Make that phone call

Many shy or introverted people (myself included) positvely dread making phone calls to anyone but our innermost circle of friends – and sometimes even to them, depending on what we have to say. But you don’t have to be shy to dread certain conversations. Having to make them over the phone, without being able to get feedback from your addressee’s face, doesn’t exactly help. So we keep putting those calls off, agonising over how to do it, and knowing that we should. Here’s how you pick up the phone and get it done – even though you’re terrified.

How to pick up the phone and make that dreaded call.

If you’re not faced with the immediate need to make an important call on the spot – say, because some emergency happened or you need to call the police/an ambulance -, there are some simple strategies for making it so much easier. Take a minute (or two, or thirty) and just think it through. Here are some strategies that I find extremely helpful. When I wanted to quit my job, but couldn’t meet my boss in person because I had just broken my foot, I think I followed all of these tipps, actually. It went well – my boss accepted my decision (she kind of wanted me to stay, because teaching new people the ropes is time consuming, of course) and we left it on very good terms.

What do you need to say?

First of all, make sure that you know exactly what you need to communicate. You should be able to break it down to one core issue. “We have to break up”, or “I quit”, or “I need money”, or “I’m really sorry, I was an ass” are things that are hard to say, and maybe you should not always state them in quite so bluntly. However, even when you somewhat soften your actual expression, the idea should be firmly in your mind, your purpose clear.

Next step: Be sure you understand the surrounding structure of your core issue. Why do you need what you need? Why are you asking that exact person and not somebody else? What would you like the other person to do for you? What could you contribute? Think these questions through really thoroughly. As long as you have only a hazy understanding of what you want or need, your chances of communicating it are not very good. So make sure you order your own thoughts before you even so much as touch the phone.

Who you are calling?

As always, empathy figures as a pretty big component in my advice. After determining that you need to communicate this very specific point, think about the person you are going to call. What do they want, like, feel good about? What makes them uncomfortable, what are touchy topics for them? What motivates them? Do they listen to reason, certain other people, financial arguments? Knowing these things helps you pick the best angle for your communication. Frame whatever you have to say in such a way that it strikes the other person as sensible, or even as desirable and beneficial to themselves. I know this is not always possible, but, just like in marketing, it’s never a waste of time to consider your target audience.

Pick a good time (and stick to it)

Nothing is more awful than finally mustering the courage to make that phone call, only to be told the person you need to speak to is currently not there, or very busy, so could you call back? Yes, of course, you say, cursing inwardly. Now you have to do the whole musterting-your-courage thing all over again. So pick a date and time of day on which it is very likely that you can have your conversation right away, undisturbed, and without any pressure to finish quickly. If your conversation partner has a secretary, that’s kind of intimidating, sure, but good for the purpose at had! Just call the secretary some days ahead to make an appointment.

Picking a precise time to make your call also lets you get used to the idea that you will have to do it, and when. Schedule it in your calender, if that helps. Having a date set also lets you relax (relatively speaking) beforehand. Finally, it also takes away much of the nervous thoughts buzzing through the back of your head, saying that you should really make that call, but you don’t want to right now, and the other day would have been a good time but you didn’t remember, and oh God, you really should, though… Just pick a time and stick to it – I promise it’ll make your life much easier.

Practise the conversation

It really helps to have a little pretend conversation prior to the actual dreaded call. You can do that quietly in your head – you  know, like all those imaginary conversations we pretend we’re totally not having  everytime someone says something hurtful and we come up with a good response three hours later – or even out loud. The latter may seem a bit weird, but speaking out loud helps you identify phrases that you may stumble over or that may sound odd when actually spoken, even though they seemed pretty normal in your head. (Don’t worry, it happens to everyone. My particular head-voice, for example, has great skill for delivering terribly cheesy, corny lines with great conviction and just the right amount of emotion, which makes it all very touching, and not awkward or weird at all. A skill which, unfortunately, my out-loud-voice does not possess.)

