How did you get over your fear of talking on the phone?
October 19, 2021 12:56 AM   Subscribe

I don't have social awkwardness - I might be an introvert but I can work a party, speak to a room of 500 etc. I am not at all afraid of talking or performing or demanding or asking for things in most circumstances. But if I have a phone-related chore I will avoid it until bad things happen. How do I stop doing this?

I have no specific phone-related trauma that triggered this. I had no problems with the phone as a kid/teen when email wasn't really a thing, but as phone use has dropped away and other alternatives have arrived I have become more and more resistant to the point where it is now interfering with my ability to do basic adult things. I am often not aware that I am avoiding the task, it is frequently subconciously done (e.g. I will go to use the phone, suddenly notice the carpet is dirty and hoover the house, forgetting my original chore).
posted by AFII to Human Relations (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Can you pinpoint what it is about calls that you're most avoiding? In my case it's the feeling of being tethered to the task by having to literally hold a phone up to my head, or sit in one spot to do the thing. Both of these have amazing workaround in the modern age: not just being able to walk around or pace with a cell phone, but using in-ear wireless buds, too, frees up my hands so I can gesture and take notes and walk about as much as I need. Making the call feel less like a thing that must be done in one specific way has helped me tremendously.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:06 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No, I can't pin point it. I have a slight preference for making calls on the fixed land line vs. the mobile but that's more to do with shitty reception in my house. I cannot think of a 'good' triggering reason for me to dislike this task, and I don't have a problem with the call once initiated. I do make voice calls to friends and relatives on at least a weekly basis to keep in the habit.
posted by AFII at 3:42 AM on October 19, 2021

A century ago this was a big problem, as people were afraid of the new technology. The standard advice then was to treat phone calls like in-person meetings. People were encouraged to think and act like they were meeting in person. This included dressing up in whatever way would be appropriate for the meeting if it were held in person.
posted by mortaddams at 4:27 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Maybe this is similar: I dislike phone calls because of the lack of visual feedback clues. I am a people pleaser so feel the lack of this missing subconscious information.
posted by mightshould at 4:37 AM on October 19, 2021 [13 favorites]

When you’re actually on the call, how do you feel about it? I ask because I’m similar - I put off calling people (strangers) as long as possible. And when I’m on a call I’ve initiated I feel a little flustered unless I’ve worked out exactly what I need to say in advance.

But if someone calls me, generally, I’m less flustered and I don’t mind it. To the point that I’d much rather send someone my number by text or email so that they can call me whenever it suits them. Which seems daft.

So, just wondering, for you, is it only calling someone you don’t like? Or also speaking on the call itself? Or also answering the phone? Or also figuring out who’s called you? I think each indicates a different issue and, I guess, solution.
posted by fabius at 4:44 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

If I have to make a chore phone call I schedule it during my work day, slot it on my calendar. Then it's just another task in a day of tasks, I don't have to interrupt my nice personal time to do it, and I just get it done. Since it's built into my day it doesn't feel especially unpleasant, it's just not my #1 choice.
posted by phunniemee at 4:52 AM on October 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh! Calling and answering are both bad for me, if it's a stranger. But not the actual talking, that's fine. (The obvious solution is to get someone else to initiate the call or to answer it, and then hand it to me, which would also be fine, but I'd like a solution that is independent of others, ideally).
I do schedule them as chores and get them done that way, but I hate it, and it doesn't help with some things e.g. having to repeatedly call service providers whose lines are busy or whatever, when you can't be sure that you'll get it done in a specific time.
posted by AFII at 5:02 AM on October 19, 2021

Is there anyone in your life that seems good at talking on the phone? For me this is definitely my mom, so when I’m nervous about making/answering a phone call, I basically pretend to be my mom on the phone. She’s so great at talking on the phone! That mindset seems to help me out, it feels easier to act a role than to become someone who loves talking on the phone.

When I was a teenager, my mom also had me call our phone company (where she was the account holder) while pretending to be her if I ever wanted to increase the data on my cell’s plan, etc. This was to save her the hassle of calling herself for something ultimately only I wanted. Now that I think about it, that was really good practice.
posted by Drosera at 5:21 AM on October 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

For me, the longer I put off a call, the greater the reluctance to pick up the phone, and I get the reinforcement of nothing bad happening with the call not made. I try to make important calls as soon as possible.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:45 AM on October 19, 2021 [5 favorites]

I feel kinda restless and trapped when I'm holding a cell phone or a handset on a call and find it infinitely easier to put it on speaker so I have the freedom to pace around or knit or doodle or write non-clumsy notes. Is that part of it?

