Talking to fill the silence

If you’ve ever been interviewed by a journalist, you may have experienced a tactic designed to keep you talking. You’re answering, you’re answering, you finish — and silence. The other guy doesn’t say anything, doesn’t ask the next question, just looks at you expectantly. So you start answering again. And maybe putting your foot in your mouth.

That’s talking to fill the silence. Don’t fall for it. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book.

How I wish some folks caught in the media glare would get that: Jon and Kate Gosselin, SC Gov. Mark Sanford, maybe even Katherine Heigl. I’m talking about you. There comes a time when the rest of us just do not need to know anything else about your personal lives.


But there may come a time when your company or organization faces this interview tactic. Remember, answer the question and then stop. Here are some other tips for facing the media:

  • Don’t blame
  • Don’t repeat a negative
  • Don’t volunteer tough topics, especially when you don’t really know the answer

To be fair, the Gosselins and Katherine Heigl are considered to be celebrities and their representatives apparently believe in the old adage “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”. Their tendency to spill is most likely less about being caught by an interview trick and more about the quest for fame.

And your organization probably isn’t raising sextuplets and divorcing, mysteriously disappearing from important governmental duties or starring in a summer movie. So you don’t have to talk about those things.

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How to get great customer service

As a rule, I generally get good customer service. It’s not perfect all the time, but more often than not, I get the help I need. My friends have always asked how I do it, so I thought I’d share the information that has helped me. Here are my top 5 ways to get great customer service.

1. Be polite. Along the lines of “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”, being polite to the person taking your order, helping you with a return or explaining that it will take six tries to fix your home PC (this really happened to me!) will get you further. You may be caught in a frustrating situation, but raising your voice or cursing will only alienate the person who has the power to help you.

2. Ask for what you want. Do you want store credit or cash for that return? Do you think your PC should replaced under your extended warranty? Did your favorite restaurant change the menu, removing your favorite lunch dish? Ask them to help you out. Try these magic words “It would really help me if you could …” or “What I’d really like to see is …”.

3. Know the rules. Sometimes you may think you’re getting a bad deal because you don’t know the terms of service. Even though the sign on the shelf says the razor blades are on sale, the circular actually says you need to buy two packages to get that deal. So berating the cashier won’t help you here. Knowing the rules also will help you when you do have the right information, and the cashier or representative does not. Asking for a manager here can also help you out.

4. Take good notes. Especially if you are dealing with something over the phone. Write down the name of the person you are talking with, the date you talked (even the time!), and summarize the situation in a note. Write down any case numbers or incident numbers. If you have to call again, you can reference that call and the representative may be able to find that conversation in their computer system. Be prepared to recount your understanding of the call, and be sure to politely but firmly correct any misunderstandings on the other end. Their notes might be different than yours. If you reach an impasse, ask for a supervisor.

5. Turn your adversary into an ally. If you start a confrontation, you’ll just reach the stone wall of “I can not help you with that at this time.” (Which may have you wondering — then at WHAT time can you help me???!! — but don’t say that out loud.) Take the position that you’re both in this together and you both have the same goal: reaching an amicable solution to the problem, especially one that’s in your favor. Use some humor. Listen when they explain the situation. Repeat back to them:

So you’re saying that my extended warranty allows you to try to fix my PC three times? But I have had six visits from a technician.

Oh, I see — you count the number of parts shipped to me and not tech visits. So if this last one doesn’t work?

Oh, so what you’re saying is that if this last part does not fix my problem, you will send me a replacement PC at no cost to me? I understand your system now.

Good luck. Do you have any tried and true customer service tips? Let’s share them in the comments.