Market musings

8 Expert Tips on Overcoming Phone Anxiety

by Sasha Viasasha
November 30, 2017

People love their phones but they seem to hate phone calls. How do you resolve this paradox? New data on how people are using their phones, along with advice from communications experts, suggest that the phone call is being reborn as an essential business tool for the 21st century. 

Deloitte's 2017 global mobile consumer survey reported that 82 percent of Americans have smartphones, up from 77 percent just a year ago. Among millennials in the 18-24 age group, smartphone ownership is even higher, reaching 93 percent this year. This group checks their phones on average 86 times per day, up from 82 times a year ago.

One fact that may surprise you from the report is that:

"millennials are making more phone calls."

The number of phone calls jumped by 86 percent this year, reversing the declines of the past few years. One of the factors driving that return to the phone was the millennial preference for voice over IP (VoIP), especially among 25-34 year olds. 

Millennials and telephonophobia

Despite conflicting data on how popular phone calls are, telephonophobia, or phone anxiety, is an affliction commonly attributed to millennials. While this has been around since the dawn of the telephone, it is often identified as a behavior of millennials, perhaps due to the irony of a generation that loves their phones but not phone calls.

Training for overcoming phone anxiety

To help companies encourage workers to make more phone calls, University of Texas Professor of Communications Studies Keri Stephens advised training them on overcoming phone anxiety. She said that time stressors, telemarketing, and fear of conflict have made it harder for millennials to just pick up the phone.

Stephens recommends four steps in helping people make more calls and make those calls more productive.

  1. Whenever possible, take the time to discover the preferred communication channel of the person you are trying to reach. If a phone call makes sense as the best channel,  arrange a good time tocall time. You can send an email or message to provide the necessary context for a call.That way the caller can see the topic and urgency of the call to help them decide whether to pick it up or let it go.
  2. Recognize that calling someone with a valid business goal is not bothering them. This is really a question of self-assurance and efficiency. Customer success often can't be acomplished without a conversation, and companies who use the phone to onboard have better aquisition rates and retention rates. Harvard Business Review reported that 57 percent of customers have had to switch from the web to a phone call to resolve an issue and NewVoice found that 75 percent of consumers chose the phone as the "most effective way of getting a quick response."
  3. The quick back and forth communication of a phone call can resolve misunderstandings faster than asynchronous channels like email or text. Duke University found that engaging the problem-solving area of the brain counteracts anxiety.
  4. Start small and stay accountable. Make a list for yourself for tasks to accomplish before the end of the day and include a phone call. This uses the natural desire to meet your responsibilities to help you overcome your anxiety about making the call.

On being more persuasive

That last point on overcoming reluctance to making phone calls was echoed by sales training expert Grant Cardone. He recommends that people who are afraid to make phone calls need to think differently about what a phone call is. It is merely a tool that serves as a bridge to the resources you need, much like the internet itself. This goes beyond sales to include any time you need to persuade or convince the other party to see things from your point of view. Cardone’s rules for more persuasive calls include:

  1. Face your fear. Acknowledge it, don’t ignore it. Remind yourself that you are safe and that the fear will only fade with practice.
  2. Set your intention immediately. State who you are and what you want to accomplish. 
  3. Get right to the point. Announce your goal before you work on establishing rapport. Many people won't listen until they know why you are calling, so prove that you respect their time. The better you know the person you are calling, the more time you will have to match their conversational style and build the relationship.
  4. End with an agreement on next steps. Prepare a concise statement of what you want the listener to do at the end of the call, whether that is add you on the calendar, send you information, download an app, etc.

Cardone asserted that sales callers have less than 15 seconds to peak interest. This is not easy, but it is a skill that can be learned with practice. Everyone has the ability to apply speaking techniques that improve your ability to persuade. A good example is pitch modulation. A study at the University of Illinois concluded that leaders who lowered the pitch of their voices were more persuasive, no matter how high or low their voices were normally.

Don't expect to win every argument or convince every person you speak with, but you can greatly improve your success rate.

The value of active listening

In a wide range of business communications, the initial discovery period is a critical time. It sets the tone and the expectations for future interactions. During this period, listening is an underused resource. 

Ragan Communications cited research that while people tend to speak at 125-250 words per minute, listeners are able to think at closer to 1000-3000 words per minute. With those extra milliseconds, the listener tends to think about what they are going to say next instead of focusing on what the speaker is actually saying.

Active listening teaches you how to put your thoughts on hold and intensely concentrate on the messages (intentional and unintentional) of the listener. Less than 2 percent of the population have taken formal training on listening, though, making this a great source of competitive advantage.

Listening has another benefit, reported by Yale researchers. Michael Kraus, a psychologist at the Yale School of Management, wrote that, “There is a chance that people might mislead listeners with their nonverbal communication. Misleading people through vocal expressions is more unlikely because controlling vocals is much harder to do.”

Kraus concluded that closing your eyes and concentrating on the speaker’s voice is the most effective way of detecting how they feel about what they are saying. His team concluded that voice is the best channel for detecting the speaker's emotional state. He also pointed out that careful listening will become even more important as the business world becomes more global and diverse.

Simplifying communications

Spoke Phone is a virtual phone system designed to get employees talking on their own mobile phones. Spoke's intelligent assistant answers calls and routes to the right people no matter where they are. Spoke simplifies call transfers, enables team calling, and allows customer to reach you on a DDI with local numbers in 56 countries. 

More importantly, Spoke helps you grow your business by assisting employees with having more conversations, more easily, more often.

Live presence shows you when coworkers are available to talk, and call context combines the low pressure of texting with the problem resolution power of a phone call. We’re working on other cool features, too, including AI that can analyze emotive sentiment and help you provide a better customer experience.

Ready see how Spoke Phone can work for you. Contact us to get your own interactive demo, and see the next generation of mobile, virtual phone systems, designed for growing businesses that are going places.