Crazy Callers: 4 Tips To Defuse Radio Rants

During one of my recent media training speeches, an astute audience member asked me this question:

“You’ve been talking about how to deliver a message to the public through a reporter,” he said. “But what do you do when you’re on talk radio and a crazy caller starts ranting and throws you off message?”

It’s a terrific question. Here are four tips for how to handle angry, ranting, or off-topic callers.

1. Let The Host Handle The Transition For You

Many experienced radio hosts will help you transition from the end of the caller’s rant to the beginning of your response. Often times, the host will paraphrase the caller’s question for you, re-phrasing it with less hostile words. Before jumping in to answer a caller’s concern right away, give the host an opportunity to jump in.

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2. Focus on the Issue, Not the Rant

Odds are good that the caller said a mouthful. But as you’re listening to the caller, try to separate out the emotional part of the rant and focus on the larger issue. Respond to the issue, not the emotion.

3. Acknowledge the Emotion, Use it as a Bridge

This tip seems diametrically opposed to the previous tip – but when used infrequently, it’s a useful tool to add to your arsenal. If a caller angrily disagrees with your position, transition back to your point by saying something like, “This is obviously an emotional issue. Let me tell you why so many people believe passionately that our approach is the right one.”

4. Be Gracious

Above all, maintain the high ground and avoid a mudslinging match with the caller. The public recognizes angry callers for what they are – but by engaging in a verbal battle with them, you simultaneously enhance their credibility while diminishing your own. Instead, impress the audience with your graceful and kind handling of the caller. That doesn’t mean you can’t push back on incorrect assertions – you should, every time – but rather that you do so respectfully.

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