Telephone calls are one of the most universally hated things amongst autistics. Here’s how it feels for me and tips for how to make it smoother for autistics.
Almost all people that know me, and respect me, know that they shouldn’t call me unannounced as it gives me anxiety. Not only because of autism but trauma as well. So when somebody calls, it’s almost always somebody that doesn’t know me. Sounds are awful. If it’s too noisy I can’t make a phonecall, so in a heavy populated office, I have a harder time concentrating on the phone call. what helps in when I am not looking at anybody while I’m doing a phone call, not even my partner when I am at home, as it’s heavily distracting.
How do I handle these incoming calls?
I have scripts for these. I change my voice to a more upbeat version of my own voice. I have a standard “ahoy hoy” that sounds upbeat and with which I great people in real life as well. Then I give my name. Not the name first as due to static or bad connection the name might be lost, so always the greeting first (this was drilled into me during my degree, so it’s standard practice for me now).
Then I wait to hear the person present themselves and most of the time they will wait for an acknowledgement (so they get a standardized greeting that fits the day: like “good morning”, good afternoon,…) in the same standardized upbeat voice.
Then they will actually tell you why they are calling. During this part, I make sure I am in a quiet spot, and it has all my attention. I walk while I take phonecalls as it gives me something to do, and makes sure I can listen and vocalize and mimic as if I have a real life conversation. It helps immensely with how my voice sounds, so this is how I do it now, it also helps for when you get an unexpected phone call on the street as it’s not so out of place to mimic there while you have a phonecall. The only place it’s weird is in the office, but I would make sure everybody knows about my quirk before I go to work in an office like this.
How I handle outgoing calls?
Same way, but by scripting in reverse. I start with a standardized greeting I have memorized and never deviate from in any way, not even in tone of voice or what I say. If I work for a company they always get the “Good morning” or whatever the time of day is (as this part gets lost in static, it’s insignificant for now and can be repeated later. “my full name” followed by “the name of the company” so they know who is calling and the name of the company, which is the most important part. They can always ask for your name during the call again, or when you give your contact information later.
If I make informal calls or I have to talk to a councelor (semi-informal) it’s always the same, If It’s indirect and I have to deal with a receptionist I handle it as a business formal call, so I give them my full greeting. If it’s a semi-formal call, they get my greeting and my name, not my full name, as they know me by my tone of voice. Then wait for their reply and ask my question. Informal calls depending on the message might last 1 to 10 minutes.
I used to fully script calls, but saw it as futile but I knew why I did it. It’s to repress anxiety. Now I have the parts scripted that I will use the most. The rest is fluid for what I need it. Formal calls can go from anywhere and once I have done them a few times, they will become scripted for the most part so they sound more fluid over time. Depending in a company if I need to call the person more and more, they might become semi-informal as well, as most companies know other companies contacts by heart. It’s not irregular here in Belgium to talk to a business representative about their home life before you go into business. That’s why I call them semi-informal as they don’t follow the regular formal scripting either. You don’t have to give your full name anymore but you do give the company, so they know who is calling and how to treat you.
To sum up and help autistics, the parts I have scripted:
My greeting depending if it’s formal (with any business), semi-informal (with a business I have a good relation with or those that know me in a business setting or informal (friends and family).
“Hello, it’s “your name” from Acme Co speaking. *wait for their acknowledgement* “Good morning/afternoon” (as evenings aren’t business hours), I’m calling you regarding and then state what you are calling for. *wait for their response*
There are 2 outcomes here. You either have to go into more detail and ask more questions, or they acknowledge that they are working on it, doing something with it and the call goes to the ending.
“I would like to thank you for your time. Have a nice day.” and hang up.
In formal calls, if it’s close to lunch time, you can tell them to have a nice lunch, after lunch asking them to had a nice lunch isn’t done in any type of call. Also a note on language: During these formal calls, using a dialect is not done. Slang of any kind is not accepted except business jargon regarding the business you are in. For me, as I am flemish Dutch, my language is cleaned up and most of the traces of my dialect are gone. Yes, there are some sounds I can’t mask, but this is the most proper business like language I will speak. The other forms of calls are hybrids, and they are easily distinguishable in how I talk, so and outsider can easily know if it’s a business call or an informal, also in how I behave.
“Ahoy hoy” (my standard greeting as it’s something more unusual than the boring hello), “my name here” and I wait for their response and then go into my topic. then it follows the rules of a normal conversation. As I’m dutch flemish, these calls are in the dialect I speak, not in formal business dutch that I was taught in school.
It follows the start of a formal conversation, but then goes into an informal conversation, also the businesslike proper english (or dutch in my case) is out of the loop here as I speak a dialect and don’t care if they know I speak it. When I’m calling semi formal my calls start in proper businesslike dutch, but then I switch over to a hybrid of dialect and formal dutch. so they know I still acknowledge the formal like call, but treat them more informal than a business call, they will most likely respond in kind.