If you feel anxious before using the phone, you are not alone. Phone anxiety is real. It’s similar in some ways to social anxiety, but sufferers of phone anxiety may be confident and comfortable in all other social situations. The thought of having to converse over the phone, however, takes their breath away.
One contributing factor is the lack of non-verbal communication. You can’t see other people’s facial expressions or gestures over the phone. For some people, this is nerve-wracking, as they feel unable to distinguish between a joke and a serious comment.
Unfortunately, discomfort with speaking to others on the phone can have a deleterious effect upon your career. You may need to speak with clients who want your time and expertise, but who do not wish to take the time to travel. You can see clients in person sometimes, but not always. And if your boss does not experience phone anxiety, she or he may not be sympathetic to your distress. So, how can you help yourself?
Phone anxiety is similar to social anxiety, but sufferers may be confident in other social situations.
Prepare Yourself for a Phone Conversation
Phone anxiety is a form of a social phobia, and you can treat it like one. At Psychology Today, Jean Kim, M.D. advises those who struggle with phone anxiety to practice relaxation techniques, including deep breathing. Some also recommend imagining the absolute worst-case scenario possible. You’ll probably recognize that the worst-case scenario is unlikely; it might even wind up being pretty funny. One phone call is unlikely to mean the end of your career or the beginning of the company’s downward spiral.
Seriously, before making a phone call, take a moment before to collect your thoughts. Understand why you are making the call; for example, is it to inform someone about a project or to get a key piece of information? Write down the points you wish to make or questions you wish to ask in the phone conversation. Think of it as a script that will help you if you start to feel nervous because you will not forget to cover all the important topics. Plan the way you will start and end the call. Often the most difficult part of a phone conversation is figuring out how to hang up.
If you need to get off of the phone and the other person is talkative, don’t panic! If you are at work and on a deadline, you can apologize and interrupt to say, “I’m so sorry, my client is here,” or to offer another suitable excuse. Otherwise, wait for a lull in the conversation and then make a statement, such as, “I’m so glad you called” or, “It’s been great talking to you.” End phone conversations by thanking the person for their time or information.
This may sound like bad news, but some experts believe the best way to get over phone anxiety is to make more phone calls. Set concrete goals before you make a phone call, including things such as staying on the line for at least five minutes. Have a friend help you. After one week of daily five-minute phone calls, switch to seven- or 10-minute phone calls. The idea behind exposure therapy is that the more you do something, the easier it will eventually become.
What About Text and Skype?
Sometimes, text messaging is an appropriate option. Text messaging has become more popular, although we realize text cannot replace all phone calls. Some offices allow employees to use text for professional communication, but to be certain check your employee handbook and follow office etiquette. If it is a business practice in your place of work to communicate with others via text, resist the urge to use emojis — it looks unprofessional.
As we said before, the fear of phone conversations is often based in the lack of non-verbal communication. We can’t hear facial expressions or gestures. Video technology helps fill this gap, and may alleviate your fear for at least some conversations that you can’t have in person.
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