Answering the phone in English can be extremely stressful for us, non-native speakers.
The good news is that the more you practice, the better you will become. I know that beginnings can be very tough, I have been there. Imagine working in the Caribbean, where no one is used to your accent, as a Sales Representative, where 100 % of your interactions takes place over the phone. No one understood me at the very beginning. Those are the tips that helped me immensely improve within weeks:
1. Slowing down is the tip number one for a reason: if you speak fast, the person on the other side will not be able to follow you. Remember, that they cannot see your mouth or the body language to fill in the gaps in understanding you. All they have is your voice. If you are not pronouncing the words clearly and slowly, no one will know what you are trying to say.
2. “Just do it”: do not postpone your calls and try to make as many as possible right away. You will gain confidence with each phone call and improve faster.
3. Confirm understanding. Make sure that your interlocutor understands you. How to do it? Ask. Of course, there is a percentage of people who will say that they understand, when they don’t. Most people, however, will let you know right away that they don’t follow. Also, remember to confirm that you fully understood the other person by paraphrasing what they said. This way you will also show off your active listening skills.
4. Ask them to spell it for you. If you cannot understand their name or email address, politely ask them to spell it for you. Then spell it back to them, to confirm you got it right. You can use the NATO phonetic alphabet to make your spelling easier to understand.
5. Build rapport. Be interested in the other person and smile. They will sense your smile in the tone of your voice. Even though you may make a mistake or two, this will be quickly forgotten if you make up with the right attitude.