Right now, it's very likely that there's a call you really need to make -- but you are completely dreading. If there were such a thing as an angst-o-meter, when it comes to making this call, your numbers would be off the chart. You know the kind of call I’m talking about:
- The difficult customer that is demanding something you cannot offer.
- The follow-up on the prospective sale that is presently on life support.
- The initial sales call to a long-shot prospect.
- To schedule your dentist appointment -- or your colonoscopy.
- To the IRS about that “issue.”
- To your dad.
Let’s start with the effects of not making important phone calls. Fair warning: they’re not pretty.
- Lack of productivity and results.
- Sapping of mental and physical energy.
- Energy spent with no reward, leading to burnout.
- Self-doubt, self-loathing.
- Lowering of your paradigm (“Top performers don’t have this problem!”).
- Your customer is forced to do your job for you!
Dread is life-sucking. It is also inaccurate. Anticipation (both positive and, in this case, negative) is almost always overblown in our minds. The pain of not making a dreaded call is far worse than the pain of actually doing it -- a simple fact of life that we teach children but sometimes forget ourselves. So why do we take ourselves on the miserable merry-go-round ride of dread and procrastination? Because that’s what humans do.
Understanding being human, and telephobia. You may think that “telephobia” is a word made up by consultants and sales trainers. It’s actually a term you will find in psychology books, listed under “cognitive errors” or “social anxieties.” Most commonly, telephobia is a frequent offshoot of a problem that psychologists refer to as “catastrophizing,” where humans give greater plausibility than is reasonable to the worst possible imagined outcomes.
Perhaps you don’t have full-blown telephobia, but the level of dread that is preventing you from making the calls you need to make is telephobia’s first cousin. Either way, it’s a drag.
It might be helpful to admit that from a logical perspective, catastrophizing really makes no sense. The worst-case scenarios you have imagined are very likely not going to happen, and if they do happen, they were going to happen anyway. Catastrophizing has zero effect on end results. All you do when you catastrophize is create negative energy that saps your mental and physical strength, making you less productive all around.
In short, there is absolutely zero benefit in not making the calls you don’t want to make.
Taking action. I’ll spare you the pithy Nike advice: “Just do it!” You’ve probably already thought of that one -- right before you didn’t make a call. Instead, I’ll offer a crash course in cognitive behavioral therapy.
1. Make a concrete plan. Open your calendar and set a specific time to make two phone calls in the next two days. The first call you schedule should be a gun-to-your-head call: the kind where you know for a fact that someone is waiting to hear from you and you’ve put off calling them due to your fear of either the experience or the outcome. For the second call, choose something that is more proactive. Think of someone who would benefit from a call but is not currently expecting it. A past client? A vendor? Your mother?
Once you have those two calls on your calendar, write an outline of what you will say when on the phone, including phrases you can read verbatim. Part of telephobia’s power over a person is the panic-inducing fear of not knowing what to say. So slay that beast before it arrives!
Plan out what you’re going to say before you have to say anything and practice saying it out loud repeatedly. Choose to not care how silly this seems. In the end, which is sillier: creating a way to get your call done well or living in overblown, debilitating fear of making phone calls? (Don’t forget to plan your goodbye phrase. Many people who hate making calls say that they never know how to end a phone conversation. Free yourself from that fear by deciding and practicing the ending in advance.)
2. Visualize success. Put yourself in the frame of mind you want to have at the conclusion of the calls. Decide right now how you will feel once you have made a dreaded call, even if the call is less than successful. Tell yourself this truth: You control your attitude. How you feel and think about these calls, both before and after the call is made, is your choice. Focus on your success in making the calls, not on the content or result of them. The most important result will be that you made the call!
3. Enjoy your success in advance. You made a plan (on your calendar) that you are going to keep. On top of that, you have already chosen your positive mental approach. Your telephobia is already half dead! You have a plan, you have a script, you have practiced (and you can practice again, right before you make the calls). So breathe easy and live your life. You are going to do what you need to do. Relax and enjoy your success -- prematurely.
Telephobia is a habit and a fear, and both habits and fears can be kicked. Choose to start dismantling your telephobia step by step -- make that call you don’t want to make -- and you’ll change the world.