Afraid of talking on the phone? Here’s what you can do

Not every person is comfortable making phone calls. In the worst case, it can lead to problems on the job. But there are solutions.

Many people consider telephoning to be one of the most unpleasant activities in life. Some people even develop a downright fear of telephoning when a call is imminent.

Young people lack practice

Young people in particular seem to simply lack practice. Because to keep in touch with their friends, more than three quarters of young people use messengers or text messages, as a 2017 study by the IT industry association Bitkom shows. Face-to-face conversations came in second, while telephone calls were only the method of choice for a good third of those surveyed.

“Young people actually have more problems than they used to,” says Uschi Schöllhammer. She is a telephone trainer, and through her institute in Bamberg, she gives courses for employees in telephone switchboards, in customer service or for trainees. The qualified psychologist explains telephone shyness as follows: “The situation is difficult for many because it requires absolute mental presence.” With written exchanges, she says, it’s different. You can reread e-mails, text or chat messages, take your time with the answer. On the phone, you have to respond immediately.

What’s more, callers don’t see the person on the other end of the line. “That makes telephoning a bit unsettling,” says Schöllhammer. If the person on the other end doesn’t answer, you can’t tell whether they’re annoyed, inattentive, distracted – or simply haven’t understood. The good news is that telephoning can be trained. Even when there are deeper reasons behind the fear of calling.

Fear of making phone calls is like a panic attack

Christine Rummel-Kluge has to do again and again with humans, for whom telephone calls are a genuine problem. “Cold sweat, palpitations, dry mouth – symptoms like those of a panic attack,” says the doctor, who heads a special outpatient clinic for anxiety disorders at the University Hospital in Leipzig, describing her patients’ problems.

Such cases are not uncommon; they usually occur in the context of social phobias, says Rummel-Kluge. While terms such as telephone phobia or phoning phobia also crop up again and again, that’s not a disorder in its own right, she says.

Basically, the point is that direct communication costs sufferers a lot of overcoming. “One patient had to complain because her heater wasn’t working and was afraid of saying the wrong thing,” Rummel-Kluge says. Such people then preferred to write an e-mail or let acquaintances take over the call. But that only makes the situation worse in the long run.

This is what those affected can do

“The hurdle is only reduced if you practice,” says Christine Rummel-Kluge. Clinics offer training in social skills, for example. Critical situations can be played out in role plays. And friends, relatives or colleagues should also offer help rather than taking everything from the other person, advises the doctor.

This can happen through encouragement, by practicing difficult conversations, slipping into the role of the landlord or the angry customer, for example, and giving constructive feedback afterwards. However, many people are helped simply by being taken seriously.

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“What bosses sometimes do wrong: They sign employees up for telephone training without informing them in advance,” psychologist Schöllhammer tells us. In this way, they mainly achieve a sick note on the day in question.

If the excitement before a call rises, one can prepare well with paper and pen, explains Schöllhammer. Important messages should be written down in advance, as well as the name of the person you’re talking to, the topic or your own concerns. In difficult situations, pre-formulated answers are a lifeline, such as: “I’ll get to the bottom of it and call you back.”

Important: Mistakes are allowed to happen, not every phone call has to go perfectly, Schöllhammer reassures. “Better five bad ones than none at all.” Otherwise, the fear of a phone call will only increase. In addition, the psychologist advises smiling and concentrating on breathing. “That immediately puts you in a different mood.”