Anxiety Girl: Life with the World's Worst Superpower Getting Over Phone Fear Chelsey Falco

I was 12 years old when I made my first phone call. I know, that’s late, but I was way too scared to talk on the phone! Just the thought of it made me want to lock myself in my room and never talk to anyone ever again. I did anything I could to avoid phone calls. If I wanted to schedule a play date, I made my parents call my friends for me. If someone from school called with a question about the homework, they also had to talk to my parents. I rarely even talked to my family over the phone. They all lived nearby, so I ignored their calls and just waited until the next time I saw them in person.

As I got older, I understood that I couldn’t avoid every phone call, not if I wanted to embrace being a tween. In fifth grade, one of my friends loved talking on the phone. She would call me Sunday nights and talk for half an hour, but I never said anything. I sat in silence, occasionally laughing. I knew it was weird that I never said anything, but the moment I got on the phone, it was like I forgot how to say words. After those one-sided phone calls in fifth grade, I tried to get better with using the phone. I answered the phone when my grandma called, I called my parents. The more I used the phone, the easier it got, but to this day, I still avoid talking on the phone whenever possible. Everyone knows to never call me. Text me, email me, hunt me down and talk to me in person, because very few things stress me out more than a phone call.

While texting and email can substitute a phone call when socializing, the real world of employment sometimes requires using the phone. This past summer, I interned with a publishing company. Most of my work was done over email, but one day, I needed to call a client to discuss queries. After writing out a speech of what I needed to say, I dialed the phone. There was no answer. I left a message and asked him to call me back when he had the chance, then I spent the rest of the day living in fear. It was the most stressful work day of my life. It wasn’t even that I was afraid of what to say on the phone. Like I said, I planned out what I needed to see. But the fear of not knowing when he would call back was overwhelming. Also, I had to talk on the phone in front of all my co-workers. I didn’t have my own office to hide in. If I messed up, everyone would hear. They’d also hear any small talk I was forced to make. When the client called back, everything went smoothly, but I was still shaken up for the rest of the day. After that day, I realized I really needed to improve my phone skills. My part-time job requires me to answer the phone all the time, and if I eventually want to have a real publishing job, I can’t avoid the phone forever.

If you share my phone fear, I’m here to help! Here are some of my best tips for talking on the phone:

  1. Know what you’re going to say. I had to call a former boss about working for her again, so I spent an entire day writing out what I needed to say to her. From saying hello to hanging up, it was all planned out. I even wrote out separate conversations for every possible scenario. Whether she said I couldn’t have the job or that the position was my mine, I knew exactly what to say. Being prepared for a phone call makes it less intimidating and eases most of my phone anxiety.
  2. Location is very important. When I’m on the phone, I need to be somewhere I can walk around.  I cannot sit still when talking on the phone! So I make sure I make all phone calls in a place with a lot of room where no one is judging me. It’s not unusual for me to start spinning around on a desk chair or to start doing yoga when I’m on the phone. Moving around makes me feel more comfortable, so if I need to be on the phone, I better be somewhere with a lot of space.
  3. Don’t give up. Whatever you do, don’t hang up until the conversation ends. Even if you start panicking or no longer know what to say, continue the phone call. A few days ago, someone called me at work to talk about billing, which is not my area. I didn’t know what to tell him, but I tried my best to answer his questions even though my every instinct was telling me to end the call. Not only is hanging up rude, but it’s a cop out. Don’t give yourself that option because you don’t want to rely on it. Stick with the phone call. It will end eventually, but if it does become too much to handle, make up a good excuse and say goodbye. Say there’s someone on the other line or you need to get going. We all do that, so don’t feel bad. Even people who love talking on the phone will use those lines to hang up.
  4. Do a practice run. If you know you have a very important phone conversation in your future (such as an interview), practice with someone you feel comfortable with. Last week, I had to interview someone over the phone for a project, so I called my mom the day before. Since talking to my mom doesn’t make me nervous, I can be on the phone with her for hours. I didn’t even go over my interview questions with her. I just called her to get comfortable on the phone and make sure the reception was okay. When it came time to do the actual interview, I was already more at ease on the phone. Practice is key.

I don’t know why I’m so afraid of the phone. You’d think it would be easier than talking to someone in person, but I’d much rather talk face-to-face than over the phone. Anxiety can be weird in that way, but I am happy to say that I’m getting much better when it comes to the telephone. My job requires me to talk on the phone all the time. The other day, I answered the phone even though it was a minute past closing and I wasn’t required to! I think that means I’m becoming the type of person who likes the phone, which is a twist none of my friends and family saw coming.

I may be more comfortable on the phone now than when I was twelve, but I’m still trying to get over my phone fear. If you’re also afraid of the phone, or you’re just really good at talking on the phone, please share your tips.

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  1. I have the same thing. If I have spoken to the person with some other medium before I’m a lot better. Which is great at work because most of our communication is internal and we use Lync, so we can IM.
    I too plan stuff out! I go through phases of being OK with the phone and not, probably linked to my general anxiety levels.

    My current situation is compounded by not having a perfect grasp of German (I live in Vienna) but that has forced me to confront my fears more!

    Skype is a god send – I love talking on Skype video chat cos then it is like being face to face. Its all in body language, for me the non verbal clues you get when using the phone are not enough.

    • Thanks for reading, Natalie! I can’t imagine speaking a language I’m not comfortable with over the phone. That’s got to be rough. I’m impressed!
      For some reason, Skype makes me just as nervous at talking on the phone. Although, being able to read body language does make it a bit better.

