You hear a strange noise and wonder where it’s coming from. You recoil in horror as you realise the sound is coming from your phone. Someone’s trying to ring you but you really hate speaking on the phone, so you stare at the screen, willing it to stop, too scared to touch it in case you accidentally cancel the call and reveal yourself to being there but not picking up.
The ringing stops. You release the breath you didn’t know you were holding and wait a respectable amount of time before tapping out a ‘Sorry I missed your call, I wasn’t near my phone’ text.
Does this sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. You, like many others, have phone phobia.
Despite studies showing we spend approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes a day on our phones, picking them up on average 58 times a day (30 of those times during working hours), only a quarter of mobile phone users make more than five telephone calls a month.
This isn’t just because our phones are far more than devices to speak to people on these days and the majority of our screen time is spent checking emails, browsing the internet or catching up on our social media channels – it’s because many people suffer with phone anxiety and are too afraid to pick up or make a call.Phone phobia and anxiety
Shyness isn’t a straightforward condition – you may excel at public speaking, be ace at face-to-face, and ooze confidence from every pore when you’re the centre of attention.
When it comes to the phone though, it can be a completely different story – your nerves jangle, your palms sweat and you clam up at the thought of making or taking a phone call.
Phone phobia casts its tentacles wide. In a survey of UK office workers, over half the respondents reported they felt anxious when it came to answering a phone call.
Millennials (those born between 1981-1996) experienced the most anxiety, with 76% of those who took part in the survey experiencing anxiety on hearing a phone ring.
Considering Millennials were born in the digital age and are more used to texting than telephoning, it’s probably no surprise they’re more phone phobic compared to the 40% of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964 and born into a time when a telephone in the home was cutting edge technology and a luxury not everyone could afford) who undertook the same study.Why do people hate using the phone?
There are a number of reasons why people hate using the phone. These include:
- The fear of the unknown: a lot of anxiety about using the phone stems from the fear of the unknown. If you have to make a call, you might worry about whether you’re phoning at a good time, interrupting something important or disturbing them while they’re on holiday or on a sabbatical. You might also worry about whether the person on the other end will appear friendly and warm, or sound harried and impatient. When you don’t know how your call will be received, this can make you apprehensive.
- The lack of visual cues: the phone is an audio-only means of communication. This means there’s no eye-contact, gestures or body language to help you ascertain the tone the other person’s trying to get across. All you have to go on is a disembodied voice and, if that voice isn’t friendly, you’ll subconsciously form the impression they’re frowning at you. The lack of face-to-face communication also means if the person on the other end of the phone isn’t someone you’re familiar with, it’s difficult to gauge their personality and build up any kind of rapport.
- Our insecurities: as well as only having their voice to go on, the same can be said about how you feel about your own voice. You might be self-conscious or insecure about how you come across, and nervous about speaking clearly enough or if the other person will be able to understand your accent. Another concern you may have is, if you feel you don’t sound ‘posh’ enough, you might be worried they’ll form a view of your educational background based on how you speak.
- The fear of a blank mind: you don’t get the luxury of taking your time to compose an email or text when using the phone – you have to be spontaneous and think on your feet to a certain extent, even if you’ve rehearsed what you’re going to say beforehand. This can make you feel anxious as you worry about your mind going blank, saying the wrong thing, or leaving long gaps of silence, especially if the phone call is an important one and you want to make a good impression.
- Feeling self-conscious: if you have to make a phone call with other people around – for example in an open-plan office – you can feel self-conscious if you think people are listening. Are they listening to your conversation? Are you worrying you’ll say something stupid in front of your colleagues? At the risk of making you feel worse, these fears aren’t entirely unfounded, as studies have shown people are more likely to listen in to a telephone conversation if they can only hear half the conversation. This is because it’s more distracting than if they can hear the whole conversation, which simply becomes background noise.
With communication not being restricted only to the phone these days and alternative methods such as email, text and instant messaging software available on our devices, as more offices go down the paperless route, could we go down a phoneless route too?
