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3 Steps to Manage Fear

A crushing fear of talking on the phone with strangers nearly stopped my coaching career cold. Here's how I worked through it.

... or how I learned to stop worrying and love the phone

Hello? Uh, hello? Hello, Dmitri? Listen, I can't hear too well, do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little? A-ha, that's much better. Yea, yes. Fine, I can hear you now, Dmitri. Clear and plain and coming through fine. I'm coming through fine too, eh? Good, then. Well then, as you say, we're both coming through fine. Good. Well it's good that you're fine, and - and I'm fine. I agree with you. It's great to be fine.

President Merlin Muffley (Dr. Strangelove)

I have a confession to make.

I am socially awkward.

I never seemed to grasp the skill of small talk, which is ok because my work is all about having deep conversations. It's hard enough in person to get through the idle conversation of mingling at a networking event or party, but the phone is even more challenging. With a phone call there is no visual cue to let me know how the other person is feeling. No way of seeing that they may be bored or in a hurry. Even my best friends know that they will have a much better chance of me answering their text than picking up the phone when they call. I will even choose delivery places and doctors offices based on whether they have online ordering or appointment calendars so that I don't have to deal with phone anxiety every time I want pizza or need to schedule my yearly physical exam.

People are often confused when I tell them my challenge in this, because they'll say "but you got up in front of rooms full of teenagers for 10+ years in the classroom!" or "but you put on great workshops and get up on stages to speak to crowds!". This is completely different to me. In those situations, my role is clearly defined. I know what the objective is and how to get my point across, and I do a great deal of prep work ahead of time.

So imagine my horror after that first weekend of coach training when our instructors announced that we would be randomly assigned a peer to coach and that we would be conducting all of our coaching sessions via phone. I felt like the world was crashing down on me. I'd pictured myself in an office with my client seated next to me, creating the space for our conversations together. In the three months that followed, I needed to not only talk to my peer client each week for an hour by phone, but a peer who was coaching me for an hour, AND my peer group for an hour.

Complete. Panic. Attack.

For me, picking up a phone was as intimidating as this bridge is for those who fear heights.

When I got home, I lamented to my husband (who is well aware of my phone-phobia) that it looked like I would have to do a lot of my new coaching work by phone. He said, "Well, this is what you really want to do right?" I sighed and said, "Right." "Well, then you'll just have to find a way to work through it."

How Do We Work Through Fear?

No, I didn't punch my husband. He distilled it down to something that needed to be done because this was the way to get to what I really wanted. Could it actually be that simple?

How often was my fear keeping me apart from the things I wanted in life?

I looked back at why I was able to be successful as a speaker or teacher and made a list of must-haves.

  1. I have clear objectives
  2. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end
  3. I know my role and responsibility

In short: Boundaries.

Then I thought about how to define these must-haves for my required phone sessions.

Did I have clear objectives?

Yes. In coaching calls, my objective was to practice the protocols we had learned and to gain feedback, or allow my peer to do the same when our roles were reversed. In our group calls, we had topics to discuss and the objective was to hear different perspectives and ideas.

Would there be a clear beginning, middle, and end?

Yes. We had set appointment times and my peers were very punctual. If we said our practice would go from 1pm to 2pm, it would. The call always began with establishing the coaching agreement and ended with a round of feedback. The middle was to explore and use the tools and practices we had learned.

Did I know my role and responsibility?

Yes. I was the coach or client, or a member of the study group. My responsibility was to develop my skills as a coach and help my peers to do the same. I even knew my WHY, which is crucial to moving through fear: these phone calls were a stepping stone to the career I really want.

What fears are currently holding you back? Why might it be important to work through your fear?

Summary of 3 Steps to Manage Fear:

  1. Think about a scenario that was a challenge but you found success.
  2. What were the key components that allowed you to feel successful?
  3. How can you incorporate those components to help you move through your fear in this scenario?

Need help taking the next step? Please don't hesitate to reach out! 

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