Julie Tucker
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How to sound confident on the phone

If you feel uncomfortable or nervous when talking on the phone at work, you’re not alone. A massive 62% of UK office workers admitted they experienced anxiety when making, or answering, a phone call.

The poll of more than 500 office workers, carried out by Face for Business, shows the number of people with phone fear is increasing. While 40% of “baby boomers”, born between the end of the Second World War and the mid-1960s, experience phone anxiety, it’s worse among the younger generation.

According to the survey, 76% of millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, get stressed when on the phone in the office. A very real problem that can hamper your career; the fear of making or taking phone calls is known as “telephobia”.

Research by Mind Share Partners suggests it’s more common than people think. Studies show 62% of workers in the younger age group have quit a job due to stress and anxiety. It makes people feel tired, weak, empty, dejected, incapable and generally unsuccessful.

Resignation can be the result of long-term work stress that feels insurmountable. It can impact all generations of employees at every level in the workplace.


Why do people get telephobia?

Talking on the phone can be stressful because the conversation is limited to only the sound of our voice. We’re missing social cues such as body language, facial expressions, gestures and eye contact. We can start feeling self-conscious at the sound of our own voice and overthink our choice of words.

The reason why younger people suffer phone anxiety is that modern technology allows us to go for days, weeks, or even months without speaking to anyone on the phone. Older employees spent their youth in an era when the telephone was the main or only form of real-time contact, aside from face-to-face.

Today, emails, texts and instant messenger can take preference over phone calls. Some people prefer these means of contact because they can think about how to word their messages. They don’t have to think on their feet and respond instantly to a comment, as they do on the phone. Emails and texting can hide the fact a person is shy or lacking confidence.

Phone anxiety occurs when we become preoccupied with what the other person thinks of us. We become self-conscious, and because we can’t see their expression, we can only presume what they are thinking.

Psychologists say it’s down to a fear of disapproval, especially when it’s an important business call that defines our role in the workplace. We feel under pressure because we’re someone else’s sole focus, unlike face-to-face conversations when there are other distractions around us. During a phone call, we feel like the pressures on to answer questions straight away, avoiding long silences. In fact, even a brief silence can feel uncomfortable.

It’s easy to put off making a call or avoid picking up the phone when these feelings of anxiety and even dread take over. However, the more you do this, the worse the anxiety gets, developing into telephobia – a very disabling condition when it prevents you from progressing at work.


What are the main fears of telephobics?

People who are telephobic will often go out of their way to avoid answering phone calls in the office. This leads to problems with client relationships. As well as ignoring their own phone, 72% get anxious at the thought of answering a colleague’s phone if they’re away from their desk.

When they are the only person in the office, 61% will exhibit anxiety-induced behaviour if the phone rings. Their biggest fear is not knowing how to answer a query, with 33% of respondents citing this as the reason they won’t pick up.

A further 15% fear they will “freeze” on the phone, causing long silences, while 9% worry about what the caller will think of them and 5% dislike the sound of their own voice. Other fears included the possibility of a confrontation; being overheard when discussing a confidential matter; misunderstandings; and leaving no “paper trail” to check again afterwards.

Out of the 500-plus office workers interviewed by Face for Business, 13% said they would ignore the phone altogether if it rang when they were alone; 15% said they would answer depending on who was ringing if caller display was activated; 18% said they would delay answering in the hope it stopped ringing: and 8% would walk away from the area.

Many sales professionals are anxious about cold calling because they feel they are harassing potential customers. This relates to when telemarketing began to take off and the phone became a nuisance that interrupted personal time. People in sales who were surveyed said they worried about “annoying people”.


What are the signs of phone anxiety?

There are various emotional symptoms of phone anxiety including delaying making phone calls or avoiding making them altogether.

Telephobics can feel extremely nervous and anxious before, during and after a phone call. They will worry and obsess about what they will say. This can also cause physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, nausea, shortness of breath, muscular tension and dizziness.


How can you sound confident on the phone?

Psychologists suggest businesses should help employees to make a human and emotional connection with their prospects. They advise employees not to “hide behind technologies” like email, as they should use more personal contact methods to start building trust and better relationships.

According to government data, many employers are providing training for employees on aspects of their job, including how to make better telephone calls. Smaller businesses are lagging behind large ones, however. Only 46% of small businesses with up to four employees have provided the relevant training, compared with 92% of firms with more than 25 employees.

In order to boost your confidence on the phone, first, assess your current performance honestly. Ask yourself whether your phone manner is warm, friendly and approachable; whether you sound credible and competent; how confident you sound; and how effective your phone conversations are when it comes to meeting goals.

The next step is learning how to speak in a way that inspires confidence in others. Aim to keep your voice low and calm. When people feel anxious, their voice tends to go into a higher pitch. Make a conscious effort to keep it low, as we associate a high pitch with immaturity.

Before making a call, take a deep breath and then slowly exhale as you relax your shoulders, head and neck. Do this a couple of times and then say “hello” as you breathe out. When you’re more relaxed physically, it’s almost impossible to speak in the high-pitched voice.


Do first impressions count?

Research shows people decide how trustworthy you are within a few seconds of hearing your voice, so make the first impression count. Don’t rush to say hello as you pick up the phone. Remember your breathing technique and take a second.

The obvious thing to do, if speaking to a prospect, is to practice your sales pitch and keep your voice at the same volume throughout. People tend to drop to a lower volume when saying something they don’t really want to discuss. For example, you might sound confident when telling a prospect that you really want to work with them.

However, if you have to ask them for payment to do so, it’s usual for your voice to drop to a lower volume, which sound like you’re losing confidence. Similarly, don’t increase the volume if you feel excited and enthusiastic. Try to keep it level all the way through the conversation.

To feel more of a connection with the person on the other end of the phone, pull up their LinkedIn profile, or social media feed, as you chat. This reminds your brain the person on the end of the line is real and you can also reference things about them during the call.

While you need your voice to stay calm and steady, don’t take this to such an extreme that you become emotionless. You wish to convey emotions, but a good kind. Our tone of voice can send out positive or negative signals during a phone call.

This might sound strange when no one can see your face, but some professionals swear by smiling during the call. They believe the act of smiling automatically causes our voice to adopt a suitable upbeat tone.

This isn’t as odd as it sounds: research has shown people can recognise the speaker’s expression in their tone of voice. Try it out for yourself. If you smile while saying a phrase, it sounds totally different than when you say it with a frown. Even if you try to use the same intonation, this is still true.

We respond more positively to a speaker who’s smiling. A happy speaker is thought of as more confident and trustworthy. Smiling on the phone will make you feel better and will also inspire confidence.

Making a video call, rather than a telephone call, is easier for some people, as they find it less stressful when they can see the other person’s expression.

Another suggestion to establish a connection is to tell brief stories about a relevant topic, whether it’s your business, your past, or your own life. Telling a personal story brings emotion into your voice and makes the person you’re speaking to switch on mentally. This can spur them into sharing something with you too, so the call takes on a warmer level and becomes less intimidating.

Once you start to practice methods of overcoming telephone nerves, making and receiving calls will become easier naturally.


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