Interview with a PCaW Adviser

20th December 2016

You don’t need to spend long reading articles on whistleblowing to realise that blowing the whistle can be a stressful, upsetting process. That’s not to say this is the experience of every whistleblower, but the majority of callers to our advice line have either been victimised by managers or co-workers for coming forward, or their concerns have been ignored.

Our advice line is at the heart of everything we do at PCaW. It is a free and confidential source of advice for workers who are unsure whether or how to raise a concern about risk, malpractice or wrongdoing. I started at PCaW 10 years ago as an adviser giving legal advice to workers, I’m now Head of Policy for the charity but a large part of my role is still talking to and advising whistleblowers.

Dealing with an upset or angry caller is probably the most challenging aspects of working on the advice line; yet handling these challenging calls is an important skill for our advisers, if the caller cannot provide us with the relevant information then it makes delivering our advice almost impossible. To get this information an adviser needs to be patient, they need to stay calm and think clearly so as to understand and sometimes unpick complicated, stressful and occasionally rather entrenched situations. It is a rewarding, but sometimes quite difficult job.

The advice line team recently had “responding to challenging calls” training, delivered by Rachel Wyartt from the Helplines Partnership, a membership body for helpline services. The training covered the different types of challenging calls, angry callers, emotional callers, circular callers (callers that repeat or dwell on irrelevant information) and reluctant callers (where the advisor needs to earns the trust of the caller), with phrases to use and avoid for each type of call. For instance it was interesting to learn that phrases such “I’m sorry” can sound disingenuous to an emotional or angry caller, whereas “it sounds like you went through a tough time” is a more emphatic phrase. We examined how to manage caller’s expectations from the advice we provide, and how using positive language can help with exceptions at the outset of a call. While these are all skills our advisers often use when dealing with the wide variety of issues presented by our advice line clients, it was really useful to have some comprehensive training from the Helplines Partnership.

Understanding that the use of language can defuse or escalate a caller’s emotional state, and how I should change some of the language I use in those challenging conversations was incredibly valuable.

We also explored what strategies can be deployed by the charity and staff for advisers to look after themselves after particularly upsetting or stressful calls. So, for example, from the training we realised that as a team we naturally debrief after a challenging call among colleagues, but during our weekly case meetings where we discuss ongoing cases we could also build in time to discuss those more challenging calls.

The general feeling among the adviser team was that it confirmed much of the good practice we have on the advice line in dealing with challenging calls, but it also gave us food for thought in some areas where we can improve.

Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons