I really hate talking on the phone
April 14, 2017 12:56 AM   Subscribe

My job involves talking on the phone to people once or twice and then after that mostly communicating with them through email or messages. I really hate talking on the phone and I'm finding it hard to to follow through with these first couple of phone calls.

Once the call happens, the actual talking seems like it goes well, but I have some sort of mental block about calling or even answering the phone.

I'm looking for tips on how to get past this, surely there must be some sort of mind trick I can play on myself to get around this stumbling block?
posted by katinka-katinka to Human Relations (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I used to be super phone-anxious and am now mostly not.

Things that helped were
- writing some short sentences down to prompt me what to say
- writing down key words I thought I might blank on, even in some cases my own phone number in case I forgot that (which I never did), or the name of the client, in case when they answered I forgot why I was there (which never happened either).
- forcing myself to stop spending half an hour overthinking it and just make the call, accepting that it might be super awkward sometimes and nobody died of awkward.
- making a lot of calls. The more I did it the easier it got.
posted by emilyw at 1:11 AM on April 14, 2017 [17 favorites]

I also have this problem and have gotten better at it by writing things down first like the first commenter. I have found having something mindless to do with my hands during the call helps me feel less anxious (doodling, bending a paper clip into a new shape) as well as visualizing/guessing what the person I'm talking to looks like, where they are sitting, their facial expressions.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 3:46 AM on April 14, 2017

I just want you to know that you're not alone. I have months old to-do's involving MD appointments that aren't done because they require using a phone. It's 2017, get a web site.
posted by Awfki at 3:46 AM on April 14, 2017 [18 favorites]

I also avoid making phone calls. What helps me is writing out my "script" for the very beginning of the call, and then listing bullet points for my main questions or points I need to make. I usually find that once I'm past the first few sentences, I don't use the script--I just need help getting started. But it's kind of a security blanket to have it handy.
Also, I invariably hang up and wonder why I avoided making the call, since it's usually not a big deal once I just convince myself to pick up the phone-- I try to keep that in mind as well.
Good luck--you're definitely not alone on this!
posted by bookmammal at 4:00 AM on April 14, 2017

I know a part of my own phone anxiety is my concern, when talking to people I don't know well, that my "normal voice" often sounds pissed-off but my nonverbal communication assures (most) people who talk to me that I am not generally pissed off. (Not coincidentally, I find live audio-and-video meetings more palatable.) To combat this, I make an effort to sound a bit more chipper than usual on the phone, as if I'm talking to someone I genuinely like and haven't seen in a while. It seems to help me, regardless of whether it makes any difference in how I'm actually perceived on the other end.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:31 AM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Something I find helps is to imagine that I am the other person while I am planning my script. E.g. I am a doctor's receptionist. Someone calls me to make an appointment. They say, [thing I've planned to say]. How do I react? What do I think of them? 99% of the time, the way I imagine myself receiving the phone call is as a very standard, boring part of my job that I instantly forget about as soon as I hang up. So then when I go back to being myself, it's hard to be shy about making a call that the other person cares so little about. I think that helps because most of the time, I think deep down I feel like my phone call is a nuisance or an interruption, but when you really put yourself in the shoes of the receiver, you realise it's not a big deal.

I also like to do the same thing, but imagine that the caller (the real me) says something weird or terrible. E.g. I imagine I'm a call centre worker at the bank, and this person (the real me) calls me up and says, "I'd like to urple the plabers, please." I'd assume I misheard them. Or if the caller says, "Oh my god, I forgot to put on any pants" halfway through the call, I'd find it funny, and it would be a great story to tell my family when I got home that night, but I literally could not and would not connect it to the person who is actually me, because that's just a voice on the phone. And really, that's about the worst a phone call can be: incoherent or embarrassing.

Another thing you can do is to think of the person you know who is the most extroverted and calls people up on the phone without any worries all the time, with a smooth phone manner, who is fun to talk to. Then imagine you are them as you pick up the phone and dial. It's easy to channel someone else's personality on the phone, because you literally only have to play-act with your voice. The rest of you is invisible.

