how can I get more comfortable talking on the phone?

A reader writes:

My question, or gripe, is about the phone. I’m frustrated with myself, mainly. My new position involves talking to people constantly – making appointments, forming relationships with donors, solving problems with coworkers, negotiating bids, etc. It’s a highly interactive role. You’ve talked before about preferring email over phone for most communications (with exceptions of course), but I’m quickly learning that this organization and our clients and donors use the phone. I’m not asking to change this, but I’m eager to change myself. I get so uncomfortable and nervous talking on the phone. My heart drops when I see an incoming number I don’t know. I get even more anxious when I have to return a phone call, praying that the receiver won’t answer and I can follow up via email.

Much of my anxiety comes from being overheard. For some reason, I get nervous when my phones rings and my boss is in earshot, hearing my side on the conversation. How can I get over this? I want to be better at communicating, but I’m not sure what steps to take. Any phone lovers out there with advice?

I think part of the reason why so many people are squicky about the phone is because it’s used much less frequently now than it used to be (thanks to email and texting), and its drop in familiarity has made it more nerve-wracking for some than when it was a more regular part of life. So if you’re like most people, just plunging in and forcing yourself to do it will help you get more comfortable (which is convenient, since it sounds like you don’t have a choice anyway).

Also, don’t be afraid to write out talking points for yourself ahead of time. You don’t want to sound like you’re reading a script, of course, but it can be really helpful to have a written guide to structure the conversation and to prevent you from having to come up with perfect wording on the fly. Plus, the act of thinking through what you’ll say ahead of time can make you feel a lot more prepared. (Confession: The first few times I had to make job offers, I totally wrote out a script for myself because I was nervous about somehow getting it wrong. I did it for tricky performance conversations too, and actually think that all managers should write out talking points for particularly important or sensitive conversations. And there’s no reason you can’t steal that trick and use it for more routine calls too.)

Regarding your anxiety about being overheard: This is going to sound totally counterintuitive, but I’d seriously consider telling your boss that you’d welcome feedback if she ever has any when she overhears your phone calls. You could even be completely transparent and say, “Being on the phone this much is new for me, and I’ve never really been a phone person — so if you hear things you think I could be doing better, I’d love to get feedback.” There’s something about owning up to the fact that you’re not super comfortable on the phone and explicitly inviting feedback — and conveying “I know I might not have this down, and I’m not assuming I’m a phone savant” — that might actually make you less anxious about being overheard.

{ 84 comments… read them below }

  1. Robin*

    Seconding Alison’s advice that just doing it over and over and over will probably get you over most of your anxiety. Another thing that really works for me is getting into a “phone zone”. Waiting until I have a number of phone calls that I have to make, then doing them all at once, starting with the easier ones if possible. That way I only really have to psych myself up once, and I get progressively more comfortable, so that by the time I get to the trickier ones, it’s no big deal. Since the overheard issue is part of it, maybe do it while your boss is out to lunch, at least at first?

    1. EarlGrey*

      Agreed, setting aside time is great. I don’t know if you can do this in your workplace, but I would always let unexpected or unknown number calls go to voicemail and deal with them & any outgoing calls all at once.

    2. V*

      Agreed, but I prefer to get the trickier ones done first, so that the rest of the calls feel easier.

      And I also let unknown numbers go to voicemail. That way I can prep for the call before I call back.

    3. Pam*

      This is exactly what I do!

      Picking up the phone was fine for me, because the most of the time I had the information the people asked me, or I could HOLD the call, to find any info or ask a coworker.
      But when I had to make a phone call to give follow up to a customer…I used to procrastinate it a lot! And it wasn’t because what he/she could tell me, it was because I knew my boss was listening to me, I don’t know why but I hated it!

      What I used to do at first was that whenever she started making a call, I did mine too, so that way she won’t listen to me haha. But one day, I realized that I couldn’t wait for that moment everyday, that would be stupid, because she is a human, just like me, so I didn’t have a reason to be ashamed or scared of what she may think.

      Instead, I started thinking: “Yes, I know you’re gonna listen to me, but I wanna prove you that I can manage myself great and everyone can make a phone call, that’s one of the easiest things in the world.”

  2. Sascha*

    What helps me is knowing that the call has a purpose, and is not just random chitchat. I’m a terrible small talker, and I will stutter and blank out on the phone (and in person sometimes) if I get a call out of the blue from someone I don’t know who just wants to talk. I have to remind myself that people call me because they have a technical problem that needs solving – so I have a solid reason and a goal for the conversation.

  3. Livin' in a Box*

    I was always really nervous about talking on the phone, so I took a job at a call centre to plunge in and force myself to do it, as Alison puts it. This backfired horribly.

    1. A Non*

      Oh dear, you have all my sympathies. I was uncomfortable with phones before ending up in a call center job (unintentionally, the job description shifted under me). Now my heart rate speeds up and I start to sweat when I hear a phone ring.

      It takes a very, very special type of person to not die in a call center environment. One with waaaaaay thicker skin than me.

      1. Livin' in a Box*

        I’m glad I’m not the only one! I can’t recommend talking on the phone more as a cure for hating phones. I’m 100x worse with phones now than I was before. I’ve gone from anxiety to complete terror.

