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Feel the Fear – Do It Anyway!

April 27, 2014
Mary Jane Copps

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Five years before I was born, an accident took place that had a huge impact on my life. A truck carrying metal rods came to a sudden stop in front of the car my dad was driving. One of the rods went through the windshield on the passenger side and almost through my mom’s eye into her skull. A very narrow miss left her with an obvious scar near her eyebrow … and a tremendous fear of cars and traffic!

This fear was passed along to me through her behaviour in the car on our many (too many!) family trips from Northern Ontario to Toronto, Montreal, all kinds of places we shouldn’t have gone with a terrified, eventually screaming, woman in the front seat.

It did not impact my ability to be a trusting passenger, but it did prevent me from driving a car. For the 20 years I lived in Toronto, this wasn’t much of an issue, but living here in Halifax and needing to grow a business … no driver’s license was a liability.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because I want you to know that I’m very familiar with debilitating fear … otherwise known as terror. And there is such a fear attached to phonework. It’s called telephone phobia or telephonobia or telephobia. I tend to refer to it as phone phobia. And the number of people impacted is rapidly growing in our age of email and texting. And, just like my not having a driver’s license, being afraid of making and/or receiving phone calls is a liability, no matter what your career or life situation.

The majority of individuals with phone phobia, and the somewhat milder phone anxiety, struggle because of the absence of body language. They rely on physical cues to frame and structure their communication. When faced with picking up a phone, they visualize a wide variety of frightening scenarios such as:

*Saying the wrong thing

*Stumbling when leaving a message

*Being laughed at or thought foolish by the person they are calling

*Being unable to answer a question

*Saying someone’s name incorrectly

*Being treated with anger or disrespect

*Losing their voice

*Forgetting why they called or what to say

*Speaking to the wrong person

*Having the other person hang up on them

So what can be done if you – or a member of your staff or team – suffer from phone phobia? Like all problems or difficulties in our lives, the first step is to admit you are afraid. Don’t hide behind “I just don’t like making calls” or “Phone calls are a waste of time”. Tell yourself and others that you are afraid. In doing so  you’ll discover you are not alone and you’ll find you have a lot of support for moving through and past your fear.

For years and years (and years!) I didn’t speak about the real reason I did not drive a car. I wrapped it up in saving money, staying fit, being environmentally conscious. I incredibly embarrassed by this fear of doing something (so it seemed to me) everyone else could do with ease.

Much to my surprise, when I did start talking about my fear, I found I had a lot of company. Many people are terrified of driving a car. Discovering this was crucial to my conquering my fear.

The next step is learning the necessary skill set in an environment in which you feel comfortable. In other words, phoning the CEO of a multi-national corporation without any preparation or study is not the way to overcome phone phobia.

There are skills you need to acquire in order to communicate on the phone effectively. Once you understand the skill set, then you need to practice – a lot. Picking up the phone once a month won’t dissolve your fear and discomfort. (As with many new drivers, I started out in large empty parking lots and then moved to weekly, early (6 am) Sunday morning drives to Peggy’s Cove.)

As you practice your phone skills, perhaps with friends and colleagues to start, you’ll realize that all of the scenarios that held you back don’t materialize. You won’t forget what to say, you won’t lose your voice, no one will hang up on you. And each successful call you make will dispel more of your fear until one day you pick up the phone and speak with confidence to a total stranger.

Just like me … I don’t accidentally drive on the wrong side of the road, I don’t scrape adjacent cars in parking lots, I’m always aware of pedestrians. I even know how to drive a car when the brakes start to fail!

Conquering my fear of driving was an experience like no other. Words like liberating, freedom, confidence don’t quite capture what it has meant to banish something that once controlled  – and limited – my life.

Phone communication is a valuable life skill and everyone has the ability to do it effectively. It takes some knowledge – which is the purpose of this blog – and practice. The practice part is up to you!

What about you? Is your reluctance to pick up the phone related to fear and anxiety? If so, what are you doing to alleviate your fear?

 

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Mary Jane,

    Great post and so true. I once read a book by Susan Jeffers entitled “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” One of the best reads ever and in line with your post.

    Maureen

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thanks, Maureen for your comments. Susan Jeffers’ book is a favourite of mine. I recommend it others all the time. Glad that you mentioned it here.

  2. Steve Foran says:

    I wondered why you didn’t drive but never thought to ask. I am grateful to know your reason now.

    There is another take-away for us all and we needn’t look much further than what you are grateful for in your situation… in not having a driver’s license and your whole experience? This blog post gives many insights into how challenges and fears are not to be discounted as just negative life-sentences imposed upon us. Rather, they are growth opportunities for us to seize.

    I love your parallel with phone calls… I suspect it is eerily familiar to many people. And for those that share the fear of phone work, I KNOW there is something within it that you are “grateful for”. Can you name it?

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Wow Steve, thanks for this detailed post! I am very grateful for my drivers’ license experience. If I’d been able to accomplish driving at an earlier age, I wouldn’t have experienced the tremendous growth and insight that arrived at 53. In terms of phonework, what am I most grateful for … the relationships … hundreds and hundreds of relationships that I have built through the connection of conversation.

  3. Mary Jane
    Huge thanks for sharing your experience. We often think things are somehow easier for the other guy. Most of us have lots of life baggage that continually tightens a grip of fear on attempts to do things in life that are truly rewarding. Education and openness helps. With gratitude for your knowledge and assistance. Colette

    • The Phone Lady says:

      Thanks, Colette. Really appreciated these thoughts. We should share our fears more often. It would help us develop empathy and also help eliminate the fear.

  4. Janet Bardon says:

    There is so much to be gained by recognizing and confronting fear.
    This is a great post!

  5. Paul Mombourquette says:

    Wow what great timing! Hi Mary Jane!

    Next week I begin a new position within my department, and of course my usual amount of fear crept up on me. The fear of the unknown, can I do this? Will I succeed? You know the usual. This new position of course means more time on the phone with existing clients, as well as some cold calls. So I have a feeling, we’ll be in touch with you soon (Yea!). I will of course conquer those fears, and am looking forward to the new challenges. Thanks for writing your blog, I so enjoy it!

    Cheers,
    Paul

    • The Phone Lady says:

      So pleased to hear about our new position, Paul. And thanks for taking the time to comment and share the fears in your life. We do all have them and talking about them seems to make them less powerful.

  6. Kathy Watson says:

    I would love to get your weekly publication to my email if possoble

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