Five Ways to Conquer Phone Anxiety
I hate talking to strangers on the phone. Sometimes I even hate talking on the phone to people other than my best friends. So, when I got my job as a customer service representative for a developing technology startup, everyone thought I was crazy.
I am the person who will look at my cell phone when it rings and not answer if I don't recognize the number. My friends always get mad at me when they see me do this, or when I do it to them if they're calling from a different phone, but sometimes I really can't help it. I hate having to risk talking to a telemarketer or a stranger.
And what's worse is that I have no idea why! I can't remember any traumatizing incident on the phone at an early age that would cause fear, and there isn't even anything specific that I am afraid will happen on the phone. I just hate having to talk on it to people I don't know.
This article will share some of the tips I have learned at a job where I have to constantly make and receive calls. Hopefully it will give you some comfort that, if you have phone anxiety, you are not alone!
Examining the Extent
The Meyers-Briggs personality test asks, "When the phone rings, do you run to answer it or wait, hoping someone else will answer?" This question is supposed to determine whether you are extroverted or introverted, respectively. But just because you are an introvert doesn't mean the phone should terrify you!
If you have phone anxiety, the first thing to do is to determine the severity. I'll break it down into several categories, but these are not hard-and-fast so please feel free to mix and match.
- slight -- You prefer to shoot someone a text or email rather than call them directly.
- moderate -- You let "Restricted" calls go to voicemail but pretty much talk to everyone else.
- severe -- You have to take a deep breath or two before making a phone call.
- acute -- You really can't talk on the phone unless someone is standing there making you.
- extreme -- You don't even own a phone unless you have to.
If these are our categories, I would have to say that I have "severe" phone anxiety. I have to force myself to make phone calls to people I don't know, and I almost never answer the phone when it's an unknown number except when I'm expecting it.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you are on the less severe side of that spectrum, you could just be a conscientious person (not wanting to intrude on other people by calling them, etc) or might have had past experiences with the phone that were less than pleasant (bill collectors harassing you and the like).
But if you're closer to extreme, you have a serious problem that is probably negatively affecting the quality of your life, and I doubt it is caused by just one damaging phone call when you were in middle school. You might even have anxiety about other things, like talking to people in person, or even participating in online forums and email chains.
Either way, you are not beyond help. There are probably a million things you can do to make it easier for you to have comfortable phone conversations. Here are a couple that I have used with some degree of success.
- Just do it. Nike has it right: in many cases, getting started may be the biggest bump you have to get over. This is, of course, easier said than done, but a great way to start is to have a family member dial for you, wait for it to ring for a second, and then hand you the phone. Now it's too late to hang up, and before you know it, the conversation has started! Like ripping off a band-aid.
- Practice makes perfect. Sorry for the cliches, but this one is true, too. Or, at least, practice makes better. Next time you and your roommate order pizza, you make the phone call. The pizza guy talks to hundreds of people every week on the phone, so he won't remember if you mess up. The same goes for calling the dry cleaner to find out what time they close, or calling to ask any store any simple question. They never have to know your name, and they will forget about you the second you hang up. This can take off some of the pressure.
- Rehearse. Working as a customer service rep, I have to call a lot of people and answer even more incoming calls. I have a line, with my name, the company, and "thank you for calling" that I have rehearsed so well, I probably say it in my sleep. This allows me to forget about what I need to say, at least at first, and makes it so the other person has to start the conversation. As an introvert, I am a much better listener than talker, so I say my line, listen to them, and then I can just respond naturally.
- Write it down. The trick here is not to sound like a robot. But writing some notes about things to say can be very helpful. I recently had to do a phone interview, so I did a bunch of research about questions they might ask and the position I was applying for. I wrote down the answers, had my resume by my side, so when the phone rang, I was able to intersperse spontaneous thought with the points I had written down. I was infinitely more confident than I would have been, and I know I would have forgotten half of the things I wanted to say.
- Take control. If you really have extreme phone anxiety, there might be something else going on. Try going to a therapist or reading a book about social anxiety or shyness. There are thousands upon thousands of people out there going through the same thing you are, and psychologists have developed tried and true methods of overcoming anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy is especially helpful, as I understand. With the help of a therapist, you sort of... change your internal monologue. Instead of: "oh God I have to make a phone call what will the person say what do I say to them oh no oh no" it slowly becomes "this phone call will be a success in every way I want because I am in control" etc. This is not an easy transition, though, so you should at least get a good book on the subject before expecting yourself to be able to do it.
When All Else Fails
There is also always the option of medications -- both manmade and natural -- that you can take to help counter the effects of your anxiety. Of course, only a doctor can prescribe you something like Xanax (and you may not even need it), but there are plenty of natural products on the market that can help "take the edge off" your anxiety.
If you have any other tips, tricks, or suggestions, please leave a comment and let us know! I know there are tons of people out there who have weird phone issues, so feel free to share anything that has worked for you.
And more than anything, never give up! Practice and perseverance will help get you through those tough calls you can't possibly avoid.