Finally, I also like to remember that in the worst case scenario, I can just hang up in the middle of the conversation without any warning, and pretend I accidentally got cut off. I've never had to do that, but promising myself it's possible is usually enough to get me to make the call.
posted by lollusc at 5:03 AM on April 14, 2017 [13 favorites]

When I had to set up college interviews on the phone, I sniffed a nice smelling candle to relax myself before I gave my interviewers a call back. Basic conditioning, but it worked - I was relaxed and thinking of pumpkin pie instead of anxiously waiting through rings.
posted by batter_my_heart at 5:10 AM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Since I was a teenager, my trick has been to pretend I'm an actress, and I'm just playing someone making a phone call. For some reason, this really works for me.
posted by beyond_pink at 5:36 AM on April 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I used to be really nervous about of phone calls too, and the thing that got me over it was working a job where I had to call people all the time. Eventually the practice wears away the fear.

For your particular situation, you've got a couple of advantages: Assuming your job isn't cold calling, people are expecting your call and want to talk to you: You're not bothering anyone. Over time, you'll also be able to put together a mental script and not have to think about the fact that you're making a phone call any more.

By now, after several years of this job, I've gotten to the point where I actually prefer phone calls for somethings. A five minute phone call can resolve a problem that would take all day to fix over email. I've found that people don't read past the first couple sentences of an email, so you need this sort of "high-bandwidth" connection if you want to fix a problem that takes more than a paragraph to discuss.

Anyways: the big thing is perseverance. Eventually this will be no big deal, I promise.
posted by JDHarper at 5:46 AM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also hate talking on the phone and I also work in the job where I talk on the phone a fair amount. If someone calls me, I don't mind answering, and if someone has called me and left a message to call them back, I don't mind so much, but I hate cold calling anyone. Just loathe. I'm socially awkward with strangers at the best of times, and the lack of body language communication just makes me feel doubly socially awkward.

One thing I do just to make sure I just do it and get my work done is set up rewards for myself. I'll only do [thing I want to do] after I make this call.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:59 AM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

This may not work with your schedule, but forcing myself to do it first thing in the morning helped when I was on a project that involved a lot of phone calls. I committed myself to making five calls first thing every day, and that freed me from having to think about it until the next day. Since the decision was made, I was better able to muster the willpower to Just Do It, and it meant I didn't waste my time dreading it throughout the day.
posted by metasarah at 7:05 AM on April 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Someone once told me that if you stand up while you're making calls you sound and feel more authoritative, and I've really found that to be true. I would suggest giving it a try if that's logistically feasible.

Also, of course, practice--I am way better at talking on the phone after 8+ years of doing it professionally. (I still kinda hate it, though, but less than I did and less than a lot of people I know!)
posted by ferret branca at 7:10 AM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Worse than having to make the call is being stuck on it. One thing that helps me is having an exit strategy - I have a few things I say to let the caller know, "ok, we're done here," so I can get off the phone. Knowing how it will end helps to make the call in the first place. Basically I start the wrapping up process by thanking them for their time, summarizing anything important, and wishing them a great day: "Alright, thanks Steve, I appreciate you taking the time to speak today. I'll reach out to Dave about the color of the widgets and get back to you by Thursday. Have a great day."

At rare times, I have even called my landline from my cellphone to make the call waiting beep and use that as an excuse.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:49 AM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I hate making calls too, especially as the day gets later and I'm getting tired / hitting the 3pm slump / have had to deal with some form of nonsense throughout the day.

The best way for me to get my calls done is in the morning. In fact my office hours start earlier than most people's do, so I tend to make my calls, leave voicemails, and then people call me back. That way I don't even have to stress about whether or not to pick up the phone and make the call, they do that for me and I deal with the situation when they call. It's that organizational idea of "do the thing you dread the most first in order to get it out of the way".
posted by vignettist at 8:37 AM on April 14, 2017

If you have a door, or can go somewhere with a door, do it behind closed doors.

If you can schedule your phone business all at once (like when you first get in or right before lunch) so you can get it over with and go about the rest of your day, do that.

