Curing Telephobia: Part II.
To call up strangers and deal with people on the phone was a terrifying aspect of my full time office job.
I worked for a trading company in an atmosphere of secrecy, or should I say ‘customised realities’. The whole meat export industry is a political game, and I wasn’t one of the insiders in the office. The feeling that I was in a game which’s rules I didn’t grasp worsened my anxiety so that it felt overwhelming to pick up the phone or call a client or supplier.
The office was mostly quiet, apart from typing sounds and coughs. Everybody could hear every word I said and how I said it. I felt that my voice sounded depressed, unconfident, stumbling, rushing, weak, mechanical and unfriendly. Although I tried to conceal my sense of panic, it imbued my every word and the type of silence in between the words.
If others did talk in the same time as me, then I struggled to hear properly on the phone. There was no winning; the ideal was to camouflage the failures and pretend to have phone manners.
Ultimately, the phone calls I had to make cut my workday into ‘before’ and ‘after’ sections. Mainly ‘before’.
Not curing Telephobia
I would love to write about how I overcame this barrier while I was still in the job, but I didn’t. I became slightly better at pretending to have phone manners, but remained freaked out on the inside.
That was mild Telephobia. Read Nikki’s post Telephobia about her telephobic accounts receivable calls for a more severe example. Very severe Telepobia completely prevents phone calls.
Telephobic job hunts
My panic-approach to phone calls wasn’t ideal for trying to find another job, either. I learned about the importance of pro-active phone calls when I did career workshops back in uni and talked to a uni career counsellor, but I wasn’t able to apply the knowledge in real life.
Theoretically, two-way interaction with a potential employer is the best way to escalate one’s job application in the pile, and it usually involves the phone.
I knew that I should call and ask questions to get information that could help me adapt my resume and cover letter to the company’s needs. I should try to make a good impression; establish a positive communication line. I should at least call and get the name of the person who was to assess my job application. To begin a cover letter with ‘Dear Sir/Madam…’ is akin to saying ‘I am either lazy or afraid of telephones’.
However, I also knew I would panic when someone in a company picked up the phone, and I had to explain who I was and why I called. So I thought it was a bad idea to showcase my poor phone skills before they even read the cover letter. I feared I would get ‘blacklisted’ due to poor communication skills if I did, and I suspect that actually did happen on at least one occasion. So I didn’t call, and didn’t learn to call.
Phone screening horror
Phone screening interviews were death sentences for my job applications although I theoretically knew what to do. It is easy to find tips online about how to handle telephone screening interviews well, for example Mission Australia’s handy list of telephone interview tips.
I employed the following strategies to survive telephone screening interviews:
- I said ‘this is not a good time for an interview, is there another time that can suit you?’ to give myself time to prepare for the interview and recover from the shock
- I had a ‘cheat sheet’ with prepared typical interview questions
- I was well prepared with note book, notes, pen and paper, and research I had found about the company
- I scheduled the phone talk for a quiet place and wore a head set
- I made space to stand up when talking. Standing enabled me to move more freely and thereby I could better let off some of the physical tension. Standing also frees the voice and enables better breathing (just like when singing)
- I read step-by-step guides for job/phone interviews and tried to follow them
None of the strategies worked, because I was too nervous to carry them out properly. In some interviews I was so nervous that my mind went blank, and I couldn’t make up credible sentences, but just rambled off something I’d heard (which didn’t necessarily suit the context). In the best screenings I was able to reply to questions I had rehearsed, but as soon as the interviewer elaborated and forced my answers onto side tracks to test their credibility, I was lost.
Unsurprising, I’ve never got through to an interview for any position that used phone screening interviews to filter the candidates.
To run a business in panic
My poor ‘luck’ finding a new job kept me in my dreadful office job for several years until I eventually escaped it through a plan to start a business with my former uni mate.
Unfortunately I didn’t escape my fear of phones. Hopefully this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone; but decent phone manners are crucial when you work for yourself, too. Phone calls are supposed to be good news for a small, newly started business. A phone call indicates that someone takes the business serious and it represents potential business opportunities. I knew all that, but I still saw the phone calls as sources of potential disastrous embarrassment and frustration.
Tip: if you don’t want strangers to call you, then don’t put your phone number on your company website under ‘contact’, and on your business card, in you email signature, in public business directories and in email campaigns. Like this one:
We would love to meet with you and discuss how we can help you to market your service. Please visit our website or give us a call at XXXXXXXX*. We look forward to help your business to grow!
*Translation: ‘DON’T CALL! Use email!’
Email marketing campaigns aren’t effective – especially not small scale plain ones, and I received just one call in direct response to the campaign emails. The call went awful with a rude and blunt potential client demanding that I explained in one sentence what my business could do for HIM, right now. When I got nervous and started to stutter and get messy with the words, he hung up on me. My phone performance was worse than the worst of the telephone screening interviews I’d done and horribly discouraging.
In my final post on this topic I will outline anti-telephobia strategies and show how an International freelance job helped to consolidate victory over Telephobia.