The Corporate Shrink

The art of the cold call, and how to cope with life's rough patches.

I'm new to cold-calling at a financial-services firm. From a psychological perspective, what's the most effective etiquette for a successful cold call?

If one size really fit all, then cold-calling would be easy. But it's not enough just to be polite. The best etiquette strategy is one that adjusts on the fly, based on careful listening and empathizing with the other person.

You know, as I do, what the alternative sounds like. The cold-call recipient feels like he's talking to a dispassionate automaton replaying a script (which he often is). So what to do? Pay attention. If the person you're pitching sounds rushed, acknowledge that and cut to the chase. Otherwise, you'll come across as clingy and annoy your potential customer. If your target seems more formal, address him or her by Mr. or Ms. (There's no quicker way for a telephone rep to turn me off than by addressing me as if we're old buddies.) Most of all, try not to take it too personally when your cold call gets the cold shoulder. It comes with the territory.

I'm finishing my MBA but struggling financially until I get my first job. I have aging parents and an unsatisfying personal life. I've tried to solve my problems by applying for jobs, but I still feel terribly isolated. Any advice on how I can cope with this?

If it's any consolation, you're not alone. Lots of people experience feelings of isolation at different times, and it can be painful. This is clearly a tough time, filled with uncertainty about your future, torn between feelings of responsibility for your parents, and your commitment to improve your own life. And not having someone to share your voyage with makes it all the more difficult.

Time and perseverance will undoubtedly help on the work front, but ultimately that may be the easy part. Caring for elderly parents--and dealing with your guilt if and when you choose not to--is more complicated. Consider the possibility that unresolved anger from childhood might interfere with your freedom to be responsive to their needs now. And given all that's on your plate, it might help if someone else, like a sibling, could look after your parents until you're on more solid ground.

Your unsatisfying personal life might be the most complex part of all. There's no rational reason why you should be alone. But we know that being successful, or even being highly responsible, doesn't guarantee intimacy. For some, it comes effortlessly. For others, emotional blocks can make intimacy feel unattainable or dangerous.

Although these issues probably aren't helping matters, don't assume that they're the cause of your unhappiness. It may be that your inner emotional life will improve once your external circumstances stabilize. But if you still feel isolated, you might benefit from speaking with a qualified psychotherapist who can help you figure out why you haven't found a partner to help you through life's rough patches.

Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, founder of the Boswell Group LLC, advises CEOs on people and culture issues. Send him questions about the psychology of business (shrink@fastcompany.com).

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