      2. LibrarianJ*

        Oh yes. I was mildly nervous talking on the phone before I took what was not exactly a call center position (we had 4 people in the entire office), but similar in that it involved some sales-y calling and a lot of fielding angry/aggressive customers. We were also all in one room with desk dividers, so my coworkers and boss got to watch and overhear anytime a conversation went wrong. Now if I get a call from a number I don’t recognize, I’m no longer nervous — I outright panic, and that’s 10x as true if there’s someone else in the room.

    2. annie*

      I was going to suggest something similar but with lower stakes. Most candidates for election need volunteers who will make phone calls and follow a script. If you volunteer for that gig, which is actually kinda awful because no one on Earth likes to get these calls, you’ll quickly get over any anxiety! Plus if you do it for a candidate or cause you believe in, at least you can feel like you are helping them out while getting hung up on. :)

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        My mom made me do this in high school to get over my phone anxiety. She also made me book and reschedule all my own doctor and hair appointments as a teen with her standing there observing.

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          My mom did the same thing! At the time I thought it was a horrible drag, but boy was I grateful when I went to university and saw some of my classmates who truly didn’t know basic phone etiquette or how to arrange an appointment.

        2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          My dad once made me order pizza to get over my phone issues. We paid $45 for two pizzas and he never tried again. :)

          And I had a job in a campaign office where the expectation was that I would spend 4 hours a day on the phone, either trying to fill up events or just asking for donations. It didn’t help in the slightest… mostly made things worse. I am just NOT a phone person!

        3. Pennalynn Lott*

          My mom started this with me when I was seven. I called in our family’s orders to the local burger place. I, of course, got it wrong which meant I had to call back. I was mortified, but the woman on the phone was very sweet and took me seriously (on the phone, at least; she probably busted out laughing after we hung up). After that it was pretty easy.

          But 40 years — and four Inside Sales positions — later I *hate* talking on the phone. Hate it. With every fiber of my being. Even things like calling the local burger place for my boyfriend to go pick up dinner. Verbal communication is so fraught with potential for error. And it seems to take ten times more words/sentences to convey what I mean, or to get what someone else means. Plus, most people talk muuuuuch slower than I listen, so conversations are pretty painful for me anyway. At least in a F2F conversation there are things like body language to help speed up the process (by indicating agreement, or understanding, or a switch in topics, etc.).

  4. LouG*

    Confession: for my first phone interview, I wrote down at the top of my paper “Hi, this is LouG” because I was so nervous of just blanking immediately.

    1. CheeryO*

      I was leaving a voicemail for HR at a company where I ended up interning in college, and I forgot my own cell phone number. I said, “Call me back when you get a chance. I can be reached at (area code)… uhhh… ermm…” Then I mumbled a bit and hung up the phone. It’s still embarrassing to think about.

      1. Mints*

        Haha, I totally did this pretty recently (like two weeks ago). When I signed up for a google voice number (advice I saw here!) and was returning a call “You can call me back at….the same number. thanksbye”

    2. Sunshine*

      Yep… phone interviews. I have to have a checklist and a closed door, otherwise some random thing will catch my attention and derail the whole thing.

  5. Nerd Girl*

    My job requires an above average amount of time on the phone. The calls I need to make are very similar so what works for me is to be consistent. I start and end the calls the same way. Even my “patter” is the same for each call. I make sure I sound pleasant and polite and in those moments I’m not feeling it I smile while making a call. (Believe it or not, it helps make you sound more pleasant.) End result? I have good rapport with my clients and I have more comfort on the phone. And I’ve actually noticed that one of my co-workers who is horrible on the phone has started using some of my phrases and she seems less awkward on the phone.

  6. E.R*

    I’ve been in sales / communication-related jobs for years and I still get nervous about using the phone from time to time. Maybe it will never go away completely. I do find I get less nervous when I’ve been working a deadline and have been on the phone non-stop for a few days. I also sometimes worry how I sound to my co-workers and CEO, who spend much less time on the phone and are usually quiet when I’m talking on the phone. I just remind myself not to care – I mean, how often do I quietly criticize others’ phone manner? Pretty much never. Unless they are doing something very unusual, like yelling or throwing up, I’m not paying attention, so thus most people are not really paying attention to me.

  7. Jake*

    I also hate the phone. In my first position I very rarely had to use it, maybe once a week at most. When I moved to my current position my boss explicitly told me within my first 3 days that I needed to use the phone more. What ended up making me comfortable on the phone was when I started seeing much better results from phone conversations than emails. People were more responsive and helpful on the phone.

    So one way to look at it is, “does this make me more effective at my job? ” For many folks that simple realization will help with the anxiety.

  8. Adam*

    I work in Customer Service, which means I have to be on the phone every day. This is funny because I HATE talking on the phone and rarely do it in my off hours. For me personally it’s not an anxiety issue; it’s just that chit chatting on the phone is weird to me. If we’re going to talk I want to be able to see you. Otherwise text. Texting is awesome. Actually I’m realizing just now that I don’t mind talking on the phone so much at work because there’s always and explicit purpose behind it, and when that’s taken care of you hang up. I still prefer email, but I imagine most people here do.

    To help yourself Alison is right that in general the more you do it the more comfortable you’ll get with it. And asking for feedback is a good idea too. While you’re on the phone with someone you might find it helpful to keep a writing pad and pen nearby and write down the things the caller is telling you, even if you don’t necessarily need to. This may help focus your mind on the important points and push past your anxiety. Since this is your job you probably know the relevant material and it’s your stress about communicating that puts up a roadblock in your head. Writing it out in front of you may help break that down since you will need to focus a bit on that in order to do it rather than sit and worry that you’ll goof up in some matter.

