You’ve had a great weekend, bought that new pair of trainers you wanted, been a little hungover on Sunday and then bam! It’s Monday morning.
You wake up, get ready and make your way to work. Walk in, sit at your desk, take a sip of the much needed coffee and then it hits you like a tonne of bricks.
Brrrinnnng brrringgg, brriinggg brriingggg the noise emanates from that weird box on your desk, it doesn’t care if you aren’t ready, halfway through navigating a spreadsheet, deep in thought or just need a minute…it wants your attention and it wants it NOW.
For more than 10 years, I have been managing people who, when they first start, have what I like to call ‘phone fear’ a little from incoming calls but the vast majority from outgoing calls. It is a fear that people can’t put into words. They don’t want to pick the phone up and will do anything else to avoid making a call.
One of my colleagues Jade suffered with phone fear, and she has been kind enough to share her experiences.
“When I first started working at Indigo Swan almost three years ago I had terrible phone fear. The thought of picking up the phone and ringing someone absolutely terrified me.
My biggest apprehension about picking up the phone was being asked a question I didn’t know the answer to. What if a client asked me something really complicated and I said the wrong thing and sounded really unprofessional? I have learnt that it’s not unprofessional to not know the answer; it’s unprofessional to give information that is not accurate.
The biggest thing I have learnt is that it is another human being at the end of the line. We all have our flaws and weaknesses, and that other person is probably just as nervous as you. Being nervous about making calls is such a common fear but one that can be overcome.”
What I find most strange about phone fear is that all the people I speak to about it are people that have no problem talking in meetings, or speaking to strangers in a bar. It seems speaking to someone on the phone is more daunting than a person-to-person conversation and I believe it stems from two main places.
Lack of cues
It’s not inherently the actual words that can cause the issues but the gaps in between – without the aid of subtle facial expression changes or visual cues from the other person, we can’t tell what they’re thinking. Are they silent because we’ve confused them? Are they processing the information we’ve given them? Perhaps they’re nodding in agreement. All we hear is silence at the other end of the line, which can be awkward or feel damning.
So if you are suffering from phone fear it maybe because you are the sort of person that relies heavily on visual cues but have no idea that you do.
Everyone will get phone fear to a certain degree – new job, new product, change of job role, new person to speak to etc – but it’s making sure that it subsides with time. You should be mindful not to get stuck in it.
Because there is a lot more focus on just the two voices in a call, I think a lot of people worry that the person on the other end will hear in their voice how nervous they are. That leads to negative thoughts like “I’m going to look like an idiot” or “they all know I know nothing about what I am talking about”.
Which is no good and, as Jade mentioned, it is just another person at the end of the line. Here are my top tips to help you overcome the fear.
- Know your stuff. If you have been trained well and given the right support, then you will be confident in what you are talking about. If not, find out.
- Be honest. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to a question. Being honest is so much better than having to ramble your way through an answer that doesn’t make any sense.
- Get help. By putting someone on hold and asking a colleague to help you, you will give the caller more confidence in your proactive ability to get things done, and it’ll allow your confidence to grow for when you are faced with a similar question in the future.
- Build up to it. If you are based in a quiet office, see if there is somewhere you can go that is more private when making your first few calls. Everyone around you wants you to do well and should be willing, where possible, to give you the support you need.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. Set up some test calls with your colleagues. Let people know you struggle with this, do some role play on a tough call, the more practice you can do, the better you will become.
The most important thing to remember is you’ve got this, it’s just another skill to learn, practice and get better at, like any other. And, unless you have Telephonophobia (the irrational fear of phones), you will get better.
No one is expecting you to be 100% perfect all the time, just know what your outcome is before you pick up the phone, keep at it and before long I guarantee you’ll come off a call with a smile on your face.