Do you have phone anxiety? How to get over it, and other tips for communicating via telephone

Photo by  Pavan Trikutam  on  Unsplash

Does picking up the phone make you nervous? You're not alone. Follow these tips to harness the power of the telephone, instead of avoiding it. 

As much as you might wish for the extinction of the telephone, the phone is unavoidable. Whether you're calling your senator or calling your grandma, we all have to pick up the phone sometimes. Even with chat software being used for customer service, 75% of us still believe that the phone is the fastest way to get a response.

While video conferencing is a microscope for the body, the telephone is a microscope for the voice. Why does it make us nervous? Albert Mehrabian found that 93% of communication is non-verbal as it relates to emotions (7% comes from words, 38% from tone of voice and 55% from body language). On the phone, the significance of words increases to 14%.

When all you've to go by is someone's tone of voice, our mind fills the rest of the space with negative assumptions. We can't rely on someone's smiling face to tell us how they feel. And it doesn't help that we usually pick up the phone in higher stakes situations (read: phone interviews!).

So, why is the phone important?

It allows for impromptu conversation, which helps us get to the bottom of a problem faster. But also opens us up to conflict with another person. And the more you avoid this type of communication, the less practiced in it you will be. It can be a vicious cycle.

I keep a separate to-do list for phone calls. I'm guilty of delaying these for weeks and weeks. It's not just the anxiety of being judged. I've also convinced myself that I need to be in a quiet room with fully focused attention to make these calls. This is not true and it is also not possible.

This week, I'm determined to get through my telephonic to-do list. Here are my tips to do so.


Block off an hour to make multiple calls at once. Making a plan means you're more likely to follow through, and doing things in repetition helps you improve at the skill.


Negative self-talk is a powerful thing. "In 2005, the National Science Foundation published an article regarding research about human thoughts per day. The average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80%  are negative and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before and about 80% are negative." If this is true, then it's super unlikely that all of our negative thoughts are justified. Try to remind yourself of that in the moment.


Make a bulleted list of points you want to hit with words to cue your recall. Write out certain questions you want to ask. Keep a sticky note with thoughts open on your desktop. Rehearse speaking some of the ideas out before the call.  And reference it whenever you need to.


Choose a physical point of focus. Since you can't make eye contact, focus on your feet hitting the floor or your bum in the chair. Another good tip is a marble in your hand or holding one of those fidget spinners the kids use. You need a place to focus and settle your energy, the same way you would in person, and creating that for yourself can be a powerful alternative.


Don't be afraid to overcommunicate. Without visual cues, it might not be clear that you are taking a moment to think, which may make you feel rushed to provide an answer to a question before you are ready. There's nothing wrong with saying to the person, I need a moment to think about that, and then taking that moment. It may feel like an eternity but can provide much-needed air to a conversation.


When all else fails, remind yourself that it's likely the person you're talking to hates the phone just as much as you do. Even the act of putting your attention on that other person takes the focus off of yourself and sets you up for a better chance of establishing a connection. Good luck!