    Regarding being overheard are you more concerned that someone might hear you say the wrong thing or that they’re critiquing how you sound in general? My experience says that unless you have a loud voice that carries most people probably aren’t paying that much attention to you anyways. But going back to the feedback maybe asking your manager to sit in on a return call or two might ease your worries or potentially give you some pointers?

    Either way it’s ok! I’ve dealt with sever anxiety issues before as well and know we always make it worse for ourselves than anyone around us usually notices. Once you get more settled into your new position I bet you’ll get a lot better with those irritating phones. Good luck!

    1. Sunshine*

      Writing things down during the call is a good suggestion. Forces you to focus on the person you’re talking to instead of what might be going on around you.

    2. OP*

      This is helpful! I’m more worried about being new at my job and not necessarily knowing the message points of what I’m trying to raise money for… and yet I have to raise money!

  9. Apple22over7*

    This was totally me a few years ago. I hated the phone with a passion, I wouldn’t even answer my own phone to people who I knew. And dialling out? Forget it.

    The way I cured myself was to get a job in a call centre. It wasn’t the best job in the world at all, but I was unemployed and needed the money. In a call centre, I couldn’t *not* answer the phone, it was all I was being paid to do.

    MY first call was the worst – the customer had a million & one tricky issues, I was still trying to master the CRM databases, I was nervous & shaking – it was awful. But it got better. Doing it again and again made it better, and I’m now in a more career-oriented role, and answering the phone/making phone calls to strangers is a large part of my job. I’m not going to say I am the best telephone user ever, I’m really not, but I am at least comfortable enough to perform job well, and any nervousness doesn’t come through on the phone.

    AAM’s advice is spot on. A script, or written talking points really helps – you almost don’t have to think about it because it’s there in front of you. Remember that you don’t need to have an immediate answer to every question – it’s fine to say “I don’t know but I’ll get back to you”. If you’re worried you’re interrupting someone, make it a point early on in the call to ask “is this a good time to talk?” or something similar. Most people will say yes, and even when they do say no you can arrange to contact them either by email, or at a later time. Take a deep breath before picking up/dialling the number – I dial a number quickly if I’m nervous because it means I’m dawdling over pushing the buttons and making me more wound up.

    I also find it helps to fiddle with something when on the phone– doodling, or twizzling a paperclip, or something similar. I don’t know why, maybe it just expends nervous energy through my hands rather than through a shaky voice.

    As for the fear of being overheard – yeah I had this too. You need to remember that most people, if not everybody, walking past your desk aren’t going to be listening to you, they’ll be wrapped up in their own thoughts or tasks. Honestly, nobody in my office bothers to listen to others’ phonecalls, and I’d wager it’s the same in offices across the globe.

    Ultimately, the best approach is to bite the bullet and do it. And do it again. And again, until it’s not as scary as it seems.

  10. Any Mouse*

    I’ve been a receptionist with a heavy call volume at times. When I answer the phone after the 100th or so call in one day I end up sounding like a recording – a nice pleasant recording but still a recording. I don’t mean to but sometimes it’s hard not to.

    If you are nervous because of the actual phone system and how it works, I’d read any manuals about it and then ask a co worker to help you out getting familiar with it – especially if you have to transfer calls or juggle multiple in coming calls. If you do have to transfer calls (at the beginning at least) I’d have some cheat sheets – 1 with everyone listed by extension, 1 with everyone listed by first name and 1 with everyone listed by last name and any special notes about handling the calls. In my receptionist job I’d have people call and say ” CAn you transfer me to ext 102″ and I could look and know that 102 is Patrick Troughton and he wants his calls announced (or is on vacaction or whatever) or someone might call and say “I’m returning Patrick’s phone call” and I could look it up by his first name and see he’s extension 102.

    This might not be applicable in your situation but after awhile I just knew. Someone would call in and say “This is so and so calling for Martha Jones” and I wouldn’t to think before I was hitting transfer Ext 204 transfer.

    Having scratch paper around helps – that way you can jot down people’s names when they call or the reason for their call if you and even if you just scratch it out and don’t use it, I found doing that helps me feel more in charge of the phone call and I don’t have to ask the caller. Especially if they caller tends to ramble.

    Another thing, since you are dealing with an organization with donors – ask for copies of any mailings or emails sent to donors and ask how departments want any callers with questions handled. That way if someone calls and says “I got something in the mail with a Teapot on it, can you tell me what that’s about” you can try to verify what it was “Was it a large postcard or a letter?” ” I thinik it was a post card.” You can say ” That was just a friendly reminder to RSVP for our annual Teapot Fundraiser, would you like me to connect you to that department” (or whatever the protocol is for that mailing).

    Persoanally when I have to return a phone call I’d rather speak to a person because I worry I tend to ramble on voicemail. If you are returning a call with information the person wants you are bearer of good news! They want to hear from you, so with a smile on your face (and details jotted down on your scratch pad) you can say “Hi This is Any Mouse for the Foundation for Saucerless Teacups, may I speak to Martha Jones please?” And if Martha answers you can say something like “I’m letting you know that we got the teaspoon jewelry you donated for the silent auction. The Fundraiser deparment is very appreciative and we look forward to seeing you at the fundraiser on November 1st!”

