Improving Your Mental Game: Tips for Working through Difficult Calls

By Dean Kaplan

Whether you’re receiving customer calls or making outbound calls, if you work in a call center, chances are you manage at least one difficult call a week. If a call is truly challenging, it can affect all your other calls and possibly your non-work hours as well. Difficult calls are hard to prepare for because you often don’t see them coming. However, there are mental steps you can take to make handling a difficult call easier.

Be Prepared:

In an outbound situation you may know that a call you’re about to make could go poorly. Pull all relevant files, discuss the situation with a manager, and review notes from previous interactions before making the call.

For those at inbound call centers, make sure files are organized and you know where information can be found, but also know the appropriate escalation tactics. You can help coworkers prepare for difficult calls by taking good notes during your calls. A call often goes poorly the moment a customer becomes frustrated by having to repeat his or her story.

Stay Focused:

If you’ve worked on the same accounts for a while, it can be tempting to let your mind wander on a routine call. But you never know when a call can go wrong. Train yourself to stay in the moment, even when you are inclined to let your thoughts drift. Take breaks to clear your mind, study yoga and meditation techniques, and limit distractions on your desk.


When a customer is explaining a problem or situation, don’t interrupt. Instead, as they talk, write down any details and questions and ask for clarification after the customer is finished talking. Not only will listening to the whole story first give you a better idea of the issue or question involved, but it will also help the customer feel better. There are few things more frustrating to an angry caller than not being heard.

Be Respectful:

Sometimes it can be difficult to treat customers with respect. This is especially true if you think the problem you’re handling is related to a mistake or poor behavior on the customer’s end. However, if you can’t be respectful of the customer and listen to their story with empathy, you should not be on the call. Remind yourself before each call that everyone has a story, and everyone deserves empathy.Being respectful also means respecting their time. Click To Tweet

Being respectful also means respecting their time. If you are making an outbound call, ask if this is a good time or if there’s a better time to call. If it’s an inbound call, you can try saying something such as, “It sounds like you’re driving; would you prefer to call me back when you get to your location?”

Learn to Recognize a Difficult Call:

We tend to think of difficult callers as people who yell or stonewall us, but there are many other types of difficult calls. People aren’t aware of what they need, they ramble, they are irritated for reasons unrelated to the call or are distracted, or they have genuinely upsetting stories. The sooner you recognize that a call may turn difficult, the easier it will be for you to mentally prepare.

Let It Go:

The most important part of handling a difficult call is once the call is over. Make appropriate notes, then take a deep breath and let the call go. When you hang up the phone, hang up on the call as well. Dwelling on the stress of dealing with a difficult situation can make other calls more difficult than they have to be and even affect your relationships outside of work. If you know that you’ve done the best you can, there’s no need to keep reliving a bad call.

Learning how to handle difficult calls takes practice. You must learn appropriate negotiation techniques and answers to frequently asked questions, and you also must develop skills necessary to listen, empathize, and emotionally move on from a call.

Dean Kaplan is president of The Kaplan Group (, a commercial collection agency specializing in large claims and international transactions. He has thirty-five years of international business experience, traveling to over forty countries to negotiate over 500 million dollars in mergers and acquisitions and other business deals.