Are you afraid of the phone?

By Mary Jane Copps, President, Media Link Inc., Halifax, Nova Scotia

Every company already possesses its most important, and least expensive, marketing tool. In fact, almost every company has already provided each employee with access to this tool. It sits right on their desk. In addition, it should be used for marketing purposes every day. But it's not -- because most people are afraid of it -- Phonephobia. It is an epidemic that most employers refuse to admit exists. The admission may be absent because they suffer from it themselves, or because it is so prevalent among their staff, phone fear is viewed as acceptable behaviour.

The recognition of phonephobia is now vital to the success and financial health of all organizations. The phone is only going to grow in importance in the coming decades. As the technology for video conferencing becomes more accessible, and the ability to view information -- and people -- on the Internet becomes more advanced, the need to communicate effectively by phone will be an even more vital skill. Is phonephobia affecting the health of your organization? Answer the following questions, on behalf of yourself and/or your staff:

1. When having business conversations on the phone, are you usually doing something else as well (i.e. signing letters, clearing your desk, doodling)?
2. At the end of a business day, are the tasks that involve the phone usually the ones still undone on your to-do list?
3. Do you participate in telephone tag? That is, when trying to reach someone, do you place a call only after they have tried to reach you?
4. When you pick up the phone to place a call, do you visualize the interruption you are causing at the other end?
5. Do you limit the number of messages you leave for someone to two or three, and then decide they must not want to speak with you?
6. Do you find yourself planning each aspect of a phone conversation in advance, either on paper or in your mind?
7. Do you prefer to place calls rather than receive them?
8. Do you sometimes ask for messages to be taken on incoming calls even though you are available?
9. Do you find yourself procrastinating on placing calls? Perhaps you encourage social chatter with other employees, or spend unnecessary moments clearing your desk?
10. Do you get others to place calls for you?
11. Do monthly statistics show your phone activity to be less than everyone else's?

Can you answer yes to these questions for yourself, or on behalf of a co-worker or employee? If so, phonephobia is eroding your organization's image and growth.

To eliminate or minimize fear of the phone, it is necessary to understand why it exists. Like all fears, it is a matter of images. The individual who hesitates to use the phone does so because they see negative consequences before they begin to dial. These images eventually make using the phone a painful and debilitating experience. It is no wonder they procrastinate on using the phone!

Those who fear the phone always visualize their call as an interruption. They worry about being asked a question they cannot answer. They are concerned about using the wrong words during a conversation. They have images of difficult receptionists or secretaries. They anticipate a negative response to the purpose of their call. They may even believe their call will elicit anger or disapproval. And much of the time, they focus on not being "liked" by the person at the other end.

Overcoming phonephobia is not a fast process. And like all things that impede our growth and success, the first step is admitting that we have the fear. In my experience, this is most often expressed as "I hate the phone." Once this admission is made, there are ways to move past the fear and become productive on the phone:

1. Organize phone tasks into groups, i.e. all calls that relate to setting up meetings; all calls that relate to discussing a proposal; all calls that relate to networking, etc.
2. Write out, in point form, the standard statements you use for each type of call. (This will feel foolish, but do it anyway. If necessary, start with "Hello" -- just get it done). Having these statements on file cards is often helpful because it is easier to see which statement you need when you get nervous, and also because it gives you something to hold in your hand that prevents you from doodling or rearranging your desk.
3. Spend one hour, one morning, making all the calls in one group. After each call, make notes of any aspects of the conversation that did not appear on your file cards. Make new file cards to cover these variables, then make your next call.
4. Although the calls will be difficult at the beginning, you will find, by call five or six, that it is easier. Having necessary statements in front of you builds confidence, as does the positive response you receive from each successive phone call.
5. Tape yourself. None of us likes to hear the sound of our own voice, but you will hear how professional and knowledgeable you are, and this will build confidence.
6. Don't take it personally. This is perhaps the most important hurdle to overcome. No matter what happens in the course of a phone call, it is rarely personal. An irritated response to your call does not have anything to do with you. Acknowledge the irritation and arrange to call again at a more convenient time.
7. Business calls need structure. Everyone is overworked and no one wants a phone call to meander aimlessly. Let the person you are calling know you are organized. Use the phrase "The purpose of my call...". You will be delighted with the results.
8. Understand that everyone is too busy. In 1987 when I first started marketing my company by phone, the busiest person I was trying to reach received approximately 74 pieces of communication a day. Today, my phone call competes with approximately 270 pieces of communication a day. The existence of voice mail, E-mail, faxes and regular mail make my phone message look pretty insignificant -- that is until I call again -- and again -- and again.
9. Persistence and practice always pay off. Keep using the phone everyday. Don't wait for a return call. Be prepared and focus only on the call you are making. You will see the results of your efforts very quickly and each positive response will erode the existence of phonephobia.

Mary Jane Copps is President of Media Link Inc., based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She can be contacted by telephone at 1-888-LINK-HFX, or through her web site,

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