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How to guides

The information below will help you to make your calls.

Making your First Call

It’s understandable to be a little nervous before calling someone you have never met for the first time.

Before they were matched with you, your telephone friend will have been receiving short weekly calls from Age UK, so they are used to receiving friendly calls from people they have not talked to before.

Don’t worry. The first call is easier than people think. Even if it doesn't feel entirely natural, remember your telephone friend may be slightly anxious just like you, so may need a little friendly encouragement from you in leading the conversation.

Before your call

  • Read the profile information you have been sent about your telephone friend. This will tell you all about them and will help with your initial conversations.
  • Try and make sure you have a comfortable place to make your call. Try and avoid distractions such as noise and doing other things besides listening.

Starting your call

Your telephone friend will know your name and that you will be calling, so you just need to introduce yourself, mention that you are calling through Call in Time from Age UK.

Remember that your telephone friend may not have been in contact with too many other people recently, and might also be housebound. This might mean that their conversation is limited. They might also talk about something that you know little about or even are not interested in, try to turn that into something positive by asking questions and learning something new. Talk about yourself and what you have been up to recently.

If the conversation gets stuck or repetitive, listed below are some suggestions that you may like to use:

  • Have you got any children/grandchildren?
  • Have you got any pets?
  • What did you do for a living?
  • Have you lived in the area for a long time?
  • Where were you born?
  • What was it like growing up there?
  • What’s your favourite book, music?
  • Where is/was your favourite place to go on holiday?

Here are some other tips for during your call:

  • If your telephone friend can’t hear what you are saying then don’t shout. Try and speak a little slower than normal without stressing or exaggerating words.
  • You may need to repeat what you have said. If this still doesn’t work try saying the same thing but in a different way. If you can’t understand what the person on the other end of the phone is saying, ask them to repeat it. Never pretend that you have understood when you haven’t.
  • Be mindful of using slang words and try not to use terminology, without explaining.
  • If there are points which are not clear, don’t be afraid to ask questions. This will show your telephone friend that you are paying attention.
  • If your telephone friend has a speech impairment or an accent that you find difficult to understand, try and concentrate on what they are saying, not how they are saying it. Once you get into the flow of the conversation and have spent time chatting to them you will find the rhythm. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves or to slow down what they are saying, sometimes it takes time to tune into a person’s speech patterns.
  • If your telephone friend takes a long time to say things, avoid finishing their words for them or guessing the end of the sentence. Be patient and don't interrupt them.

Ending your call

Don’t worry if your first call isn’t 20-30 minutes long, as your telephone friend will have been receiving short 5 minute call once a week from Age UK, it may take a while for them to get used to your longer friendship calls, but for many they love to chat for longer and can easily fill the 20 – 30 minute call time.

Equally it can be difficult to finish a call in 30 minutes, but reassure your telephone friend that you can pick this up next time and remind them that you will be calling them again next week.

Listening Skills

Listening is the most important skill in the communication process, and is also one of the most important skills in being a Call in Time volunteer. Active listening means putting the other person first, and fully concentrating on what they are saying.

Ask open-ended questions

Rather than asking questions which only require a yes or no answer, try and ask open questions. For example, instead of saying: 'Has this been going on a long time?', ask 'How long has this been going on?'. That way, instead of closing the conversation down into a yes or no response, you open it out and encourage the other person to keep talking.

Generally avoid ‘why?’ questions

These can sound accusing. Restrict their use to circumstances where knowing why something happened is strictly relevant to dealing with the case.

Summarising what has been said

Summarise what has been said to show that you've listened to, and understood, what's been said.

Repeating back a word or phrase can encourage people to go on. If someone says, 'So it's been really difficult recently,' you can keep the conversation going simply by repeating 'Difficult…'.

We all skirt around or gloss over the most difficult things. If we can avoid saying them, we will. If the person you're speaking with glosses over an important point, saying 'Tell me more about…', or '…sounds a difficult area for you' can help them clarify the points, not only for you, but for themselves. It sounds obvious, but a 'Yes, go on', or 'I see' can really give some much needed encouragement.

