I didn’t realize that it was so common a concern when I first realized that I hate — no, detest — phone calls. I can’t express how liberating it has been to have businesses move to apps and website chat bots/monitored emails — no more talking on the phone! If I can live with the consequences of not calling, I still avoid it. My food delivery guy is calling? Guess I’ll accept the order being wrong, or text him through the app.
But sometimes, you can’t avoid it. What is a phone-phobic person supposed to do then? Over the years, I’ve noticed a few things that help.
1. “Phone a friend.”
This isn’t just a game show option — it helps to normalize being on the phone. I feel perfectly capable and able to speak on the phone with my family, my significant other, my best friends, etc. What do they have in common? I know they’re not judging me for messing up my words, or speaking too much or too awkwardly. It helps to know I’m not incapable of making phone calls — I’m just not used to it. I started by calling instead of texting when I needed a quick response, like when I’m out grocery shopping, which meant I would call someone at least once a week or so.
And, if all else fails, you can ask a loved one to call for you, or sit with you when you make a call. For years, this was my mom making doctor’s appointments for me. I’ve had to unlearn the shame of that. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help if a situation is too anxiety provoking. I still intend to unlearn my phone phobia as well, but until I get there, being able to make those essential calls without going into an anxious downwards spiral is more important.
2. Write out a plan.
I noticed that I was much less scared and anxious about phone calls when I had to use them as part of my job. I think one of the reasons that it’s easier is because it’s less personal. I didn’t feel like I had to prove myself to the person on the other end. I know that they’re supposed to help me (even if I’m awkward), and I have a check list of things I need from them, which helps me guide the conversation and expect what’s coming. “Hi I’m Minori, what’s your name, here’s my issue, yes I’ll hold, when will you get back to me, thank you for your time,” [click].
In my personal life, I can apply this skill by jotting down some notes. If I know they’re going to ask for my information, I write it down or retrieve the necessary documents ahead of time so that it will be easy to find when I need it. I need to know their name (for my records), or the case number of my issue? I write it down so I don’t forget to ask. If I’m super worried, I can practice describing my issue by speaking it out loud. By doing this, I feel less worried that I’m going to dissolve into a jumble of words and embarrassment.
3. Consider the other person.
Through my job, I also get to experience what it’s like to be the “scary” customer service representative that I dread when making calls — and I know that I would never judge someone for struggling to get their point across, or get mad at them for taking too much of my time. And that helps me, when I’m a customer, to temper my fears of the person on the other end of the line. If they’re mean to me? That probably means they’re not being a great customer service representative that day. It’s probably not because I’m a bad customer.
But what if I mess up? I still worry about this sometimes. But, working the other end of the phone, I know that we’re all human here. And yes, sometimes you might run into someone who isn’t the nicest to you, but when I mess up, I try to take it in good humour. Just said a completely incoherent sentence? “Blerugh, hang on, let me say that again.” And if I feel awkward in the silent moments, while they’re looking into my issue? I make small talk. And that might sound too challenging if you’re just starting to overcome your anxiety, and that’s okay. With time, you’ll feel more comfortable asking them about their day, thanking them for all their help, making jokes about your mistake/confusion, etc. It makes the conversation less robotic, and for me, less scary…and I know that it’ll get easier for you, too, with time.