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Over the past couple of months I have been cutting my teeth in the business world and have been learning a lot. I have become a good member of my team and am working on software products that do go to market. The problem that I have is I have a huge phone phobia. This phobia has been around for awhile and I don't know why I have it. It happens if I need to order pizza or call someone to wish them a happy birthday but now it is more serious as it is affecting my job.

The most recent issue is we had to do a conference call with a customer to figure out what they needed from our product as it has a custom part to it that each customer can specify their needs. I have sat in on about 10 of these calls and was asked to lead this call instead of take the sideline. The moment my team lead mentioned I might be leading it I started to get that internal burning feeling and dizzy. I do have bi-polar and general anxiety disorder that I do take medication for but it doesn't seem to be helping with this one phobia.

Does anyone have any advice on how I could get used to this and get better at talking on the phone? I asked my team lead to take over the call instead of me and he did seem genuinely disappointed/confused. I know that if I want a decent career this will need to be addressed.

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    This sound very serious. You should consult some Psychiatrist/Psychologist (not sure which one) to get proper help handling your phobia. Im sure they will teach you some proper techniques to overcome your phobia. – Juan Carlos Oropeza Oct 28 '15 at 14:23
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    It would probably be wise to tell your team lead about your phobia so that s/he knows what is going on. Hopefully they'll help you work to overcome it. (And I recommend seeking professional help also.) – GreenMatt Oct 28 '15 at 14:35
  • Look for a behavioral psychologist to help with this phobia. They are the often the best professional choices to help with something of this nature. There are people who specialize in phobias. Also hypnotherapy might help. – HLGEM Oct 28 '15 at 14:38
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    I dislike making phone calls to the point of nervous discomfort (but never thought of it as a phobia). For a business call I usually write down the topics I want to cover (questions I need to ask, etc.), punch up the number on my phone, and then before hitting "dial" I silently count down about 60 seconds while trying to collect myself during this period. At the end of the 60 seconds, hit DIAL. Then the rest is just reacting to what happens (someone picks up, voice mail, etc.). – Brandin Oct 28 '15 at 15:10
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    I think your behavior is not so odd that you need to mention your mental illness to explain it. (Maybe you should anyway, I'm not sure.) Leading a conference call for the first time is no small step even for "normal" people. To have time to mentally prepare is not an unreasonable request in my opinion. – user42685 Oct 28 '15 at 21:23
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This needs professional help. However, you also need to address this at work while you get the help.

First, your boss needs to know you have a phobia if it is affecting your performance. He also needs to know that you are getting treatment for it and that he may need to make accommodations during that treatment. This may also involve HR depending on the accommodations your counselor thinks need to be made. Your psychiatric counselor may have steps for you to take that you will need to help with at work. You might want to set up practice calls for instance. Or you might be able to take the lead in a video or in person conference. Or, as you get better, maybe you could be take the lead but with the boss on the phone as backup to give you confidence things can be handled if you freeze.

  • Everyone seems to agree that some professional help is what is best. Thank you also for the tips on how to handle myself while in the process of getting help. – Resistance Oct 28 '15 at 14:46
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    @TStauff, Expanding on the answer from HLGEM, I'd suggest you look for a psychiatric counselor who practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). – Stephan Branczyk Oct 28 '15 at 21:21
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This is not medical advice: In the beginning of my career, the phone call was a big burden too. I'd wait for my colleague to be out of the office and always write down bullet points of the conversation. With time, this and many other things which have made me nervous faded. I still avoid answering machines, but don't give calls a second thought.

My advice is this, try to not focus on the symptoms of the fear but get on with it. There will be a lot of things over which you may be anxious about. Powering through is a valuable skill. Sometimes these things are a self fulfilling prophecy, with nasty positive feedback. The more you discuss having a phone phobia, the more you think about your fear, the more prominent it becomes. Think pleasant thoughts and remember that the world is burning up around us while you are preoccupied with minutia.

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I don't care much for the phone. I used to be in sales making hundreds of cold-calls a day. Three years ago I got rid of my cell phone because the only people calling me were people I didn't want to talk to, and my phone ringing with commercial calls is an unneeded stress in my life.

Nevertheless, I sometimes need to do calls. I think it's helpful to prepare the material I need to cover on the call, and not actually think about the call itself.

If you're having serious psychological stress, you should get medical help immediately. If this is merely a challenge you can overcome yourself, I'd recommend focusing on the preparation - study the material, create an agenda, get a list of attendees for a roll call if necessary - and not think about the call itself.

  • The idea of doing cold-calls makes me shudder. I couldn't imagine having to do that daily. – Resistance Oct 28 '15 at 14:46
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    Not everyone's cut out for it. I can make myself do it if necessary, but I'd rather do other things. – Aaron Hall Oct 28 '15 at 14:51
  • One thing you could do to prepare (on both sides) is to send a quick email introducing yourself, saying e.g. "I'll be leading the call tomorrow afternoon and wanted to set the agenda for what we want to accomplish" or something like that. – Brandin Oct 28 '15 at 15:04
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Practice, Practice, Practice!

Know the intent of each phone interaction you are to participate in

  • try to focus on the task at hand - not on your personal communication skills

  • state in one sentence the intent of the phone call you are making - with all the necessary details the receiver needs to understand the reason for your phone call.

  • write a script of what you want to say if you are making the phone call

  • practice your script before calling

  • visualize a patient, warm person on the other end of the phone conversation

  • smile while you speak, this helps your voice to sound friendly

  • focus on the participants needs - repeat back your paraphrase(understanding of the problem being discussed)

  • suggest possible solutions to the problem at hand

  • ask questions for clarification

  • if you don't know something, let participants know you need to research answers from your resources

  • Don't apologize for anything - just stay focused on the reason you are on the on the phone

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    Even when those are good advice to someone want to learn how handle phone meeting. OP has a phobia and the aproach is different en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone_phobia – Juan Carlos Oropeza Oct 28 '15 at 21:09
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    @JuanCarlosOropeza "Coping strategies may consist in planning the conversation ahead of time and rehearsing, writing or noting down what needs to be said." so it does seem valid advice fo Telephone phobia as well. – David Mulder Oct 29 '15 at 0:39
  • I can 100% vouch for the efficacy of this advice - I too have a severe telephone phobia to the point of serious anxiety attacks when making a call, however having a script or plan of exactly what I need to say makes all the difference. Get out of the mindset of it being a "telephone call" - its purely a business transaction - just have clear goals in your mind of what you need to achieve. – SeanR Oct 29 '15 at 9:08
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Try shutting your eyes while talking on the phone. Can also help to imagine that you're talking to the person on the other end, but you're both standing in a dark place like outside on a moonless night.

Can you do video calls to anyone? If so try and see if they're better or worse than audio-only calls.

If you're a kinesthetic person, try a phone headset like a single or dual earpiece one with a boom mike on the front. This frees up your hands for a fiddle toy like a tangle toy like http://www.tanglecreations.com/collections/tangle-therapy for about $6. I used to play with a sata cable, folding and concertina-ing till it broke.

Finally - perhaps its not the phone call, perhaps its public speaking or leading a meeting that is getting to you?

  • I don't mind downvotes - but please do add a comment saying what's wrong. – Criggie Oct 29 '15 at 6:31

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