Years of crafting well thought-out and witty emails have made us weak, and as a result, Millennials hate making phone calls. I hate the sound dial tones make; it's droning, ugly and always too loud for some reason. They also serve as a reminder that you're probably stalling from making the actual call in the first place. Sure, your boss wants you to give Patti in marketing a ring, but as you pick up the phone, your brain begins to race:
Wait, what if she asks me a question I don't have the answer to? What if I try to explain things using my hands and nothing makes any sense without my excellent hand gestures? What if the connection dies mid-sentence and my incomplete thought makes me sound like I hate HR? Oh no, what if I have to leave a voicemail?
These are all completely normal, yet irrational thoughts that go through our minds as we prepare to call someone at work. At this point, you decide to send about 13 emails, blunder through multiple misunderstandings and waste three extra days to confirm the minuscule changes Patti wanted for that diagram on page four.
As we increasingly move our conversations to email and text messaging, we've begun to lose confidence in our ability to communicate using only our voice in real time. Through the magic of Google, I discovered that “telephone apprehension” is definitely a thing, and has real implications in the business world.
In an increasingly decentralized working environment, not every important conversation can happen face-to-face, and sometimes critical decisions need the speed and efficiency of a phone call. You can't emoji your way out of this one, kid.
I've listed out two completely unscientific reasons that may explain why we get sweaty when we hear a dial tone, and three ways to get in touch with your inner phone call zen.
Why is it scary? Here are some ways to survive phone calls in the business world. That is, until we discover how to send taco emojis via telepathy:
1. There's no backup.
Much of our fear of making phone calls stems from being misunderstood or accidentally offending someone. In face-to-face communication, we have other cues to fall back on, should our exact message and voice fail us.
Did you make a witty sarcastic remark, but whiff on the delivery? Add a sly smirk while rolling your eyes, and people will know you're just bad at sarcasm, not a jerk. But when you speak on the phone, you are limited to two main channels of communication: your message itself and your vocal delivery.
Let's say you're highly talented at delivering bad news in person, because you have a comforting smile and a magical aura that puts people at ease. Unfortunately, that magic smile of yours is going to do absolutely nothing for you when you have to explain why your project is going to miss the deadline on the phone.
2. Asynchronous communication spoils us.
Written communication may also have limited sensory channels to deliver content, but we are also given the luxury of time to soften this. How many hours have you agonized over crafting the perfect email to your boss? The perfect text to a high school crush? The specifics of your pizza order?
Text-based communication affords us the chance to really edit down our message to its core before hitting send. In the moment of a conversation, we don't have that time and whatever message you have is going to come out a little imperfect. Suddenly, the pressure is on; we have to be witty, smart and charming on a time limit.
So, how do I get over it?
3. It's hard to improv.
Try taking an improv class. As a socially awkward high school kid, I somehow ended up in speech competitions and my event was an improvised duet performance. This was equally terrifying and helpful.
Our challenge involved drawing two characters, a scenario and location out of a hat. Then we were tasked with creating a riveting tale that reveals the human condition with just three minutes of prep time. Trust me, if you're comfortable acting out a scene of a televangelist buying a zoo from a nudist in a meatpacking plant, you can probably handle a phone discussion on who should write a report.
Being forced to communicate crazy situations without props is actually pretty analogous to working with the uncertainty and structural limitations of a phone call. This can prepare you to handle curveballs in stride.
4. Make peace with imperfection.
Get used to the idea that not everything you say will belong in the literary hall of fame. A phone call, like a face-to-face conversation, is an organic dance where both sides are constantly adjusting to the others' moves and trying not to look too stupid.
If you send an email that explains your point incorrectly or is missing a sentence, you have to send the “follow-up-email- of-shame,” where you make said adjustment in a sad, single-lined message. This only broadcasts to the recipient your failure to construct a perfect message.
In a phone call, you can clarify and add to your message on the fly. Use this to your advantage, and don't stress over making each sentence perfect the first time around.
5. Call your friends instead of texting them.
You may protest that speaking to your friends isn't what makes you nervous. That's good because they'll be a good testing ground for the real reason why you're calling them: to practice phone communication.
Keep in mind that you have fewer tools at your disposal, so experiment with different talking speeds, volumes and other styles until your friends can get your point the first time around.
They may make fun of you now, but they won't be laughing when you rock your phone calls so hard that it somehow leads to your promotion.
Reach out and call someone.