Well, to be frank, no. Apart from the obvious emergency or life-threatening situations where you need an ambulance, police or fire service, or less life-threatening situations such as phoning for a pizza (not all pizza places have online ordering. I know, crazy, but it’s true), there are also work and career situations where being comfortable on the phone will enhance your prospects. Let’s have a look:
- Job interviews: Not all job interviews are face-to-face, especially in these current times where remote working is becoming more the norm than the rarity. Even for office-based roles, a company, after whittling down the pile of CVs to their favourite on-paper candidates, may prefer to conduct an initial phone chat before asking their final shortlist in for a formal interview. How you come across on the phone will be crucial to whether you get to the second interview stage or not. Being too scared to speak to a potential employer on the phone in the first place will definitely ensure you don’t get the job.
- Work roles: Although your main role may not entail using the phone, you may be asked to do something by a manager and it won’t be in your interests to say no. Teams need to contain flexible members and being able to pick up the phone to chase an invoice, get more details from a potential client, or answer a customer’s query will give the impression you’re flexible with a can-do attitude, which is something all employers look for.
- Opportunities: Who knows, you may learn to absolutely love the phone and then a whole world of sales and customer service roles open up to you.
Instead of finding ways to avoid speaking on the phone such as texting, emailing or messaging, here are some tips on how to feel comfortable on the phone.
Next time your phone rings, instead of staring at the screen or receiver waiting for it to stop, you’ll answer it confidently with a smile in your voice.
Even better, next time your manager sticks their head out of their office door and asks if someone can make a phone call to a customer, you’ll get brownie points for jumping up to offer.
If you have to make a phone call, prepare for it by writing down some notes. Have your opening sentence ready so you don’t falter at the first step and have notes ready of questions or subjects you’ve anticipated arising.
Obviously you can’t prepare for every eventuality and you may get thrown a curveball, but having answers ready for any likely questions will help you get through the call without much hesitation.
Keep a pen and paper nearby and, during the conversation, make notes of anything you want to go back to or get clarification on. This is especially important if it’s a job interview as, chances are, if you don’t write down a question you want to ask as a result of something cropping up during the conversation, when you get to the end of the interview and you’re asked if you have any questions, you can be sure you will have forgotten what it is you wanted to ask.
Before you make the call, visualise the conversation taking place and what you want the outcome to be.
Picture yourself speaking with confidence, asking the right questions and articulately answering anything you’re asked.
If you’re agitated and nervous, this will reflect in your voice. Do some meditation or square-breathing.
Don’t know how to meditate? There are apps with short, guided meditation sessions to help clear your thoughts and ease any brain fog.
Never heard of square-breathing? Square-breathing (also known as box breathing) calms the nervous system, decreases stress in the body, increases performance and concentration, and this is how you do it:
- Slowly exhale until you’ve emptied all the air from your lungs,
- then inhale gently through your nose to a slow count of 4,
- hold at the top of the breath for a count of 4,
- then exhale gently through your mouth for a count of 4,
- at the bottom of the breath, pause and hold for a count of 4.
To obtain the best outcome from breathing exercises, you’ll ideally be seated or lying down, but this will of course depend on where you are. Your colleagues may not appreciate having to step over you in the middle of the office but, as long as you can allow the breath to flow freely, you’re good to go.
‘Smile and the world smiles with you’ the saying goes. Although the person on the other end of the phone won’t see you smiling, it will be reflected in your voice and you’ll sound warmer, friendlier and more engaging.
- Reinvent yourself
You may be feeling unconfident, full of nerves and about as dynamic as a flat battery but the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t know that. Take a deep breath, visualise a more enigmatic, confident you and summon up any acting skills you have and pretend to be someone who absolutely loves being on the phone and could talk all day and night.
- Walk around
Nerves can leave you rigid and frozen with fear, so get up, walk around and use hand gestures while you’re talking as you would in a face-to-face meeting. Moving will loosen you up, make you feel less inhibited and the best bit is you can be as animated as you like and even pull funny faces at yourself in the mirror – the other person will never know.
Like everything in life – the more you practice, the better you get. Try to remember to make a phone call every day – yes, every day – to get used to using the phone. We’re not suggesting you start cold-calling your way through the phone book, but start with something easy like phoning a local business to ask what time they close. When you’re happy doing that, progress on to something more involved such as phoning a customer service department to ask for more details on one of their products.
Leaving your comfort zone to make a phone call when you really hate using the phone will leave you feeling empowered.
Put these tips into action and you’ll be a confident phone-user in no time.
Who knows, next time you reach for your phone to send a message, you might just give them a quick call instead.
About the Author
Gary Bury is co-founder and CEO of Timetastic, an independent and profitable web app for managing time off work, used by thousands of companies around the world.