    Sometimes at hte end of a conversation there’s the who is hanging up first so if you get stuck in a bit of awkward silence where you think the call is over but the other person isn’t saying goodbye you can always say something like “DId you have any other questions/is there something else I can help you with” And if they say no you can be polite and say your good byes – it was good talking to you, thank you for your call, we look forward to seeing you at our event, have a nice day. Whatever feels appropriate.

    Putting people on hold so you can gather your thoughts or get information is okay. If someone asks you for something and your mind goes blank or you don’t have the information saying something like “Let me put you on hold while I look that up/see if that person is available/check on that for you” will give you time and you won’t have silence on the phone you might feel the need to fill.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Love the Doctor Who references :-) If the TARDIS calls you definitely don’t want to put her on hold.

  11. Haleyca*

    I deal with lots of phone anxiety too so please know that you are not alone, OP! The number one thing that really helps me is to sort of compartmentalize my work self and my personal self on the phone. My personal self might be awkward on the phone (calling a customer service number or making a doctor’s appointment or something is the worst), but my work self has a purpose for calling, knows about my job and my organization, and has something to offer the person who is calling me or who I am calling. This works particularly well when getting calls from unknown numbers – whoever they are, they want something from you. Realizing that made me so much less intimidating when answering the phone at work (I am sort of a Jill-of-all-trades person at my job, so this includes fielding any calls that come to our general number).

    I would echo what Alison and LouG said above about writing a script or just an opening line. I find that I usually know what I’m going to say about the actual topic (ex: calling our web guy about making changes to our homepage) but I am so focused on the topic that I get flustered by the other identifying info you need to provide on the phone that I sometimes will write out a script of “Hi, I’m Haleyca the Job Title at Org Name.” so that I don’t jump right into what I am calling about. I also have a post it with my work phone number written out large right next to the phone. This way I won’t get flustered trying to remember it when I’m leaving someone a message (remembering numbers, especially on the spot, is a struggle for me).

    Finally, remember that no one is perfect. Just yesterday I returned a missed call by saying “Hi, did you just call me?” the person on the other end had know idea who I was and it was awkward. But we got through it and he doesn’t think any less of me. The worst that happened was momentary confusion.

  12. some1*

    Tips from my receptionist days:

    Say, “I’m sorry?” if you didn’t hear the other person. It sounds more polite and professional than, “What?”

    If the person called you and launches into a long diatribe of info you don’t need and don’t have time to listen to, it’s perfectly acceptable to wait for them to pause and ask, “Okay, can I have your account number?” or whatever preliminary info you need to help them.

    Absolutely seconding Alison’s advice to write out talking points and even entire scripts. I have always had a young-sounding voice and I also tend to ramble and/or say something stupid when I am speaking off the cuff (I call it going Tommyboy), so I often write out scripts for myself when I am leaving a voice mail or recording my vm greeting.

    1. OP*

      Good tips! Especially “I’m sorry?” because I have muttered “What’d you say?” every now and then.

  13. Scott M*

    Yes, having a script is key. I am horrible at thinking on my feet, so knowing what to say ahead of time (for common situations and requests) is important to me. Especially when asked a question that I don’t know how to answer (my standard reply is “I don’t know but I can find out and get back to you”).

    If you get flustered easily, have a pen and paper to jot down the name and pertinent information. I know that I totally forget who I am talking to if I don’t do that. So I keep a tablet and pen by the phone.

    Also, don’t forget to try and smile. It comes through in your voice.

  14. Paloma Pigeon*

    Echo to always having an objective for the call. And not the BIG objective (the major gift) but the small objective; the lunch date, the agreement to receive the proposal, the time to call back.

    Also blocking out on your calendar a block of time for calls makes you more disciplined about doing them. Having an office with a door you can close is also extremely helpful, but if this is not an option, finding a quiet place where you can’t be overheard is key. I love the phone, but knowing that co-workers hear me can be intimidating, because you sometimes goofy things come up in the context of a conversation (when you get that awesome person who is funny on the other line), and knowing they can hear you without understanding that context can be inhibiting. Good luck.

  15. Lola*

    I grew up without a phone in the house and in my first job I spent a lot of time on the phone. I hated it, of course.

    What made it better for me:
    1. Keep bullet point cheat sheets for common questions.
    2. Smile, take a deep breath, intentionally relax before answering.
    3. Slow down your speaking voice and take time to listen. Silences can seem so much longer in a phone conversation than face to face but they aren’t.
    4. Have confidence in what you know and don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. “I’m not sure about that, but I’ll call you back when I have an answer” isn’t a crime…… but CALL back, don’t email – because that’s a phone call which will build your confidence.

    It will get better!

  16. LBK*

    I always make sure I’m as well prepared for the call as I possible can be and have any systems I might need to look up info on the fly available. That helped me a lot with my phone anxiety when I was an outbound caller – I would make sure I had my customer record up in front of me, had reviewed all the notes, had the info for the person I was calling up and had my other 2 databases at the ready so I could quickly flip to them if needed.

    A lot of my anxiety came from worrying about having to answer things I wasn’t prepared for, so if you make sure you’re overly prepared, that will calm your nerves. And it has the added benefit of usually making you sound really, really smart and well-informed during the conversation, which people appreciate.

