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We have a pretty small HR department and on several occasions, I have had experiences that are either not productive or unpleasant. I would call into the HR line and sometimes I would get Kay (fictionalized name). Our conversation would go something like this:

Me: Hi Kay. How are you?
Kay: Tell me your issue.
Me: I'm calling regarding the benefits letter dated...[cut off]
Kay: Have you read online article 123?
Me: About that, I didn't understand what it says about a qualifying.. [cut off]
Kay: Yes or no.
Me: Well, I am trying to...
Kay: Short answers only. Yes or no.
Me: Yes, but... [cut off]
Kay: Follow the instructions there and note the deadline.
Me: So, I have a question about... [cut off]
Kay: I can't spend more time on this, okay? Bye.

I often leave the call feeling I did not get all the information I needed and I feel flustered after the conversation. How can I talk more effectively to a person who is impatient and not get stressed out doing so?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Oct 28 at 10:20
  • Are you both from the same culture? As an Austrian I really dislike the “How are you?” and other small-talk pleasentries angloamericans often want to engage in and try to avoid it as far as possible.
    – Michael
    Oct 28 at 12:16
  • Did she actually hang up on you after that “Bye”? Because she did have the “okay” there followed by a question mark, so it sounds like she’s asking if it’s okay with you to end the call. If it were me I would say at that point “no, it’s not okay, I still have more questions, so if you don’t have time right now, please tell me when we could discuss this, or help me find someone else who can help.” Basically as long as she needs your consent to end the conversation (assuming she realizes hanging up on you is a bad idea), you have some leverage and can use it to get her to listen.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 4 at 7:50

11 Answers 11

36

While he didn't include this in his answer, Gregory suggested on the comments sending an email and I second that suggestion

Changing the communication channel might change their receptiveness to communication (some people just don't like phone calls - I'm one of them), and it also has the benefit of adding a paper trail to back you up in case they're not helpful or too rude

My personal recommendation is to just write a short email but dumping all the information in the same place:


Example:

Hello, Kay

I hope you're well.

I'd like some clarifications on the benefits letter sent DD/MM. I read the article 123 and the qualifying requisites on page A are not clear to me because of X and Y parts. My situation is (describe your situation), can you clarify if I qualify or not?

After your clarification, I'll proceed with following the instructions on page D and wait for approval.

Would you be able to provide that clarification by (insert reasonable date here)?

Thanks,

XRI


This has the advantage of bypassing all the questions they have to ask you to check if you RTM and get a better context of the situation at hand, and also enabling them to deal with your case when they're able to (in case they're too busy) or easily forward it to someone else.

Best case scenario - Kay is super busy and stressed and doing this a) helps them a bit and b) gives you paper trail to escalate the situation

Worst case scenario - They have a performance issue and HR manager needs to deal with this

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    This might work, but usually the advice is reversed: if you're not getting what you want from someone when you email them, get them on the phone. This is because phone calls requires you to actually respond to any given thing that's said while emails are fairly easy to ignore, misunderstand or address without actually helping (although the paper trail does help for accountability). If there's an issue tracking system, I may rather suggest going with that. Oct 27 at 13:17
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    @BernhardBarker That is very true - next step after sending an email and not getting an answer would be picking up the phone and calling them, but always send requests in writing first - email or ticket - so you can reference it when you call (e.g "Hi! I sent you an email on DD/MMM and I haven't got any feedback, do you have any news for me?") Oct 27 at 13:52
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    They could also cc their manager, boss, director ... I've had better responses and faster results that way.
    – AIQ
    Oct 27 at 14:07
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    This. I'd add that because it's an email OP can't be cut off before articulating their concerns/questions/thoughts/comments. They can be ignored, but at least they're stated with a datetime on a third party record. Guessing from the question though, this won't solve it. So once you've done this, I'd jump on Gregory's answer to actually move things along.
    – TCooper
    Oct 27 at 20:22
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    Also, if you have a ticketing system for this sort of thing (some companies do, some companies don't, some reserve them for "technical" issues only), then you should use it rather than trying to email individual humans (who can go on vacation, get sick, "lose" your email, etc.).
    – Kevin
    Oct 28 at 6:27
34

If you need assistance from HR and they are not acting in a manner that allows you to get the assistance you require, then you need to have a conversation with your boss.

Your boss should then follow that up with either the HR person, or that HR person's manager, or even your bosses boss.

Maybe that HR person is actually really busy, and would actually be helped by you highlighting to higher-ups that you are not getting the support you need.

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    Pay attention to how a company treats its staff. It shows EXACTLY how much value they place on them. You may not like the answer, but you do need to BELIEVE the answer. Oct 27 at 6:04
  • Alternatively, if you've got enough clout in the organisation, you can jump straight to complaining to Kay's manager. I imagine that if some low-ranking HR worker treated a C-level executive like that they'd probably be clearing their desk out in short order.
    – nick012000
    Oct 29 at 0:15
10

Stop it with the filler words and the meaningless pleasantries. You don't really care how Kay is doing, so why are you asking how they are doing?