I find it less painful to be on hold if I go in expecting "yeah, it'll be a few minutes, I'll just finish another row/dust these baseboards/have a snack" and freedom of movement helps that.
posted by fountainofdoubt at 6:47 AM on October 19, 2021

Best answer: I got over this by assigning myself low-stakes phone calls for practice, especially if the basic information was already online so that I could practice a script before making the call. Sold-out concerts? Ask if they open a waitlist before the show or if they have a returns desk. Exhibits? Ask about late-night openings or special events. Restaurant bookings? Ask if they take group bookings for New Year's eve and how long in advance you need to make a reservation.
The whole point was to get used to picking up the phone and making the darn call. It used to make me very anxious, but nowadays I do it without a second thought.
posted by pendrift at 6:54 AM on October 19, 2021 [7 favorites]

I am also reluctant to make calls but okay once I'm on the call. (I have a degree in theater, I have no issues with public speaking, but phones for whatever reason are different). My advice is to WRITE OUT A SCRIPT. This helped me so much. I write a sentence or two about how I am going to open up the call: "Hi, I'd like to bring in my car for an oil change and was wondering about your availability this week?" along with any information I suspect they'll ask me for (make/model of car, any other issues with car, what is my availability, am I dropping off the car or waiting at the shop, literally what is my phone number) so I don't worry about my mind going blank.

Then I read the script verbatim and usually the person I'm calling takes it from there and we settle into a natural back-and-forth of Q&A.

It's also sometimes hard to suss out when or how to end a call ("Um.........okay! Bye") so I like to write out a little closing phrase. "Thanks so much for your help! See you soon, bye" or whatever.

Another thing that helps is I have a lot of contacts saved in my phone. If I have people or businesses that call me somewhat infrequently or I'm stuck playing phone tag, it increases the likelihood of my answering if I can immediately see HAIR SALON or PAINT STORE or MARK THE PLUMBER or whatever instead of a phone number. I weed them out occasionally especially if I was working with someone on a one-time project.
posted by castlebravo at 7:06 AM on October 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

I have this, but I worked in a call center for about 5 years and this got me over some of the awkwardness. I got used to two scenarios: 1. being the one initiating the call and asking the other person to do something and 2. being the person answering the call and fulfilling a request. Even now, 20 years after that job, I still mentally put on a work persona if I feel nervous about a call. It is not every time I make or answer a call, but it does still happen. I notice the feeling, picture myself with a headset and monitor in front of me, and sort of pretend.

I use my phone's headphones whenever possible so both of my ears are covered and I don't have to be holding the phone in my hand. It makes me more relaxed. Sometimes I also make more extensive notes before the call so I feel more confidant about remembering everything during the call.
posted by soelo at 7:22 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't know what you want to invest in this, but I volunteered for about a year with a service that made check-in calls with seniors and that cured me of a lot of anxiety about the phone. I still have it from time to time but it's greatly reduced.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:31 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I put on bluetooth headphones and do another task like laundry/folding laundry, dishes/load dishwasher, etc. If I'm doing something else it takes most of the *stress* out of the equation but only sometimes.
posted by VyanSelei at 7:52 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The thing that works best for me is programming the phone numbers of my senators and congressional representative into my phone and calling them once a week. Once I have left three awkward voicemails about the issues of the day, a fourth conversation doesn't seem so bad.
posted by yarntheory at 9:27 AM on October 19, 2021

I’m hugely phobic about the phone, even to the point of not calling strangers (like tradespeople) who logically would like to talk to me in order to possibly make some money. And I have avoided phoning in advance to cancel appointments, which can cost money (a cool eighty bucks last time). Like VyanSelei, I sometimes manage by doing something else simultaneously—a crossword puzzle, Candy Crush, mindless stuff like that. Or I picture myself getting voicemail instead of a human, and imagine how relieved I’ll be when the call is over after I leave a 20-second message—then I’m already on the phone if someone picks up and I have to carry on.
posted by scratch at 10:39 AM on October 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Maybe this is similar: I dislike phone calls because of the lack of visual feedback clues. I am a people pleaser so feel the lack of this missing subconscious information.
posted by mightshould at 7:37 AM on October 19 [9 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]

I don't know whether mightshould is talking about cell phones or land lines. In a cell call, in addition to visual cues, it's auditory cues that are noticeably missing, making cell calls harder than land line calls.

I don't know your age, nor your life history with cell phones vs. plain old land lines. I note you said you're a little more comfortable with land line. I would recommend you use your land line more, and see if it helps. The land line will let you hear low-volume cues such as the breath of the other person which helps you to pace your interaction better and be more comfortable with taking turns talking. I would also maintain that because of its frequency response, the land line lets you hear the smile or frown (e.g.) in the voice of the other person, so you know better what's going on with them.

In contrast, a cell call strips away all that low-volume, high-bandwidth information. And there are periods of dead silence when you don't know whether the call has been cut off, or when you may become afraid that the silence means sadness or anger, although neither is actually present. When I first started using a cell phone, I hated this effect and it made my conversations very awkward because I didn't get any of the subtle information needed for a comfortable interaction with the other person.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:37 PM on October 19, 2021

I don't have any tips of my own, but the advice from this thread has served me well. It's about calling tradespeople specifically, but the tips apply for phone calls in general. I still hate making calls, but at least I can do it now.
posted by snusmumrik at 7:28 AM on October 20, 2021

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