  17. LizNYC*

    I’m on a lot of client calls, but only recently had to actually start speaking/reporting to them (eek!). Talking points are SO key! I tend to trip over my words, because my brain is trying to go too fast for my mouth. So if I have talking points (talk about these numbers; this is the direction for next week; I followed up on X and this is my recommendation), then I don’t have to be thinking about “Ack, what am I going to say next!” Also, I’ve learned that having a moment or two of dead air is not the absolute worst thing in the world. If it gets to be longer than a beat or two, I let the caller know what I’m doing: “Looking up those numbers!” or “My computer can’t keep up!” People get it. And I promise that it does get easier. I used to DREAD this one weekly call, but now I prepare my talking points the night before, and I’m good to go. Even if I do still trip over my words on occasion (I’m embracing it).

  18. Suzanne*

    I can relate to this. The job I have now means I have to answer phones, make phone calls, etc, but I’d still rather email. What has helped me is to realize that most people I call are much more pleasant than I expect them to be and that I’m probably not the only bumbler they’ve talked to all day.
    I’m also somewhat introverted, and while I do well at small talk, it wears on me.

    Hope it gets easier, OP.

  19. Heather*

    I had a phone phobia for a long time (due to bullying I had in the 1980’s) and even though I don’t have it any more, I still don’t like the phone. Things that help me are taking a deep breath before answering. Just remember that no one is going to think ill of you and all you have to do is transfer information to/from them. Good luck!

  20. JamieG*

    I hate talking on the phone. It is basically the worst. Right now I’m reading AAM and watching tv in order to procrastinate calling to make a few doctor’s appointments! But a lot of my job involves phone calls, and I eventually did manage to get more comfortable (even though I still hate it, ugh). Mostly I got more comfortable by having to do it all day – taking calls is about 70% of the job, so I got plenty of practice – and just powering through. That said, I do have some helpful tips!

    Scripts! Scripts are great. A lot of my phone anxiety comes from not knowing what I’m going to say, and assuming that I’m going to panic and say something incredibly stupid. (This has happened before, so it’s not a baseless fear.) At work, I have dozens of scripts. I have my answering the phone script. My “I’m not sure if she’s here, let me check” script. My “I have four other calls ringing right now, give me a sec” script. I have scripts for people who are mad about something that isn’t my fault, and for people who keep hanging up on me when I put them on hold and calling back immediately, and for people who are trying to needlessly escalate their request four levels higher than it should ever actually go. There are so many different phone calls! It might sound ridiculous, but it was a big struggle at first to know what to say at the time. So over time I figured out a bunch of different scripts, and there’s a lot less anxiety now because I don’t have to figure it out from scratch; I just decide which script is the best one to use, and I implement it, and everyone is happy. In fact, when I’m training people I give them examples of what I usually say in X situation, and tell them that while they can of course say whatever they want, it’s usually going to be something similar. Scripts are good, and they make life easy!

    Smiling! And, similarly, a Customer Service Voice. I’m not sure exactly when I developed it, but I 100% have a customer service voice. It comes complete with a smile that’s a little over-the-top in any other situation, and in fact it gives me a headache if I’m holding it for too long. But it makes me sound nice over the phone, and it also helps me depersonalize a lot of the calls I get (particularly the angry ones). When someone calls to yell at me about something, they aren’t actually mad at me. They don’t even know me! They’re just having a bad day, or they’re a huge jerk, or something. Having a totally separate voice (and following scripts 95% of the time) helps me keep that separate in my mind; the person they’re yelling at is RetailBot_1, not JamieG. Plus, a lot of the time someone who’s having a bad day will calm down if I keep smiling and using my best phone voice, even when they’re making it really hard. (Someone who’s just a huge jerk will not, and sometimes after those calls I go take a break to calm down because all the depersonalization in the world doesn’t always help when someone’s screaming at me for fifteen minutes.)

    Time constraints! It’s really easy to put off calls when I’m not at work, because who’s going to stop me? Doing that just lets me build it up as a bigger, scarier thing which in turn makes me put it off for longer, which leads to me sitting here typing up a reply instead of calling a doctor (which, really guys, I will definitely do later hopefully). If you can get yourself to just make the darn call as soon as you know you need to, it’ll stop it from being a festering pile of avoidance forever sitting at the top of your to-do list and getting skipped over every time you look at it.

    Perspective! Nobody is judging you on your phone calls, probably, as long as you’re not swearing or lying or shouting during them. When I’m getting calls, there are very few things that really annoy me: obnoxiously loud phone voice (seriously, the point of phones is to transmit your voice over distances; you don’t need to yell loud enough for me to hear you from where you stand!), rambling with no opportunity to redirect the conversation (I can tell three seconds in that I’m not the person you need to be talking to, so please don’t make me wait until you’ve finished your life story to tell you that), ANGER (I do not get paid enough to get yelled at for something someone else did, really), and being put on hold (WHY are you calling me from the drive-thru? Wait ten seconds until you’re able to talk, and also if you put me on hold while I put you on hold, I will probably hang up before you come back). But even out of those annoyances, the only ones that I think about later are the ANGRY PEOPLE. Yellers make me wince and hold the phone far away, and maybe give me a headache if the calls take too long. Everybody else gets at most a minor eye roll and three seconds of “ugh”, and then I’m too busy to care or even remember that someone had less than stellar phone etiquette.

    1. Jennifer*

      I second wholeheartedly having a Fake Perky Phone Voice. It really works. It sounds terrible to people who know me because it’s INCREDIBLY fake, but it works. You need to remind yourself that you are not you, you are a Customer Service Robot. And the faker and perkier you are, the less likely you are to get yelled at because people eat up Perky Phone Voice with a spoon. It’s ridiculous but true.

