Maybe it’s generational, or perhaps it’s just a mix of personality and communication style. Either way, I can’t deny a professional pitfall of mine is working up the confidence to pick up the phone and dial.
But it’s so important.
Hearing someone’s voice on the phone helps to develop trust and can build better relationships, especially if the contact is purely digital/remote. It can also be a quicker and more direct way of reaching someone when emails get lost in the inbox. Organic conversations can flow and things that may otherwise go unsaid can arise in this more natural form of reciprocal communication.
And yet, this aversion is apparently becoming more commonplace. One article describes the phenomenon as “telephobia” and shared that one survey of UK office workers found that 70 per cent of millennials experience anxious thoughts when the phone rings, while Gen Z was described as ‘generation mute’ by some.
But, when you work in PR like I do, that ‘phone call phobia’ has got to go. Of course, it’s not as simple as flicking on a switch, and the transition to cool and confident doesn’t come overnight. But it is absolutely a skill and attitude you can work towards honing, just like I am.
Fake it ‘til you make it
Different approaches will suit different people more, but are all equally valid.
For some, charisma comes naturally. Confidence is as easy as breathing, and speaking on the phone is a breeze if not a joy. But for those of us who find it a little harder, the route to success can be the classic ‘fake it ‘til you make it’. You can be whoever you want on the phone, so try adopting a persona. A version of yourself that is calm, cool and collected. It’s still you, and it’s still genuine, just with a little false pep to get you feeling confident.
Another tip from communication coach Mary Jane Copps, who is known as “The Phone Lady”, is to print or cut out pictures from a magazine of a smiling person and look at that while talking on the phone. Apparently, this can help you feel more comfortable with how the other person is receiving your conversation. It also helps to humanise the conversation. It is also said that certain aspects of body language can still translate through the phone and the voice, such as smiling – speaking with a smile can affect your vocal tone. It can also release natural mood-boosting chemicals in the brain like dopamine and serotonin.
Everyone’s cup of tea
For the people pleasers of the world, this sip can be a hard one to swallow. But swallow it we must, because it really is true – you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s okay.
When calling someone up in a professional context, I try to strike a balance of being polite but direct. In PR, the people you’re calling are generally busy people doing busy jobs, where time is precious. So don’t be blunt, but at the same time, try not to beat around the bush and waste words. Be impactful with your time. But also remember that the person on the other end is just that – a person. Being genuine, kind, and respectful is equally as important.
I might not feel like it, but remember you’re allowed to call someone. Especially if they’ve given you their work number. It’s not automatically intrusive or taking up time, and if it is – they’ll let you know, and that’s okay too. Just be respectful. Make sure you’re recognising someone’s working days/hours. If it’s not someone you speak to often such as a new journalist, check they’re the correct contact (e.g. they still work for the publication and haven’t moved on!). Relevance is also key in that instance – try to keep your discussion relevant to them.
As you develop professional relationships, you’ll also come to understand how different people prefer to communicate, and you can navigate from them.
These tips may help you in the short term to build confidence and get familiar with professional phone calls, but it’s not necessarily a long-term fix. That’s because sometimes you need to understand why you fear something – the anxiety that drives the aversion and apprehension – to properly address it and move forward. When you know what the problem is, you can research and adopt more targeted strategies that specifically address the root cause.
Some of the reported reasons that Millennials and Generation Z like me might dislike making phone calls include:
- Perception of calls as an intrusion or bother
- Fear of verbal confrontation and unpleasant conversations
- Text or voice messages that allow people to repeat and correct what is said are less risk
But how can you figure out your root cause?
Aside from speaking to someone with more expertise than myself, I’d start by making one of those calls, and as soon as you put the phone down, grab a piece of paper. Sit with your mind and body for a moment, and really analyse what you’re thinking and feeling. Try to name the emotion or write some of the phrases floating in your mind and put pen to paper. If you can identify some of these things, you might unpack a common theme or feeling which can point you in a good direction for what you want to work on developing. Emotion wheels like the one below (courtesy of The Junto Institute) are a great tool to help dig deeper with this exercise:
Worst case scenario
At the very least, I always try to remind myself: what’s the worst that can happen?
Technically this depends on the context of the call, but generally, the stakes are never that high. You might get a sharp decline or a blunt hang-up, but that’s rarely the case, and if it is, it’s really not the end of the world. Even though sometimes it can feel like it is (silly, I know – but this kind of stuff isn’t always rational, it certainly isn’t for me otherwise I’d have no trouble here) it isn’t. I’m still growing my confidence when it comes to this, so I’m by no means an expert. But if you’re a bit like me and have found this skill one that needs a little TLC, then I hope this blog has been helpful, or at the very least, validating. Now, if you’re interested in a refresher on PR strategies and tactics, have a look at this article here.