and the lyrics, some of you may know the whole song and the full repertoire of the band's work and many of you may need to Google Blondie and this track…….


Anyway ...here are the opening lyrics…


I'm in the phone booth, it's the one across the hall

If you don't answer, I'll just ring it off the wall

I know he's there, but I just had to call


This little blog is inspired by the brilliant Clare Yates who made a comment to me about her observations of behaviour when the phone goes.


Clare was talking about ‘the ringing phone’. Picture this - you may have even seen this happen in an office space. It’s the ringing phone that people hear and choose to ignore. Yes, we know it happens. There’s a phone on the desk near someone, it’s ringing and that person doesn't answer it.


What’s going on? Maybe this is what the person standing by the ringing phone is thinking... ‘Oh no, that phone is going again… someone will pick it up….I don’t need to pick it up….. It’s not my job to pick that up….it might be a complaint…..it might be a tricky client…....no one’s picking it up…….hang up …….. stop ringing… oh my…. Phew. It’s stopped. Someone must have picked it up. I hope they didn’t hang up.


The question here is ….. Why didn’t the person stood right by the phone pick it up? Who was this? What was the person trying to get through thinking? Did they get through to someone eventually? Has that potential client gone to a competitor, because you didn’t pick up but the competitor did?


Why does this happen? Why do we watch a ringing phone? Are we thinking any of the following:


· What if it’s someone I was meant to get back to (see the mind the gap blog)

· What if they ask me a difficult question I don’t know the answer to?

· This person may need a load of help and I don’t have the time to help them?

· What if I take a message and I collect the wrong information?

· I’m on my lunch break

· What if the person I speak to thinks I’m not smart enough to understand their query?

· They should have employed someone to take these calls and I’m not answering out of principle!


These are just examples of a few potential reasons, maybe you have some more you have thought of?


As an emotional intelligence coach, these reasons are the most interesting to me:

· What if I take a message and I collect the wrong information?

· What if the person I speak to thinks I’m not smart enough to understand their query?


Should we examine these reasons, we would start to explore something called ‘Psychological Safety’. This is a term introduced by Amy Edmondson back in 1999. She had observed nurses and doctors in the US holding back from taking action or making valuable observation to others (which would have saved lives) for fear of reprimand or public humiliation or embarrassment. These medical staff had had their fingers burned on previous occasions or they had witnessed others being reprimanded for getting things ‘wrong or making mistakes’ and so they chose not to speak up or take action that might get them into trouble.


Here’s the thing. If people are not picking up the phone for fear of making a mistake, we need to talk. Your organisation will thrive when the people within it feel safe, they feel valued and they feel heard. Psychological Safety is the secret sauce of highly effective teams. Google proved this between 2012 - 2015 when they did some research into nearly 200 teams and their dynamics.


I realise that I have taken you on a mini-rollercoaster within this short blog. With lyrics of the late 70s, through to the scene setting of an unanswered call through to the weight of people’s perception of safety in your organisation. One thing I hope I have done is to invite you to explore WHY this is happening….. Why is it that people ignore that call, that chance to connect, the chance to resolve an issue more easily than by email.


The chance to bring more human experiences to your business.

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