      Chelsey Falco | 12/06/2013 12:12 pm
  2. I hate answering the phone when I don’t know who it is, or making a call to someone I don’t know. I don’t mind planning phone calls with my friends but unexpected calls with strangers are my worst nightmare. >__<

    • Thanks for reading, Tricia! It’s been a comfort to learn that a lot of people share my fear. And I agree with you that the unexpected calls are the worst. I need the time to plan!

      Chelsey Falco | 12/05/2013 07:12 pm
  3. I do every single one of those things! I finally got over my fear of answering the phone at work, because most of the time the only questions I have to answer are “Where is your store located?” or “How much are those shoes?”

    • Thanks for reading, Elizabeth! Answering the phone at work has been helping me with my phone fear, too, and I think it has to do with the repetitiveness of it. Always having to answer the same questions definitely makes it easier!

      Chelsey Falco | 12/05/2013 07:12 pm
  4. I feel sick with nerves whenever I need to make a phone call or answer the phone. Unfortunately my job also requires me to regularly answer the phone and make calls. Your tips are ones I have always used (particularly planning and conversation and moving around!), and work well for me.
    Glad to know I’m not alone!

    • Thanks for reading, Claire! Not only do a lot of people share our fear of the phone, but a lot of us seem to be working in jobs that require us to use the phone a lot. We’re in good company!

      Chelsey Falco | 12/05/2013 07:12 pm
  5. I am so relieved to hear that others share my fear of the phone! I have anxiety over a lot of things, but most no one understands why I never want to answer the phone or make calls. I even have a hard time with family and friends who I love to talk to regularly. I always fear the worst will happen and it really never has. I’ve gotten better at it through the years and already use a lot of your tips. I talk to myself in my head a lot before a call I know I have to make and having room to pace really helps. I find staying positive is best because really, it’s usually not so bad and often gets easier after the first few minutes. Thanks for speaking out and I hope your future phone calls get easier!

    • Thanks for reading, Ashley! So many people don’t understand why the phone is scarier than talking in person, but it is! Staying positive is a great tip, and I’ll have to start using that one. I hope your future phone calls get easier, too!

      Chelsey Falco | 12/05/2013 06:12 pm
  6. It’s so nice to know that I share this fear with others. It is something that I have struggled with my whole life, but it has become a progressively more stressful issue for me as I’ve entered into adulthood. University and my inevitable entry into the working world have forced me to become more confident with telephone conversations, but it is still something that I need to work on. I still find myself paralyzed with fear every time I have to make or answer a phone call. Thank you for posting about this and for sharing your tips on overcoming phone fear.

    • Thank you for reading, Brittany! So many of us share this fear, and it’s been great reading everyone’s comments. The phone is just so terrifying!

      Chelsey Falco | 12/05/2013 06:12 pm
  7. I share the fear of talking on the telephone too. I have struggled with it all my life. It is comforting to know others share my fear. I have one friend who calls more often than any of my other friends and I smile then immediately freeze with worry and panic. I want to answer and I want my friend to know I am happy she’s calling, but I have a fear I won’t say the right thing or that my voice sounds too weird. It’s nice to know she keeps calling even if 90% of the time I don’t answer.

    • Thanks for reading, Lianne! My main fear of the phone also stems from thinking I’ll say the wrong thing. It’s so nice that your friend continues to call even if you don’t always answer. Maybe you’ll start answering more often, but if not, at least you know a lot of us share your fear and totally understand!

      Chelsey Falco | 12/05/2013 06:12 pm
  8. I’ve had this… my heart rate still goes up when the phone rings, but it settles down once I’m in the middle of the conversation.

    • Thanks for reading, Terri! The beginning of the phone call is the worst, but I’ll get nervous again towards the end. I never know how to end a call! But you’re right, it does get easier in the middle of the conversation.

      Chelsey Falco | 12/04/2013 04:12 pm
  9. Amy, that would drive me insane. There are times at work I don’t answer. Like when I’m in the middle of something and really don’t want to lose my train of thought. Don’t call right back, 6 times. Leave a message and I’ll call in a bit. I also get the friends that text, and if I dont answer within 10 mins, they call. As if I hardly ever answer personal calls unless it’s a cute guy. LOL.

    Yea, I for the most part have to plan out conversations. I get so anxious when someone calls and I have zero preparation. Like “i was just going over an order from 4 months ago, do you have a minute”…then panic!! I have to stop what I’m doing (the least of my problems at this moment), find what the heck he’s talking about, go into my limited memory bank to remember what was going on with it, then be able to talk intelligently….all while trying to sound like my mind and heart rate and breathing are all as normal as can be.

    • Thanks for reading, Sarah! I absolutely hate having to talk on the phone with no preparation. People should at least send a courtesy email warning that they will call you soon, right? It would make life so much less stressful!

      Chelsey Falco | 12/04/2013 04:12 pm
  10. One of my pet peeves is friends calling me over and over instead of just sending a text instead when I reject the call. They know I hate phone calls, take the hint! Haha.

    • Thanks for reading, Amy! It would annoy me, too, if my friends constantly called when I reject a phone call. I hope your friends take the hint soon!

      Chelsey Falco | 12/04/2013 04:12 pm
  11. I still have phone anxiety after so many years of placing calls on a phone. I am familiar with your solutions, as I generally use those tips too! Thanks for posting this article. I know I am not alone!

    • Thanks for reading, Amanda! It’s always nice to hear that other people share my fear of the phone!

      Chelsey Falco | 12/04/2013 04:12 pm