      1. Shermie*

        +1 to the “happy voice”. The other person on the line can’t see your facial expression, so I amp up my energy a little bit so that it comes through my voice.

  21. SJP*

    I have always worked in companies where I am the receptionist/phone cover as a bolt on for my main job or being admin/PA..
    Once thing i’ve always found helpful as Alison suggested was write out a list of questions/points etc. So not necessarily for you here, well perhaps they might be, but I always answer the phone confidentially, then ask who it is and have a pen and note pad to write down people’s names (I will forget by the time I’ve followed up with the other questions), what company are they’re calling from, and what it is they need. That way I can write down all this info and either pass it on to who they’re calling for and it prompts me for other follow up stuff.
    It took me quite a while to get good on the phone and be confident without fluffing up questions, forgetting to ask things, or not writing it down and not remembering who it was. I too was nervous about my boss listening in and judging me for not being confident and fluid on the phone so I did these things to help myself

  22. Cassy*

    All this advice is amazing. I hated phone calls too and now I mildly dislike them, but recently, I’ve had a new challenge: phone calls while I’m pumping breastmilk. My pump is not obnoxiously loud, but it can be heard over the phone. I don’t deal over the phone a lot, but I have gotten several calls during pumping which I let go to voicemail due to the fear that they’ll ask what the noise is and then it will be awkward if I tell them. Do I not answer the phone and call back? Do I answer the phone and tell them what it is when they ask? Do I answer and lie about what the noise is (Oh, we’re just having some work done in the building here. Oh, that’s just some noise from our manufacturing plant.) I’m in manufacturing industry and 90% of the people I talk to are male – don’t know if that makes a difference.

    Really, I’d just like to announce to the world that I’m pumping and breastfeeding because I am super impressed by what my body is doing (growing a human!), but I know not everyone is going to be equally as impressed. haha!

    I have to pump in the office and the noise can be heard over the phone. Do I answer the phone and if so, what do I say if someone asks what the noise is?

    1. WorkingMom*

      Personally, I would just send the calls to voicemail and treat the time you are pumping as if you were “on another call.” Right or wrong, that is what I would do!

  23. louise*

    Kind of related: I’m a compulsive re-recorder of voicemails. When I leave a vm, I hit # at the end and either choose the option to delete and re-record if I know I want a 2nd take (or 3rd. 4th. Ok, I’ve re-recorded stuff for my cranky brother 10x because I kept getting it more and more succinct in hopes he’d actually listen!). Or, I’ll select the option to listen to it to see if I’m happy. If I’m not, then I re-record. If I am happy with it, I just hang up and it delivers it.

    Anyway, it may be crazy, but it helps me feel 100x more confident about the messages I leave.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      I LOVE voicemail. I have to do a lot of “broadcast” messages and people always compliment me on them. I keep it my little secret that I usually do 3 or 4 takes before I’m happy. “Blah blah blah (oh crap I got off topic somehow, start over!)”

  24. hayling*

    One thing I do if I’m picking up either an unwanted call or one from an unknown number is to answer with a super long greeting. “Thank you for calling Wakeen’s Teapots Limited, this is Jane, how may I help you?”

    For some reason it makes me feel more professional and in a power position. Weird?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      No, it’s good!

      My suggestion to OP is to nail down the intro and the close of each phone call. Say similar things when you start each call and say similar things when you close each call. Start there. That way you start out strong and you end strong. The middle will work out with time.

      I usually end up saying “Thank you” before I say good bye. I used to worry about that- did I say thank you too much? No, not on the phone. All they have is my voice, no facial expressions, no body language. Saying thank you several times is not a sin- it just makes for a more pleasant exchange.

  25. Nichole*

    The script has absolutely saved me in my phone moderate-but-necessary job. I haaaate talking on the phone anyway, and sometimes I have to have pretty unpleasant conversations. If a call is going to cover detailed information or if I’m making calls for the same purpose to multiple people, I always write a script for how to start the conversation. I still feel like a bumbling fool once the other person starts, you know, participating in the conversation, but at a minimum, the information I called to impart was stated clearly. My job also lends itself well to letting calls go to voicemail and calling back (I’m not easy to just “catch” at work, and many common questions in my field require some legwork before I can best answer them), so it helps a lot to feel prepared rather than having to respond on the fly to whatever madness is on the other end when I answer.

  26. Anna*

    I still don’t LOVE talking on the phone, but I’m more comfortable doing it. Part of that is from working in a position that requires me to make phone calls on a regular basis. I still do most work via email, but the phone now plays a larger role in my job. For me, I got more comfortable doing it by…doing it. Except my work cell. I hate answering my work cell because no good news comes from it.

  27. Ruthan*

    > I’d seriously consider telling your boss that you’d welcome feedback if she ever has any when she overhears your phone calls.

    Mind blown!!

  28. Chris K*

    I grew up well before e-mail, and the only phone was within earshot of my parents and siblings. That’s what made me hate using the telephone. I’ve gotten a lot better over the years, but I suspect you would do better if you weren’t being overheard. This is going to sound strange, but try picturing your boss listening, then freeze that picture and turn it to black and white, then slowly fade it out. It might work to lessen the anxiety.

  29. Hare*

    If I have to call people, usually for a doctors appointment or a takeaway order, I write down everything I need: my name, my phone number, my address, why I’m calling, etc. I have Aspergers, so I find it really hard to make spontaneous conversation. It’s so much easier having scripts.

