No one who knows me, via the blog or in real life, is going to believe what I’m about to tell you. At least, no one who’s met me during the past few years, anyway. But the following is a 100% true story about phone phobia and how I cured myself of it (mostly).
As a small child, I was exceedingly shy. I refused to even order food at the counter of a fast food restaurant. I couldn’t tell you what exactly I was afraid of, but even with a parent at my side, I clammed up around most adults and strangers. My parents weren’t going to let that lie, though. Years of forced food-ordering and social interactions eventually cured me of my shyness.
Except, it seemed, when it came to talking to people on the telephone. By high school, it was obvious that my shyness’ last stronghold was on the telephone. I wouldn’t call my friends unless I knew their whole family really well, for fear that a strange family member would pick up the phone. I would only order pizza from one shop, because I knew nearly everyone who worked there – even though I had no trouble walking into a strange pizza place and ordering at the counter!
This actually became less of a problem in college, but that was simply due to technology. Cell phones and text messaging meant I could call someone and be reasonably sure that they would be the one to answer. Or I could just send a text message and not have to worry about it at all. Rounding up the group for dinner at the dining hall was just a matter of a flurry of Instant Messages and texts: “6pm. Giant sundial. Meet us there or eat alone!”
When I started reading personal finance blogs in 2006, I noticed something quite peculiar: there are a lot of people like me. People who would negotiate down their bank fees, if only they weren’t terrified of the telephone. We’d call up a discount brokerage firm and ask about investing options, but we hate the phone! So many of our financial problems could be cured with one phone call, but we won’t do it. We could get the ball rolling, if only we could find the courage to dial a number!
Check out this old post from I Will Teach You To Be Rich: Some comments from last week. The mere mention of making phone calls brought out a chorus of cries from people like us:
“I really don’t like using the telephone. really, really stressful.”
“For many people, for a variety of reasons, placing or receiving a phone call is one of the most stressful activities they may encounter in a typical day.”
“That telephone illness is really sad. I suffer it myself, and I find it difficult to order a pizza.”
“I have a phone phobia too!”
I’m not so weird, after all! But this “phone paralysis” is terribly destructive. I can point to specific examples in my past where it has cost me money, jobs, even GPA points. And those are just the quantifiable costs – there’s also the emotional and societal costs of not being able to connect with people through one of the most common communication mediums.
But like I said, I’m largely cured these days. And my transformation is anything but miraculous. Rather, it’s been a series of careful, deliberate steps:
- I grew up. I’ll say it before anyone else does and accuses me of ignoring it. A part of my cure has come simply from maturity. I know that’s not very helpful to the adult sufferers reading this, but if you’re a teenager, you can take comfort in the fact that it might get better with age.
- I took a job that forced me to make phone calls. I was a hostess at a restaurant, and I needed to call up strangers who had reservations to confirm. At first, I thought I was going to throw up because of it. But, I found a way to make it better, in my mind. I realized that I wasn’t calling on behalf of myself, but rather on behalf of the restaurant. There was something very soothing about the fact that it wasn’t really me calling, it was the restaurant. It wasn’t any skin off my back if the person on the other end got mad at me – they wouldn’t even know my name! There wasn’t much of a chance of someone getting mad at me while confirming their restaurant reservation, anyway.
- I made a lot of little calls that didn’t matter much. It’s tough to make an important phone call with phone phobia. Not only is the call important, but you know that you’re bad at phone calls, so you feel like your chances of failure are even higher. You really need to find a way to practice with less important phone calls, before something important comes along. My trick was calling to inquire about the hours a business was open. Find the number, call it, and just say “Hi! I was wondering how late you guys are open tonight?” After they tell you, thank them and hang up. Two lines, easy-peasy.
- I kept practicing. Even now, I still do. Whenever my roommates wanted to order pizza, even if I wasn’t going to chip in and eat any of it, I’d offer to make the phone call. Just to get the practice in. This was really helpful in a lot of ways. First of all, it was that “It’s not really me calling, I’m calling on behalf of someone else” thing again. Secondly, knowing my roommates were depending on me to call in the order forced me to actually do it, and do it right away – instead of sitting around debating and talking myself out of it.
- Before making an important phone call, I think about previous successful phone calls. It’s really easy to psych yourself out by thinking of failures, or of what “could happen” (in a negative way). I had to actively force myself to remember good phone calls that I made, and think of the positive outcome that I wanted to achieve from the call at hand.
I’m not perfect. I still procrastinate on some big phone calls, and I still manage to psych myself out know and then. But, I’m doing a lot better than I used to. My secret weapon when all else fails? I try to get the person to call me, rather than me calling them. Because I’m pretty good about answering my phone, at least!
Do you suffer from phone phobia?