Make a crib sheet

After you have found out exactly what you want to say and how, you could make yourself a little crib sheet. I know, it sounds like the dorkiest thing in the world, but really, it helps to keep track of your argument and remember all the important parts even though you’re nervous. I often end up hanging up and then remembering something I really wanted to mention, but for which it would be awkward to call back… which sucks. So for important phone calls, I make a list of important points, in the order in which I want to bring them up.

If you have any important phrases – say, for sensitive issues -, writing it down also helps. Similarly, if you really liked something you came up with during a practise conversation (which you totally never had, of course) and you wish to deliver it exactly like that in the actually conversation, writing it down can make the difference between making an important statement in a seemingly effortless manner, and cringing with shame later on about an awkward stumble and search for words.

Motivate yourself

If you are really terrified of making that dreadful call, try to sweeten the day for yourself. A little bribe won’t hurt. Or maybe you do better under pressure? Many of the general anti-procrastination strategies and my list of suggestions for incentives work for phone calls, too.

Remember that people tend to be pretty okay

Finally, take a deep breath and remind yourself that your worst fears about this call and its possible fallout very likely won’t come to pass. Most people react much calmer, with more understanding and less drama than we tend to expect. Think back to difficult conversations you have had in the past. At least some of them have probably gone much better and smoother than you expected, right? Try to hold on to that.

A little while ago, I had to make a phone call to my new landlords. I wanted to discuss the possibility of keeping my pets in the new appartment and had prepared for a lot of arguing, had thought up all the best points in my favour, had thoroughly checked the legal situation. I psyched myself up to make the call, dialed, and, after a little initial small talk, launched into my main reason for calling. However, my “Listen, I have two pets” was not met with opposition, but just a few friendly questions about the animals and how I keep them. I explained, they said “okay”, and I hung up without even using three quarters of my excellently thought-out arguments. While it was comforting to have all these reasons and arguments at the ready, I was glad that I ended up not needing them.

Remember your safety net

While I don’t think that going through a worst case scenario is always helpful, it can be when it reminds you that whoever you’re talking to does not have unlimited power and cannot ruin certain things for you, at least. What are their limits, what can’t they touch, what can’t they take away from you? Even if your worst fears come true – which, like I said, they probably won’t – what remains safe and untouched? These things are your safety net. Don’t focus on all you could lose, if that makes you way too nervous to speak at all; focus on all that is safe.

Push the button

Having thus calmed yourself as much as possible, with your list of arguments at the ready and your purpose firmly in mind, you have nothing left to do but dial the number at the scheduled time. It may seem ridiculuous to make that an extra point on the list, but honestly, it sometimes takes me minutes to get myself to actually push the final button, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. So if this is hard for you, don’t beat yourself up about it, but be accomodating. Plan a little extra time for your “Let’s do this! … wait… in a second… Now! No, wait…” and appreciate that you have completed a difficult task once you have manged it – even if, to anyone else, that difficult task looked like “just” pushing a damn button.

You’re a fighter! That little button is nothing. Screw the button. You could DESTROY that button! Now hit it! HIT IT!!

Also, if it’s really, really difficult for you to psych yourself up for that one last bit, I think it’s not really cheating if you ask someone else to dial and/or push the “call” button for you.

A final note

There you are, you’re good to go! Now set forth and make the phone calls that have been troubling your days and robbing your sleep at night. You can do it. Woohoo!

However. If all that stuff I said about how “Most people aren’t that bad!” left a really bad feeling for you because the person you’re thinking of is that bad and can hurt you; if you need to talk to somebody who is abusive, violent, and/or unstable… First, you have my sympathies. That’s awful and I can’t even begin to imagine what you must be going through. Second, take some additional precautions. I don’t feel qualified to give advice on that sort of precarious situation, but there are free counsellors in many towns, as well as in many schools, universities and larger companies. There are hotlines you can call anonymously, and, of course, there’s blogs and forums for just about every imaginable topic on the internet. Use these offers of help. Read about or talk to someone who was in the same situation, and speak to a trained counsellor if you possibly can. Be safe. I wish you the best of luck.

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