There was no more putting it off.
I’d already reorganized my filing system, vacuumed the rug in my office, updated Facebook five times and shredded a stack of old papers and checks from 10 years ago.
It was going to be easy. Really. They’d said “Yes, please contact me!”
And yet, I still kept saying, “Oh, I’ll start after lunch,” and “Just one more e-mail…”
What was it?! Why in the world would I be afraid to pick up the phone and call people who had basically given me permission to call them!?!?
When I shared this with a colleague, she sighed heavily and said, “Yes! I know exactly what you mean! What is that about!?” And I shared it with my husband Andy when he got home, and he said the same thing. So with at least three of us whose livelihood in part depends on being able to pick up the phone, I’m venturing a guess that we’re not alone.
Please tell me we’re not alone!
When I asked Andy, “yeah, what IS that about?” he answered from personal experience: It’s “call reluctance.” It’s an aversion to calling someone, a knot-in-the-gut fear that happens when you are about to pick up the phone, or even think about picking up the phone.
As an introvert, my first and preferred communication strategy is e-mail. I hit “send” and cross my fingers that the person will reply in a timely fashion. I think, “please don’t make me call you!”
I’ve had call reluctance most of my life. In professional settings, I used to not be able to make phone calls if anyone was within earshot. I’d script out what I was going to say. It didn’t matter if I was making a fundraising call, following up with a prospective client, or simply saying “thank you” to someone and not asking for anything at all.
I flat-out dreaded the phone.
The irony now is not only am I an entrepreneur, but I’m a coach! My primary method of service delivery is on the dreaded phone! So I’ve learned over time to make friends with the phone. I use Skype and a headset for almost everything, which makes it a more comfortable experience. It enables me to connect more easily with people from around the world, and even saves me an hour on I-5 if I can have virtual coffee with someone.
Let’s put it this way: If I didn’t learn to love – or at least tolerate – the phone, I wouldn’t have a business. Period.
But back to my husband… Andy’s personal experience with call reluctance comes from almost 25 years of having an intimate relationship with the phone, first as a telemarketer selling symphony subscriptions, then as a PR director, and now as an executive director (translation: chief fundraiser) for a nonprofit organization. Since he’s my resident expert on the subject, I asked him for some tips on how to move through call reluctance. Here’s what he shared, mixed in with a few of my own thoughts:
- Make friends with the phone. Understand and accept that call reluctance, if you have it, is not going to completely go away. It’s an energy that can be used for good or evil; channel that energy into power and belief in your message, your offerings and your vision.
- Remember that it’s not about you and your discomfort; making the call is about your business, what’s most important to you, your services. Clarify your value proposition and your intention, make the invitation or offer from your heart, and trust that whatever the response is, you can handle it!
- Approach your task with curiosity. When you get people on the phone and they’re willing to chat, you often will hear and discover things that you wouldn’t have through e-mail or even in person. Be open to a conversation that goes beyond your stated purpose.
- Get out of your chair. Stand up when you call. Pace around to expend some of that nervous energy. Smile – people can hear a smile when you speak, and it relaxes your voice.
- Get dressed for the occasion. If there’s any home-based entrepreneur who says s/he doesn’t do this, you lie: On days when you have no appointments outside the office, you may or may not shower. You may or may not change out of your jammies. You may or may not even brush your teeth in the morning (egads!). To me, it’s one of the perks of entrepreneurship… there are days when getting dressed for work involves putting on my sweats and a pair of clean socks. And I’ve noticed that when I make the effort (it does feel like effort sometimes!) to clean up, put on real clothes and take care with my appearance, I am more confident on the phone! I feel more professional and “together,” even if no one can see me. Imagine that! 🙂
- Carve out a time to make the calls. Put it on the calendar, set a timer, and commit yourself to personally reaching out to people. Do nothing else during that time. No Facebook, no Twitter, no e-mail. If it helps, set aside a specific day and time each week for your calls. If you don’t have prospect calls, make thank you calls. Pick a time of day when you have the most positive energy. For me, that’s the morning, before I have time to psych myself out!