  30. Your gut*

    Wait, no one has mentioned Toastmasters yet? Toastmasters. For public speaking of all kinds. Check out a few different meetings near you, find one you like. Just practicing and listening to others will really up your game, as the kids say, or the young adults say the kids say.

  31. NutellaNutterson*

    I have had way too many roles where the phone was my primary communication method. A few tips I’ve picked up:

    If you ever have to spell things out as part of your phone calls, print out the pilot conventions (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.) It will save having to think of something on the spot or making a potentially problematic word your example of choice. “W as in Wakeen” would probably not go over very well. ;-)

    Be brave and ask people to repeat things or slow down if you’re confused, and repeat things back to double check. Better to clarify now than get things wrong down the road.

    If you can help it, don’t type or print things out – I’m totally guilty of this, but I know it’s noisy on the other end!

    Get a headset you’re comfortable wearing. And then make a few test calls to make sure you’ve got it set up properly!

    And yes, smile!

      1. Kai*

        That’s hilarious! I admit I rarely use this trick because I freeze up and am always afraid I’m going to use a word that doesn’t begin with the letter I want at all. That, or say something like “V as in…voluptuous?”

    1. Jillociraptor*

      Word spelling is so nervewracking! I always think of the weirdest stuff in the moment, or can only think of a word that doesn’t clarify the letter at all like “N as in nettle.” We should learn this in school!

    2. Mints*

      A friend of mine does reception work in her job, and does the like the most adorable spelling words. “F as in friend” “C as in cookie.” Like if you were coming up with “How would a cartoon character spell this?” it’s her. Printing out the pilot list is a really good idea though!

      1. NutellaNutterson*

        Aw, now I really want to make a fun/sweet list!

        Adorable (of course)
        Holding hands
        Igloo (gets to stay from the original, because igloo!)
        … ooh, I’m stalled on N
        Under the Sea
        X (fox?)

    3. Felicia*

      I had those military conventions printed out in an old job and it was so helpful! though I can never remember most of them , they used them to name the Dolls in the tv show Dollhouse, which is how I remembered ones like Echo and November.

      Someone i was talking to over the phone at work today, when I asked her to spell out her name, she said “s as in sex ” :D

  32. Jennifer*

    It could be worse–you could be taking completely random phone calls blind, which is what I am forced to do. I found it easier to be the one asking things, because as others said, that does give you a script.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, blind phone calls where you have no idea what the topic is going to be!

      One thing I do for a client is a sort of management hotline — where managers can call up with any particular management challenge they’re facing and get some advice. Sort of like what I do here with AAM, but only for managers, and it’s live and over the phone, with no time to gather my thoughts. I have no idea as I’m picking up the phone what I’m going to be asked. When I first started doing it, I found it pretty damn nerve-wracking — I was always worried that the next call was going to be something that I’d have absolutely no idea how to handle or just flub because of the lack of time to reflect. What I eventually came to realize is that (a) I’m reasonably equipped to handle the calls, which is why I’m doing them in the first place (and something similar is probably true for others taking blind calls), and (b) when I have no idea, the solution is just to explain I have no idea (and then think about what I’d do in their shoes to try to find a good answer, and talk about that) — which also should work for other people taking blind calls.

      But yes, blind calls are their own breed of eeeeekkk, where you don’t even know what you’re going to be called upon to do.

      1. Mimmy*

        That’s how I felt about the job I’m always harping about here. Just about every call was different, and it was absolutely nerve wracking. I probably could’ve gotten more comfortable with it had I given myself the chance. I keep wanting to try a similar role again, but the saner side of me says “no!!”.

  33. The Maple Teacup*

    Oh, how I loath talking on the phone. And I feel self conscious that people will overhear me. Part of that discomfort is because 1) I just don’t want people to hear me talk on the phone and 2) I don’t want to disturb others. So I go off on my own to do these calls on a cell phone. Is that an option for you? I’ve also written out scripts to follow. Sometimes I deliberately call people when they’re away or during off hours to leave a message. Depends on the situation

    1. Kai*

      I hate it too, and I try to schedule my calls for when one particular coworker is out of the office for a while. He always stares at me–sometimes to intentionally throw me off, and sometimes just out of habit, I think.

  34. Not So NewReader*

    Boss overhearing: My solution to that is to pretend that the boss can hear every single conversation I have.
    This is not a waste of time. People do go back to the boss and repeat what I have said behind my back.
    At my current job, my boss is not even there half the time I am working. But people, being people-y, will find my boss and repeat this or that. Since I have already pretended that the boss overheard the conversation as it unfolded, I am good here.

    For me, the worst thing is not knowing the answer to a question. In this case, the number one thing to remember is to get the person’s name and phone. That is it. Tell them you don’t know, but you will find out and call them back.
    I like to do call backs- the work I do now it could take me two minutes to find the info I need or it could take me two days. If I can hang up, I can calmly go about looking for what I need.

    My boss thinks I am good on the phone. Actually, I don’t care for it that much. But she was clear when she hired me that part of my job was to keep her OFF the phone. I guard the phone.

    Some calls are more difficult than others. And sometimes I do write out the important parts of what I need to say. Which brings up another point, just because a person is calling you does not automatically mean you are the correct person for the situation. Talk to your boss and find out what types of questions/ situations she does not want you handling. And find out what you should do when these things come up. I worked with my boss for months and one day found out that in some specific situations, I needed to check in with her before proceeding. In other words, if a person had situation x I could handle it myself, but if a person had situation y then I needed to get my boss involved. Finding where my limits were was such a RELIEF!