Reflecting feelings

When people have strong emotions or feelings about what has happened to them it is very helpful if you can show that you have accurately perceived how they feel. You can do this by saying something like ‘It sounds like you feel…’ It is counter-productive to try and deny an individual’s feelings by, for example, attempting to minimise or trivialise how they feel – even with the best of intentions.

Shared perspective

As well as viewing what your telephone friend says from your own perspective, try and see the situation through their eyes. This will help you to show empathy, which is crucial in listening to someone.


When your telephone friend is telling you a story or is sharing information that is important to them, repeating what they have said is a useful way to show that you are listening. It will also help you remember what was said at a later date.

Handling Difficult Calls

We all have our down days, and there may be times when you might have difficult calls with your telephone friend.

If you do have a call like this try not to be dismissive. Allow them to express their feelings, perhaps frustration or sadness. Sometimes we can be caught up in a situation and unintentionally escalate or join in. Try not to feel responsible for the outcome and the way they are feeling.

We don’t expect you to be counsellors, but the following should give you some helpful pointers and advice. Remember, the Call in Time team are always here to provide help and support.

Depression and anxiety

Someone who is feeling depressed or anxious may have a lack of motivation to do anything. They may feel life has lost meaning for them. Here are some ways you can offer support to your telephone friend:

  • Encourage them to seek help from their GP.
  • Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and listen to what they say.
  • Let them know you care about them. You can show that you care by listening sympathetically, by appreciating them, or simply by spending time speaking with them. Spending time chatting with them may be the only meaningful contact they have that day. Talking to them may lift their mood for a while or for the entire week.
  • Someone with depression may get irritable, and be more liable to misunderstand others, or feel misunderstood, than usual; they may need you to be patient with them.
  • Sending them a card through us to let them know you are thinking of them may help them feel cared about.

Remember that your call will be having such a positive effect on your telephone friends life, and that we are always here to support you if calls are difficult.


There might be times when your telephone friend is grieving the death of someone close to them, or it is an anniversary of a loss.

Here are some suggestions of what to say and do.

  • Be there for your telephone friend if they are grieving by listening to your telephone friend.
  • Accept that everyone grieves in their own way; there is no 'normal' way.
  • Encourage your telephone friend to talk and listen to what they say. People who have been bereaved may want to talk about the person who has died. One of the most helpful things you can do is listen, and give them time and space to grieve.
  • Don’t be alarmed if they don’t want to talk or are angry or upset and emotional.
  • Be aware that grief can take a long time.
  • Don’t use clichés such as 'I understand how you feel'; 'You'll get over it; 'Time heals'.
  • Don’t tell them it's time to move on, they should be over it – how long a person needs to grieve is entirely individual.
  • Send them a card through us to let them know you are thinking of them.

Don’t underestimate how emotionally draining it can be when supporting a grieving person. Make sure you take care of yourself too.

What happens if…?

…my telephone friend needs some assistance?

Providing information and advice to older people is an important part of our service. Your telephone friend might want information about benefits advice, care or local transport.

Through Age UK Advice and our local Age UKs, we are able to help older people access advice, support and other local services.

Local Age UKs provide services locally and cover much of the country. However, they vary in regards to services that they can offer, so please never promise your telephone friend that Age UK will be able to help.

Always ask your telephone friend if it is something they would like help with. If they would then you can let us know, or give your telephone friend the Freephone number of Age UK Advice (0800 169 65 65). Age UK Advice is open from 8am – 7pm, seven days a week (including public holidays) to help older people and their families to access information across a range of subjects which affect older people.

…my telephone friend says something I feel offensive or upsetting?

Age UK will not tolerate any discrimination, victimisation or harassment on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.

We all come from different backgrounds, have different family structures and relationships, come from different geographical places, have different faith and belief systems, see the world differently and have different abilities.

If you experience abuse, aggression or harassment during your volunteering then you must let us know.

If at all possible, you should make it clear to the person causing offence that such behaviour is unacceptable.

All instances should be reported to us so we can take appropriate action. If at any point you find yourself in a position that makes you feel uncomfortable or you feel is beyond your ability to deal with, you should make your apologies and remove yourself from the telephone call.