How to talk on the phone without panicking (too much)

Talking on the phone is really scary. Whenever I have to make or receive a phone call, I get extremely anxious and it doesn’t go away for a while afterwards. Plus, I end up stuttering and mixing up words, so I feel ridiculous. But talking on the phone is unavoidable as an adult…

The number one thing that calms me a little bit is preparing beforehand. I do this before presentations too. First, I write down what message I would leave if the call goes to voicemail (the best case, tbh). Voicemails are fine for me as long as I have a script to read. Don’t forget to leave your phone number and end with a thank you.

Next, I write down the opening lines in case someone actually picks up the phone. This becomes easier to write once you have the voicemail down because I just shorten it a bit if needed. Obviously, this method works best if you anticipate that the entire conversation will be fairly short. I had to call the dentist to confirm an appointment earlier today, and someone will always pick up during working hours. But a confirmation call is like less than a minute long, and my entire script was basically just “Hi I’m calling to confirm an appointment I made for next Monday at 2pm.” And the receptionist takes over from there because she just asks your name and confirms the time. And then it’s just a “Okay, thank you. Bye.” and you’re all done! It’s a little embarrassing to admit that even this kind of conversation makes me anxious, but hey, what can you do? So yeah, with the script, I’m pretty much fine.

For the longer conversations, I still kind of depend on a script. The difference is that you have to anticipate different responses and prepare for each one. For example, I’ve been doing a lot of phone interviews for jobs lately. Even then, job phone interviews all have a basic script to follow because you can search up common questions on the internet. And then prepare answers to all of them. All of them. A lot of interview advice tells you to only prepare bullet points so that your answers don’t sound too robotic. That doesn’t work for me because then I’d be likely to stumble on answers because I can’t think fast enough to turn the bullet points into full, coherent sentences. Instead, I do write the full sentences out in a conversational tone. I also practice saying them out loud (or at whisper level) in slightly different ways so that I don’t sound overly robotic. Even with this preparation, there are still interview questions that trip me up depending on my mental state at the time. The last phone interview I had, they called ten minutes late and the first question was something like “Tell us about your background and interests and what drew you to this position and what you want to do in the future.” Like, please chill. That’s way too much for me to handle, especially since I had just been starting to panic over the call not coming. So I ended up rambling on a little and also sometimes pausing a little too long and now I cringe just thinking about it. Luckily, I relaxed a little as the interview went on, and the conversation because smoother when I could follow my script again (and I had also talked to these people before, so). I mean, I still feel a low level anxiety over it, but it’s over at least.

The only other way I think is useful to calm phone anxiety is to force yourself to practice a lot. I worked part-time at my university library the entire time I was a student, and you have to answer all the phone calls at the front desk. So you get all sorts of calls, especially since sometimes the caller would be asking for some other place at the university instead. So yeah, you just kind of… have to deal with it? And you have to be polite and helpful to all of them or else you can bring down the reputation of the entire library. Luckily, my supervisors were all really nice, and if I ever ran into a situation I didn’t know how to deal with, I could just transfer the call over to them. Still, just getting a bunch of calls and having to answer them gets you a lot of practice. People would sometimes ask weird or unreasonable things at the front desk in person too, and I got pretty good at dealing with those as well even when working alone. At first, I was way out of my depth because I’m so socially anxious, but the library is pretty low-key in general, and I needed the job, so having to deal with it over time dampened my anxiety quite a bit.

My mindset has a lot to do with it too. I’ll think about how phone calls are not even that bad in the grand scheme of the universe. And then rinse and repeat. I tell myself that the upcoming phone call will probably be pretty short and not a big deal. Or in the case of phone interviews, I over-prepare enough that I can tell myself “hey, you’ve already done so much to prepare for this. There won’t be any big surprises.” Of course, sometimes there still is, but during the call, there’s also nothing you can do but move on, so my anxiety gets delayed until after the call ends. It’s still not great, but as long as I’m mostly not anxious going in, I can deal with it until afterwards. And afterwards, I can have a few minutes to calm myself down with a short meditation or journaling.

At the end of the day, phone calls are still kind of scary. You can’t see the other person’s expression, and you can’t see any body language at all. The only cues aside from their words are their voice fluctuations and tones. They’re not that helpful. These days, most phone conversations involve things like making appointments (which have an established script) and phone interviews (which also have a fairly established script), so there’s that relief. Aside from that, the only people I talk on the phone with are my parents and occasionally my co-workers, all of whom I’m familiar with and are also familiar with me.

Even though phone calls still make me anxious, I can at least combat it with over-preparation and the right mindset. So then, phone calls transform from Sisyphus-pushing-the-boulder-uphill-difficulty down to somewhere around carrying-an-especially-heavy-load-of-laundry-difficulty. Not the most ideal situation, but not terrible. If there’s some sort of script, it’s even easier, like holding-a-small-cup-of-water-for-a-few-minutes-difficulty. So yeah, basically the more phone calls you have to make, the better you get, and the more your mindset changes, and then it’s a piece of cake. You still have to watch out for pieces of eggshells, because it’s not a particularly well-made cake, but the occasional bad phone conversation happens to everyone anyways.

No one is great at everything, and I think the majority of younger people in this world also dislike talking on the phone. I mean, why call when texting is so much faster and non-intrusive? However, voice-only communication probably isn’t going away anytime that soon, and all you can really do is your best.

Cheers (*•̀ᴗ•́*)و ̑̑


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