Don't say things like "I've been meaning to call you for a while now, so you see I was reading about A but then I was thinking B and now I'd like to know..." because this is frustrating to a person with very little time. You are wasting their time with words devoid of information.

Just ask. "Hi Kay, how much PTO do I get per year?" or whatever your actual question is. If Kay needs more contextual information, they'll ask back.

It might help if you prepare mentally for the call. Ask yourself, what is it really what you want to know? Then ask exactly this, directly.

9

You should think carefully about what will you say beforehand. Try to compress the message into the fewest words possible. Your two first phrases: 'Hello...' and 'I'm calling....', were unnecessary. Go straight to the question. Clarify in your mind what really do you want to know, and what information you have to give to get the answer. Don't give any redundant information.

Don't try to be polite because she she does not care.

Just say 'hello' and shoot your question.

If in order to understand the question you have to give some explanation before, it does not matter. Do the question and she will ask what she needs to understand the question.

Use phrases of four five words tops.

If you start telling a story she won't listen.

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    I would recommend doing this, starting with the question "Can you (please) explain the qualifying deadline for my benefits?" Any hints about wanting an explanation, such as "I don't understand the qualifying deadline...", are just going to be ignored, unfortunately, so you have to go to directly asking for an explanation. Oct 27 at 17:03
  • 4
    Or hang up when she's rude, and call back later. Keep calling until you get someone who is willing to help. Frankly I would have hung up on her as soon as she started demanding yes or no answers from me. People can only bully you on the phone for as long as you're willing to let them.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 27 at 17:16
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    One way to deal with this is indeed to do research yourself and if you're still overcome by an ambiguity that you can't solve or fact you cannot determine, you can condense your query down to a single specific question, citing the precise rule and your problem with it. However, you really shouldn't have to do all this, so realistically the best option is to tell your boss that you can't do your job because HR are playing silly buggers, or words to that effect.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 27 at 18:57
  • @StuartF "playing silly buggers" - I'm not sure what word choice could possibly be better.
    – TCooper
    Oct 27 at 20:26
4

When we are busy handling a lot of jobs, we usually deal with the ones that are putting us under the most pressure, causing us the most stress at the moment. If I have someone continually asking me for a piece of work, I'll get it done and give it to them so that I can get on with all the other stuff in my to-do stack.

In general the way to get things done when you are dealing with people like Kay is to make it more important that they deal with you, than deal with the thing they are 'too busy' with.

Kay "can't spend more time on this" so you make sure she's losing more time by not dealing with your issue. When she hangs up on her call her back immediately and ask her if there is someone else who can deal with this, or if her supervisor can help. Keep it pleasant but be a nusiance, enough of a nusiance that she wants to deal with your issue to get rid of you.

Ofcourse, this assumes that your issue is sufficiently important and that Kays life isn't currently being made a misery by her boss who is overloading her or burning her out. The only thing you can do in that case is to escalate your issue to your boss and/or her boss.

4

Harden your tone and get ride of the courtesy. Go straight to the point and be precise under 3 seconds. Avoid the question that you want this person to explain you what to do. An impatient person doesn't like to explain in the first place. Take a guess of what the answer is and you give this person a chance to confirm yes or no. Then dig him up from there.

There's not much you can do about it. You have to be prepared by yourself to give the answers.

4

Talk to Kay's boss

Kay is not doing her job properly, leading to you not being able to do your job properly.

Kay is being deliberately obstructive and not listening to anything you have to say, leading to you being unable to do your job properly because you're lacking information. Part of Kay's job is providing you with that information. If Kay is not providing you with that information and is unwilling to listen to you, she's a liability for the company, because she's not doing her job properly.

3

Learn how to deal with being interrupted while talking

This isn't always done maliciously. People will often do this to push a conversation in a certain direction becuase they think it is unnecessary. The more polite person is left unable to communicate as they are constantly interrupted.

Also, note that there is a difference between an "impatient person" and a person who is currently in "interrupt people" mode because you're the 9th person who has asked the same question.

So the person you're speaking with is not listening and interrupts your every sentence? In your particular example, the clue was in the last statement Kay gave;

Kay: I can't spend more time on this, okay? Bye.

