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?