It’s time to answer another question from a dashingly attractive reader!
This week’s Good Advice conundrum is as tough as it is common: what do you do when you want to handle a conflict but you hate talking to people on the phone?
I’ve read through all of your posts on handling conflicts with clients and I’m proud to say I’ve been able to use a lot of your advice to good ends. Thanks!
But I’m stuck. I get why talking to someone is a good idea and better than email. But I hate the phone. Hate, hate, hate the phone.
Talking on the phone to someone I don’t know very well makes me anxious and I end up spending most of the time I’m on the phone freaking out. Which means I’m not listening to what they’re saying and I literally can’t make intelligent points about how our shared interests can solve our current problem.
Other than breathing and giving myself notes and telling myself I’m awesome, what do I do? How can I get over my anxiety and use the phone to help me when I have an important negotiation?
You, friend, are not alone. I know a lot of people who feel the same way that you do about using the phone.
And I understand, because I used to hate the phone, too.
When I started working I would do just about anything to avoid having to make phone calls to opposing counsel. Luckily, as an attorney, I was able to hide my hatred of the phone fairly well because attorneys love sending letters.
So I would send letters about everything. And I told myself that this was great because I was creating a paper trail. And paper trails are Important! Smart people make paper trails!
But really I was avoiding using the phone and I struggled with some conflicts that likely would have been easier if I’d just used the phone.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You can’t get better at doing something unless you’re doing it.
You also can’t get comfortable doing something if you only put yourself in highly uncomfortable situations.
So start practicing, but don’t start big.
Practice with phone calls where you’re giving information, rather than asking for it. People usually feel more confident when they have something someone else wants than when they need something from someone else. So call when you’re already confident.
Practice with short phone calls. The first day I started training for the marathon I ran one whole mile. It was challenging but not so horrible that I avoided going out the next morning. And it was easier lacing up my shoes knowing that I’d be home again in less than 20 minutes. Pick practice calls that are short so you can easily see the end before you begin.
Practice when stakes are low. If something is really important to you and you’re already nervous about it, you aren’t going to be able to practice your cool as a cucumber routine if you pick up the phone. Call when you don’t care. Or when your care and worry about the topic of conversation is well below your anxiety over using the phone.
Give Yourself an Out
The great thing about the phone is no one can see you. So if things get to be too much for you, you can make up an excuse and end the call.
They won’t be able to see if there isn’t anyone at the door or if your 3 o’clock didn’t really show up. If the stakes are too high and your anxiety is spiking, politely excuse yourself and make a plan to call back at another time.
Then immediately be nice to yourself.
No beating yourself for getting anxious; reward yourself for doing the call in the first place. Make yourself a cup of tea or take a five minute break.
You just did something you really don’t like doing and no one died and your career is just fine. Go Team You!
It’s great to say you want to change something and then promise yourself you’ll start as soon as you get the opportunity. But opportunities have this strange way of not being “quite right” or not coming at exactly the right time.
If you really want to feel better about using the phone, you need to be intentional about using it.
Make a deal with yourself about how many times a week you’ll practice making phone calls and in what kinds of situations you’ll pick up the phone instead of shooting off an email. Keep track of how you’re doing over the next month. Work toward your goal and reward yourself every time you use the phone.
At the end of the month you might not be in love with the phone, but you’ll be a heck of a lot more comfortable with it.
So many conflicts can be handled or tempered with a quick phone call. As tough as it is to get over an anxiety about using the phone, it’s well worth it. Good luck!
Are you a dashingly attractive reader with a negotiation conundrum you’d like answered? Ask me! You’ll remain anonymous and help your fellow freelancers!
Featured image by hellojenuine. via flickr.com.