Try these tactics;

  1. Do not assume malice
  2. Finish whichever sentence was interrupted, then address the interruption.
  3. Treat each interruption as if it were well meaning. Did I mention, do not assume malice.
  4. When a person is too busy to have a complex discussion - get straight to the point.
  5. Do not return retaliate by becoming an interrupter yourself. Do unto others etc.
  6. If your question is being ignored and you need an answer, double down on that one point. You need an answer and cannot continue.
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    Being busy or having had to answer the same question multiple times because the department has failed to communicate information effectively doesn't excuse being rude. I'll allow someone one interruption to tell me "We're getting a lot of questions about this and we've updated the FAQ over here. Please look that over and if that doesn't help, call back". If someone interrupts me to demand a yes or no answer, they're being rude and disrespectful and I should not have to tolerate that from someone who is currently fulfilling a service role by answering questions on the phone.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 28 at 17:28
  • @ColleenV of course there is no excuse, but thats not relevant - you need information, the other person is stopping you from talking - can you think of better solutions here? Oct 28 at 17:47
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    I object to the "assume the interruptions are well-meaning". They aren't well-meaning. Those interruptions are self-serving at best. Rarely does tolerating rudeness lead to less of it. That said, two wrongs don't make a right. Confronting someone for being rude doesn't mean you assume they're a terrible person. Maybe they're having a bad day. That doesn't mean you should sit there and take it. If she's unable to provide information I need without being a bully after I've told her to knock it off, then I start asking my management or hers who can.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 28 at 18:23
  • @ColleenV If you have an alternative strategy which will assist the OP and others in similar situations, it might be worth an answer. Oct 28 at 18:41
2

As a first step, I'd try the following:

...
Me: So, I have a question about... [cut off]
Kay: I can't spend more time on this, okay? Bye.

Me: I understand that you are busy right now. When would be a better time to discuss this issue?

By this, you make it clear that your issue is not one that can be resolved in a few seconds. If she gives you an appointment at a less busy time, great: The second conversion will start out with a different expectation on her side. This time, it's no longer "an interrupting phone call that I need to get rid of as soon as possible to continue what I am currencty working on", but "a scheduled meeting to discuss a specific issue".

Alternatively, if she tells you that she does not have time at all for your problem:

Me: Who in your department is the right person to help me with my issue?

This allows her to defer you to a colleague who is less busy and/or more patient.


These two responses also show her that she can't get rid of you so easily. I have successfully used both of them in the past. Sometimes I got an appointment for a later time, sometimes I got redirected to a colleague and sometimes I got a sigh of resignation and the other person actually started listening to my problem.

0

You say Kay is busy/impatient. Don't waste their time in phone case.

Think about Kay. Do you know why Kay is impatient? Do you know about Kay's job/stress/other stuff? Try to talk to the person, if possible, in real life or in different setting and get to know Kay, so you might understand better.

If you don't care about Kay, also fine, but be prepared to work with this person on their own terms. Kay probably has a good reason to be impatient.

For example:

Me: Hi Kay. I read article 123 and I understand part Y en Z. I don't understand part X. Would you help me?

Why is this important? You acknowledge Kay is short on time by skipping the fluff and you show effort on understanding. Then you ask a little commitment to help you.

Kay: Yes (or no)

  • When 'No', you should escalate this issue as there is no way you'll get any answer from Kay.
  • When 'Yes', you should explain as concise as possible what is unclear. Kay will probably probe you with some questions, so be sure to be as clear and concise as possible on the issue.
-11

Answer the question.

Me: Hi Kay. How are you?

Kay: Tell me your issue.

Me: I'm calling regarding the benefits letter dated...[cut off]

Kay: Have you read online article 123?

Me: Yes [not cut off]

Kay: Yes or no. Me: Yes Kay: Short answers only. Yes or no. Me: Yes [none of this happens]

Kay: Follow the instructions there and note the deadline.

Me: So, I have a question about... [not cut off, the conversation can move forward]

Kay: I can't spend more time on this, okay? Bye.

Kay is considering posting to workplace.se asking, "how do I deal with a person who won't answer my question without qualifiers?"

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    I don't understand this answer. Oct 27 at 14:49
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    This isn't really an answer. It just truncates dialog and in a way that doesn't make sense. Why would Kay respond with "Yes or no" or "Short answers only..." after a "yes" response? And if someone actually finishes a question and the response is still "I can't spend more time on this", then Kay isn't doing their job. If Kay posts that hypothetical question, they should ask it of themselves, but without the last 2 words. The OP did answer the questions and qualifiers on questions should be expected when someone doesn't understand documentation. Oct 27 at 15:43
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    @TigerGuy, no, you don't. Just because that's the answer they prefer, it doesn't make it a requirement. At least not on the phone. It might be on a paper or online test that refuses to take other answers, but phone conversations allow more leeway. Do you understand that? Yes or no only, please. Oh, you have something else to say? Too bad. Oh, you don't like that requirement? That's my point, exactly. Oct 27 at 17:24
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    @TigerGuy, in this case, it's not "just principle", it's a matter of someone refusing to do their job. And it's even worse in that it's specifically so that other people can't do theirs. If HR is swamped because their docs are so bad they have to constantly fix people's submissions, it makes sense to take the time answer question and fix the docs to reduce their workload, even if it does take time away from their work of fixing other people's mistakes. In that case, HR fixing their own mistakes makes much more sense, but some won't see it that way, liking the problem as it's "job security". Oct 27 at 17:56
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    "Kay: I can't spend more time on this, okay? Bye." That's them refusing to do their job. Oct 28 at 3:28

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