Ring Ring! Phone Anxiety/Telephobia
With the amount of time spent every day on our smartphones, why does my student hate talking on the phone?
Remember having a toy telephone with a rotary dial when you were a kid? This toy existed to increase comfort and experience with using a phone. We now live in an era where people tend to text more than they talk on the phone. Texting is convenient, efficient, and generally private. Many students and young people simply have not been trained in the live phone call process. Making phone calls is not a routine task for them.
Talking with a live person can be anxiety provoking for many reasons. Sometimes, awkward silences are just too uncomfortable for the inexperienced. When we’re texting and run out of things to say, we can just stop writing. On a live phone call, it’s far more unpredictable. The potential to feel nervous or uncertain can be enough to keep even the most talkative person from dialing.
Experts generally agree that a large percentage of communication is non-verbal. Talking to a live person without the non-verbal cues can be very stressful. “Am I being misunderstood?” “Is this person irritated with me?” “Do they think I’m weird?” “Am I being judged?”
Calls leave little time to organize and plan a response and even less time to feel settled when challenged. If a particular phone call has the potential to feel confrontational, this can lead to call avoidance and increased anxiety every time you hear the phone ring.
Since there are many reasons for phone anxiety, there are also many techniques to manage the anxiety:
If your student has phone anxiety, try to provide them with opportunities to practice. The earlier (younger) you start the better. Have them schedule their own dental appointments or have them call the mechanic to help schedule an oil change. Yes, oftentimes this can be done online, but this task is for the purpose of practice and to increase their comfort level with the process. If you don’t have calls that are needed, practice by calling up businesses and asking about their hours.
Prepare a Script
- If your student is calling to schedule a medical appointment, write out a script of what they will likely need to say. “Hi, this is NAME, I need to schedule a checkup with Dr. Calm. My best days are Mondays and Tuesdays.”
- Try writing out the opening word for word, as this can be the hardest part of the call.
- Make a list of key points to discuss. Try to imagine what the person on the other end might ask. Include any numbers or names that might be needed.
If your student is especially nervous, consider rehearsing the opening before making a call. Hold the phone to the ear and speak into it to make it as realistic as possible.
Before making a call to a stranger or a call that increases anxiety, call a friend or family member. When done, make the avoided call immediately. This can be very effective, as the first call soothes the part of the brain that associates being on the phone with stress.
During the Call, Have Your Student:
- Walk around and gesture
- Smile when talking on the phone
- Look in the mirror during the call
- Take your time; phone conversations typically don’t need to be rushed
- Keep in mind that perfection rarely exists in communication
Self-Care After the Call
- Don’t overthink it
- Finish the conversation, hang up, and move on to a different task
- Pat yourself on the back and do something you enjoy
Remember: We don’t need to answer the phone every time it rings. Some people are better at it than others, and that’s fine, too. Happy Dialing!