Telephone befriending guidelines

General information

RMBF volunteers call from their home telephone or mobile, using 141 or the mobile server’s equivalent to conceal their number. The pattern and length of calls is agreed in advance between the two telephone partners.

Matching up telephone partners

The Head of Volunteering (HoV) makes the initial contact with the potential non-volunteer partner to explain about the service. If the partner is a RMBF beneficiary the HoV will highlight that this is separate from any financial support being provided by the RMBF. During this informal chat, the HoV will ask about their general interest and hobbies to help the RMBF match them with potential RMBF telephone partners.

Successful befriending

The RMBF wants to make sure everyone’s volunteering experience is as successful as possible, and so we ask everyone to follow these guidelines on various telephone befriending issues.


Clearly identified boundaries are essential in befriending for several reasons:

  • They protect both the RMBF volunteer and their partner, by providing clarity about what is and is not acceptable behaviour
  • They give both parties greater confidence in opening up about sensitive issues, where otherwise they might feel vulnerable
  • They provide a clear framework, so that participants can recognise when to stop and question what they are doing

Some dos and don’ts to consider when navigating boundaries:

  • Do recognise your own personal boundaries
  • Do avoid getting into situations that could be misunderstood
  • Do think before you say “yes” to a request for help
  • Do remember that the main focus of the relationship is the needs and progress of the other person
  • Don’t give out your home telephone number or address
  • Don’t take the other person to your own home
  • Don’t become emotionally over-involved

If you are ever in doubt about a boundary issue, speak to the HoV about it.


Self-disclosure means ‘opening up’ about your own personal experiences. Sharing these experiences can be helpful in strengthening the relationship. The other person may be more likely to see you as someone who is approachable and, in return, may be encouraged to share more about themselves.

The skill is in deciding what and how much to reveal. Generally, good practice is to reveal only as much as is relevant and helpful.

Here are some general guidelines to help you decide when and how to share personal information:

  • Always be clear that your purpose is to help the other person express themselves more freely. When in doubt, don’t reveal anything
  • Keep it brief – focus on how you resolved a situation or how it felt, rather than talking about the detail
  • Be careful that you don’t distort the overall balance of the relationship – the other person should remain at the centre and focus of the relationship, not you

Demonstrating acceptance

The first task of befriending is to develop a helping relationship where there is genuine acceptance. This means showing respect for and valuing the other person even if you don’t always agree with their behaviours and attitudes.

Acceptance is demonstrated by:

  • valuing the other person separately from their actions
  • offering acceptance consistently and unconditionally
  • respecting the other person’s separateness and unique qualities
  • being aware of your own and the other person’s personal boundaries
  • putting your own opinions, judgments and preconceptions to one side
  • being able to accept yourself and acknowledge your own self worth

When the other person feels accepted, this helps them to:

  • develop trust
  • respect you and feel respected by you
  • become more willing to share their experiences and feelings with you, and talk about difficult subjects or behaviours
  • recognise that you have some understanding and insight of who they are and why they behave as they do

Advice from fellow volunteers

You might feel apprehensive before you make your first call to someone but once you start, you will be okay.

It always helps to prepare yourself physically and mentally for each call.

Smile when talking – the warmth does come through, and helps the beginning of the call.

It can be helpful to have three topics of conversation prepared/written down before each call – for example something about yourself, something about your contact, and something general. This and a recap on what you discussed in your last call.

If you are having difficulty ending the call, stand up. This physical action seems to be carried down the wires, and the listener is readier to respond to your intention to end the call.

Think about what phrases you use in your personal calls – are they right for RMBF?

Get to know the phrases you use in difficult calls with friends, colleagues or relatives – the phrases you are comfortable with. Be aware of these, and have them ready in case they might be needed.

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