- Partner with a call-reluctant friend to hold each other accountable. Set a time for your kick-off call. Each person takes a few minutes to share what calls are important to make. Get your fears out of your system, and share your intention, purpose and desired outcome. Give each other encouragement and support. Agree when you’re going to reconnect (maybe 20 or 30 minutes later), then hang up the phone and make the calls! Celebrate with one another when you’re done, and acknowledge your mutual success (because no matter what the outcome, making the call makes you successful!).
- Practice the call before you make it. In other words, visualize success. Take a walk or spend a few minutes in meditation, visualizing and feeling what you want to happen. Imagine the entire scenario, from looking up the person’s number, dialing, greeting him when he answers and what you’ll say first, all the way to hanging up feeling gratitude for having accomplished your task. Breathe through it and assume a positive outcome.
- And speaking of gratitude, take a moment to say a word of gratitude for the person you’re about to call. Set an intention that your purpose – and your responsibility as an entrepreneur! – is to invite that person into something that will make his or her life easier, more successful and more joyful. Allow yourself to feel appreciation for the opportunity to do what you love and share it with others. You have a gift to share! Share it with pride and with a spirit of abundance.
- Lastly, I want to share an excerpt from a blog post I wrote last November that completely applies to this topic:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
If I don’t pick up the phone, then 100% of those people won’t learn about how I can help them. They won’t have the opportunity to say “tell me more.” Instead, I’m saying “no” preemptively, on their behalf.
And why the heck would I want to do that!?!?
When I get too much in my head, or when I start making excuses and deciding it’s more important to go match up all my socks, I’ll remember: it’s really quite easy. All I have to do is show up authentically, believe in and share my value, make an offer and see what happens. I’m open to outcome, not attached.
Unless you have Telephonophobia (“the persistent, abnormal, and unwarranted fear of telephones”), you can do this! Give yourself credit each time you make a phone call. Reward yourself! Practice. Take it one call at a time. Be compassionate with yourself.
In time, you might actually begin to enjoy the process of making those calls. You’ll see them as an effective, personal way to get your message out and forge relationships, rather than a “to-do” that keeps getting pushed back another day, and another day, and another day.
For me, it’s a work in progress. I may never be completely in love with the phone, but I’m committed to shifting my relationship to it in service to my vision and those I want to serve.
What say you? Do you have call reluctance? What’s helped you make friends with the phone?
Patty K says
Yup. I used to have call reluctance big time. I wouldn't even answer the damned phone, never mind pick it up and *bother* someone. My relationship with the phone has shifted over time – beginning with the realization that there was no way I could "bother someone" without their permission. If my call was coming at a bad time, it was their responsibility to let it go to voice mail or tell me to call back later. Mainly (like everything else) it comes down to practice.
I learned a new trick last month that removed every last remaining shred of my call reluctance. I called over 40 strangers and it was easy peasy. Why? Because we had an *appointment* arranged ahead of time. Made all the difference in the world. Not only were they expecting me to call – they knew exactly *when* I would call. I'm going to use this technique all the time now. Initial contact by email followed by an appointment for the follow up call.
(btw – I thought your post title sounded familiar. http://www.pattyk.com – wonder how many other introverts have used that one!)
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Chuck Dennis says
Wow, I thought I was the only person who felt like this! I don't even call friends or family that much, and as for business, I much prefer the "less intrusive" email. But as I have been told many times, emails are easily ignored or forgotten. Thanks for posting!
Oh yeah, I've got it. I really don't like the phone and always prefer the email route if possible. Once I am on the phone however and get into the conversation things are just fine. It is the anticipation of things that could go wrong that gets me. Heaven forbid they should ask me to call back and I have to go through it all again.
But really, lots of good tips here to implement. Now I know I'm not the only one.
Catherine Burns says
Me too!! I've never heard anyone else talk about this so I'm glad to know I'm not alone. In order to feel more comfortable calling someone without an appt or who I don't know, I try to remember that generally I'm happy to talk when someone calls me. Putting the shoe on the other foot seems to help.
My recent post The 4 Tools to Make Powerful Decisions
It is crazy that as someone who has always loved talking on the phone and loves to help people I have suffered with this dreaded syndrome in my business. I think one of the most important things that you reminded us is that you can't help people if they don't know about you or how you help people. When business clients have a fear around sales, I help them understand that if you don't educate people about your service, than you are really doing them a disservice if they need your help.
