If there's one criticism of millennials that I think is valid, it's that we are terrible at talking on the phone. And why wouldn't we be? Calling people on the phone and actually having a conversation is pretty terrifying. What if they don't pick up and you have to leave a voicemail? Even worse, what if they do pick up? It can be anxiety-inducing for sure, and it might be comforting to know that research has shown phone anxiety is a real phenomenon, and thankfully, there are ways to beat it. So keep reading if you want to know how to get over phone anxiety — because until technology allows us to talk to people with our minds, you can't avoid talking on the phone forever.
Although phone anxiety can often go hand in hand with social anxiety, it doesn't always — in other words, just because you may avoid calling people doesn't necessarily mean something deeper. And like I mentioned, research indicates people are shying away from the phone: a 2011 study found that the average cell phone owner made or received about 12 calls per day; a 2015 study put that number at six. Honestly, even those numbers seem high to me — I make or receive a phone call probably once every few days (aka when my parents call me).
Psychologists think there are a few reasons behind phone call anxiety. For one, you're only listening to someone's voice, meaning you can't see any of their facial expressions or gestures. In other words, you don't really know what they're thinking. On top of that, you don't have the time to craft a well thought out response like you would if you were texting or emailing someone. When you're texting, if someone takes a few minutes to respond, it's usually no big deal. But talking on the phone? Even a few seconds of silence can feel excruciating. There are other reasons, too — like the fear of the people around you listening in and judging you (which science suggests they are). Fortunately, phone anxiety can be managed in a number of ways.
1. Take A Deep Breath
I've talked about the benefits of deep breathing before, and right before hitting the "call" button is a great time to get some practice. Science shows it's a good way to ease stress and clear your mind, so inhale deeply and then make the call.
2. Write Out A Script
If you're calling up a friend to chat about your day, you probably don't need to write that out in advance. But if you're, say, calling up your senators or other representatives to voice your political opinions, a script can definitely come in handy. Knowing what you're going to say can eliminate a lot of the anxiety — and it gives you something to read over while the other line rings.
3. Rehearse It Aloud
Once you've written out your name, where you live, and that you strongly oppose Steve Bannon's appointment to the National Security Council and there needs to be a senate hearing on this issue ... oh wait, how did my personal script get in here? Anyway, once you've written out what you need to say, read it aloud to yourself a few times. You might feel silly doing it, but rehearsing will help you feel more natural saying it. Do it as many times as it takes to feel confident.
4. Visualize The Call
Imagining how conversations could play out isn't just for when you're bored in the shower — positive visualization is a well-researched technique that helps people achieve their goals. So visualize your call going well — you speaking clearly and with confidence and the other person responding positively — and it just might go the way you planned.
5. Reframe Your Perspective
Cognitive restructuring is the term psychologists use for this technique, by which you basically change your perspective about the phone call to help you get through it. For example, if you're worried you're going to fumble your words and sound like a fool, just remind yourself that even if you do mess up, you probably won't be the first person to mess up in front of them, or the only person they talk to that day. In other words, it's not really as big of a deal to them as it is to you.
6. Set A Goal
Psychologists recommend setting specific goals — say, a concrete number of minutes to talk to someone — to help you stay focused. If you're not trying to keep your representative (or whoever) on the line for a certain number of minutes, you could try setting a goal of not saying "um" or "uh" for the entire duration of your call.
Sorry, but practice makes perfect. The only way to get better at something is to keep doing it, and that includes making phone calls.