Self-Bribery works for me (I get to eat a banh mi for lunch today because I got through a call with an attorney! My phone-phobia is specific to lawyers, no offense lawyers.)

Writing out the key points on a notepad, which I will then doodle on during the call, calms me down.

Pretending to be more personable than I really am, if that makes any sense-- yes to the idea of "acting."

Mantras like "just get it over with" "what's the worst that could happen" etc.
posted by kapers at 9:15 AM on April 14, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice! I'm going to work out a script and points to cover and practice over the weekend. Will hit the phones first thing on Monday morning!
posted by katinka-katinka at 9:28 AM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I write the phone number on my To Do list. Something about steeling myself to make a call, then going to pick up the phone and ... then having to get on the computer to look up the number is where I get derailed. But if the number is right there, then I can see the item, I have all the info I need -- bam, easy, done.

In general, any task on my task list that has a bunch of tasks embedded within it gets done much more slowly. My mind is like "it's not as easy as THAT, you know," so it frowns upon the task. For that reason, if I need to outline the call, I'll put that on the list too.

Also, it's really helpful to make a bunch of calls at once, while you have your "talking to people" armor on, so having the phone numbers all listed and any scripts or talking points all written out enables me to just go down the list, bam, bam, bam.

In fact, the best To Do list format I had was this piece of paper with different categories. First, on page one, I'd list my 3-4 goals or projects and the top five or six next steps for each. Then, on page two, I'd sort those into categories where I'd do those -- e.g., "check outline for Project X with supervisor" and "ask supervisor how to handle challenge with Project Y" would both go onto a list of "things to talk over with supervisor." There'd be a category for computer work and writing. There was a category of (my biggest avoidance) annoying admin tasks like timesheets. And then there was a category of phone calls. Grouping them somehow made me realize how much I could get done if I just steeled myself, picked up the phone, and made some calls.

There are a few things that are nice about phone calls. You can often squeeze them into fairly random slots on your calendar, like if your 9-10 AM meeting ends at 9:40, you have time for at least one call (or like six, if you're just leaving voice mails). I try to get the phone prep stuff done early in the day or week, so that I'm ready to seize those moments. Depending on how formal the calls are, I can even do them while walking, so for informal calls, I'll grab my wallet, review my key points, dial the number from my cell, and then start walking to buy a sandwich. For formal or long calls, it helps to email first and get a time scheduled on the calendar, and then those happen the same way that meetings do.

Finally, for things like this, I remind myself that the dread is what's actually unpleasant. I try to think about how awesome it will be when my To Do list is free of these unpleasant tasks and then power through to that promised land where no calls are hanging over my head. That is great motivation, so phone calls actually often get done more quickly than a lot of other tasks.
posted by salvia at 9:29 AM on April 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seriously over 90% of people I've ever spoken to about it hate making phone calls. It's the worst. I think my dad agreed to have children in part because he'd be able to delegate calling restaurants to order takeout and make reservations.

I schedule it on my calendar, reserve a meeting room, and put the phone number in the calendar entry. And sometimes I write out a message script, call when I know they won't be in, and leave the message asking them to call me back. That way it's in their court and I know things will get done because THEY will have to call ME.

Of course then sometimes I miss the call and then things are even worse.
posted by potrzebie at 11:23 AM on April 14, 2017

I'm another phone call hater here, and it's gotten way worse with the advent of cell phones - the audio is a lot worse than land lines used to be. Also a lot of cell phones have a bit of lag which will make a conversation anywhere from really awkward to just mildly unsettling. So I'd suggest making your calls on a land line if possible, in a quiet environment, or if using a cell phone use headphones. Basically do whatever works to make sure you can hear and make yourself heard as best you can.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:09 PM on April 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, I forgot to add, if I expect to be stressed during the call, I go to Pinterest and pull up a bunch of kitten photos that I can idly scroll through while the phone is ringing or I'm being transferred or whatever.
posted by salvia at 12:45 PM on April 14, 2017

I have found that calling my Congressional representatives once a week is doing wonders for my general phone avoidance. Evidently the habit transfers?
posted by yarntheory at 7:14 PM on April 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

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