Jennifer Starr says
Great article, Beth.
It spoke to me and I am not an introvert! I know it goes much deeper than that for me. In fact, if I look back over my entire coaching career (and my sales and team building career before that), I've experienced phone avoidance for everything except actual client sessions and answering incoming calls. I love connecting with people and I'm always appreciative when someone calls me, so I remember that when I think of someone and have a temptation to put that call off to later.
I can't quite say how it's affected my business, which has historically been pretty steady. I can only wonder how my business would be positively impacted by following the above advise. I'm inspired to try on some of these suggestions (minus the dress for success thing, as I too love this perk :). Thank you for this!
Jamie Northrup says
I worked in telephone customer service on the phone for over 10 years, and until about a year ago, I also used to dread using the phone, so much so that even when friends called I wouldn't answer and text them back asking what they wanted, I think it has to do with me relating the phone to upset customers, or even long wastes of time when an email can be easier to comprehend, but something happened about a year ago, I'm not sure if it's just because I got older, or because I've been dealing with some of the worst customers for a few months, but I no longer dreaded the phone.
I try and make all my call backs in the car between customers because it's easier and passes the time while in traffic, with a hands free system of course.
My recent post October’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog
Haha! I feel so much better knowing I'm not entirely abnormal in this. I am hugely reluctant to use the phone at times, especially when it's for sales. I think it stems from a horrible stint as a telemarketer when I was young and desperate. I was such a massive failure at it that I think maybe I'm afraid I'll still be terrible at it. It even pervades casual phone usage. If I can order pizza online, I will! It's strange to me because I'm actually a pretty outgoing person face to face, but the phone, egads!
Patty, I like your strategy of emailing ahead and scheduling the call. Do you rely on them to respond, or do you just say "I'll call at X'o'clock" and make the call whether they respond or not? I think I'll give this method a try. Now to just rid myself of this cursed "email reluctance"… kidding of course 🙂
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I think part of the reluctance is that there’s no script. With email, I can think. With the phone, they ask a question, I (Don’t Have Time to Think!) answer (and then, later, realize that I said the wrong thing). That doesn’t matter if it’s a call with my mother. It matters if it’s a call with a recruiter.
ANother issue is timing, of course. The hone is _now_. It needs to be scheduled. I need to be there. I can’t walk to the kitchen halfway through and get a glass of iced tea. I can’t wait 10 minutes. (and we come back around to “I have no time to formulate my responses”.)
I also Really Hate using the phone for things that simply don”t require using the phone. Telephone interview? Sure. I can work with that. (You call me; I’ll answer). But when the recruiter wants to call me and all he wants to know is:
* what rate are you asking?
* when are you available for interviews?
* are you currently in a contract?
* have you applied to this company before?
then, honestly, you didn’t need to use the telephone.
I got the Best Email the other day from an internal recruiter at a company. He said:
“I do have some questions and we can probably get through this quicker on the phone
but since you are a technical writer…”
and then there were the 5 questions, in the email. He Understood Me!
The appointment is key.
I am no longer interrupted by phone calls because I _always_ control the call. If I’m not expecting the call, unless it’s a family member, it goes to Voicemail. If you want to call me, I ask that you make an appointment by email. My voicemail message includes this instruction.
Tell me when to expect the call, schedule a time that isn’t inconvenient, and I will answer. I will be prepared. I will be in control of the call.
Initial contact by email followed by an appointment for the follow up call. It’s the 21st century. We no longer need to say “Is this a good time?” Communication no longer needs to come by surprise.
Keila Jedrik says
This doesn’t seem very useful to me. I do understand I need to learn to use the phone, but I feel like this is more encouragement than specific coping techniques & procedures.
VickiB in the comments has some terrific real suggestions. Thank you VickiB!
I am an introvert. And I do not really enjoy talking on the phone especially to someone I do not know. But, if I had a job that involves talking on the phone often, I would do it.
It is possible that someone who is scared or hates talking on the phone can end up loving it. The causes are finding new friends, getting a job, etc.