The rise of this new form of Anxiety over the last decade or so has been a direct result of the way society (as a whole) has changed the way it communicates. There has been a noticeable move away from verbal communications and towards texting, emailing, social media and other forms of electronic written communications.
For younger generations, this new preference for text-based communication means that verbal phone skills are not as well developed, as they should be. Phone Anxiety is a real issue.
Uncertainty is the basis for most forms of anxiety and phone conversations present a challenge because they are full of uncertainty. When you text or post a comment, you have time to think and edit a message. You can also change your mind and delete before sending. Phone calls on the other hand are happening in real-time. You need to ‘think on your feet’ and if you make a mistake you cannot take it back.
There is the additional uncertainty in a phone call due to not having the ‘non-verbal cues’ that we have come to rely on so much. Non-verbal clues are things like facial expressions and body language. This role is filled by emojis in electronic communication.
There are 3 main fears at work when you experience Phone Anxiety.
1. You don’t know what the other person is thinking.
The only clues we have to the ‘meaning’ conveyed in a phone conversation is found in the ‘Tone’ of voice that we are receiving from the other party. The absence of gestures and facial expressions leaves some people unsure about the intentions of the other person. We are lacking the encouraging signs that we depend on for connection with the other party. Leaving voicemails can be an even harder task for those prone to this form of anxiety.
2. You’re under time pressure.
With a phone conversation, the clock is ticking! Time is not a luxury you can have on your side. Awkward silences can be unacceptable. So, you really do need to be thinking on your feet and have your conversation mapped out beforehand. Calls are generally longer in duration than texts, which will also raise the anxiety of self-doubt: “Am I being a nuisance to the other person”. Which leads me to the third fear…
3. You feel like you’re being judged.
Most calls are one-to-one, so you know that the other person’s attention is likely to be solely focused on you alone. This thought alone can produce a lot of stress.
It’s the same sort of stress as in public speaking, or going into a job interview. Experiences that are based on an ‘evaluation’ process. Self-doubt may start to undermine your ability to perform well in those situations.
So here are 6 steps you can follow to manage your phone anxiety.
Think of these 6 steps as a form of exposure therapy. The more you do it, the less anxiety you will feel.
Start by practicing your calls. Make a script so that your calls are structured and practice them with a cooperative friend until you start to feel more comfortable speaking. Then, drop the script, and make your practice call more free form; thinking about what you are going to say next while speaking. Get your friend to interrupt you with questions! I promise you that the more you do this the easier it will become for you.
2. Smile before making and receiving calls.
This may sound silly, but it will really help you to relax. At the same time it will convey a warm and friendly vibe to the other person. Ie: You are happy to be speaking with them.
3. Speak Slowly.
I don’t mean so slow that you sound sedated! Slow it down just enough so that your anxiety doesn’t make you rush through your call.
4. Ask if it’s a convenient time.
If you are concerned about interrupting someone then ask if it’s a convenient time to talk. If its not, then at least you have ‘broken the ice’ for when you speak next time.
5. Don’t take it personal.
If someone cant or doesn’t want to speak with you it could be for many reasons that have nothing to do with you. Try not to read more into it than there is.
6. Find a photo.
Don’t laugh! This is not as strange as it first sounds. If your call is important eg: a phone interview for a job, then it helps to know what the person looks like while making the call. You could go to their LinkedIn profile and print off their bio photo. It will make the call feel more natural and it also helps to know a bit about the other person’s background.
Whatever the purpose of your call may be, always try to be prepared. There is nothing wrong with having some notes or key words written down in front of you. It helps to remind you and keeps the conversation flowing if you get stuck. Having some relevant questions also helps to show your interest and allows the other person time to speak and stay engaged.