  35. stillLAH*

    I don’t enjoy talking on the phone at work either AND I’m terrible at remembering people’s names. When someone calls me, I find it helps if I can write their name and general topic/request down so I can focus on what the call is about and remember their name at the end of the call. If I’m calling out to someone, I’ll make a few notes about the important points I need to hit.

  36. kozinskey*

    The best thing I ever did for my ability to talk on the phone was have a five-year long distance relationship. Since that’s a step no one takes voluntarily, I would argue that the next best thing for practicing phone manners is talking to family and friends who don’t live close as often as you can.

  37. loxthebox*

    I am so glad I’m not the only one!

    Incoming calls don’t bother me, but outgoing calls terrify me. Oddly, the thing that helped me was having to travel for a week with a coworker. In our company trucks we have bluetooth and she made a bunch of phone calls while we were on the road through and I got to just listen into her conversations. And now it’s not nearly so big of a deal for me.

    In retrospect, I think my main hangup was just introductions. I am horrible at small talk, and can’t read body language over the phone, so just listening to the intro script several times and seeing how it wasn’t that big of a deal has made things so much easier for me.

  38. Mimmy*

    I’ve pretty much always been squicky about using the phone, and this goes back to just before email really took off. I think part of it stems from a receptionist job at a doctor’s office that I just couldn’t handle. I lasted only 2 weeks and counselor suggested I avoid jobs with heavy phone work. I’ve tried again off-and-on over the years, but always end up getting myself tied up in knots. You’d think I’d learn my lesson after each setback, but nope!!!

    Even with personal business calls I’m nervous! A huge factor is that I’m afraid of saying something the wrong way as well as just getting confused as a conversation progresses. Even face-to-face conversations give me similar anxieties.

    I will say that writing a script, or even just the main points / key words can be helpful.

  39. olives*

    I unfortunately don’t have time to read the comments today, so please ignore if this is repeat advice!

    The best strategies I know for dealing with ANY fear, but especially with performance anxiety, are incredibly counterintuitive: Expect things to go wrong on the call. People actually aren’t perfect, and conversations won’t go perfectly! That doesn’t keep them from being successful, though.

    Things people commonly fear on phone calls are things like – what if I reach voicemail? What if it’s a bad connection, and I have to ask them to repeat themselves many times? What if I have trouble processing what they’re saying, or they have an accent I have trouble with?

    Take those fears and go into your next phone call expecting to hit any or all of them. It turns out that all of these circumstances are actually survivable, normal, and okay. If they’re truly a problem, you can always draw attention to them with the person you’re speaking with.

    1. Puffle*

      +1 This strategy really helps me with a bunch of stuff. I tend to construct elaborate worst case scenarios and fret over them. These days, instead of panicking I think to myself, “Okay, so what if it DOES happen? How would I deal with this?” Then I feel much calmer- and if the worst case scenario does happen, I have an idea of what to do.

      The other thing that helped is that on a few occasions the worst case scenario HAS happened, and I’ve managed to deal with it. It sounds weird, but knowing that everything has gone wrong and I’ve still been able to sort it out (or at least mitigate the damage) is reassuring, as a sort of, “You coped before and you can do it again” mindset.

  40. Sage*

    I have spent the majority of my working life in some sort of customer-facing job where speaking on the phone is a big part if what I do daily. I’ve done it for so long I don’t bat an eye when I pick up an incoming call or make one. It amazes me how many people avoid it. I get e-mail fatigue because so many people don’t bother to edit, or spell check, or clearly state what they need and why that I feel like I’d have as much luck consulting a crystal ball to try to figure out what the person wants as I do poring over an unclear e-mail multiple times with the accompanying frustration that this causes. And, the people in my new-ish department are so phone-averse that I thought it was some sort of company policy. Nope. They just “don’t like confrontation” which creates its own weird passive-agressive vibe that I have to deal with. Now, I just pick up the phone and call. You can almost hear the person – an employee of the same company – pooping a proverbial brick when he or she answers. The receiver gets fumbled or dropped on the desk, the voice is tense and anxiety-filled. I typically say “Hey Susie! How are you doing? Listen… I got your e-mail and I just want to make sure I understand completely what you need so i can get it to you quickly…” and then I go on to clarify the information or task needed, when it’s needed, and whether there is a follow-up task, or the need for ongoing support. I can hear them relax, and eventually by the end of the conversation there is a palpable sense of relief in the person’s voice. I typically end the call by thanking the person for their time, and reminding him or her that I can be reach by e-mail or telephone, and please don’t hesitate to call. It’s done great things for my work relationships with co-workers in other states. My philosophy of phone calls is to make the other person feel their issue or request is deserving of time and attention, I’m here to be of service, and happy to help. I think it fosters reciprocity and rapport. My co-workers are sometimes astonished that I do this. I just share with them what I learned a long time ago… they can’t reach through the phone and bite you on the butt. ;-)

  41. Sarah*

    Find a company that isn’t stuck in the 20th century. I work at a computer job and can’t stand people who call me with no warning or send an instant message saying “can I call you?” for something that’s not urgent and could easily be resolved by email. I had one coworker who, when receiving my very clear, carefully worded, and thorough email, would call and ask me to read it to him.

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