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Leadership

Three Ways To Make Work Phone Calls Less Excruciating

Many of us have come to dread the dial tone in an age of email and Slack. Here's how to be a phone person when you need to be.

[Photo: Flickr user Campaign Bootcamp]

For many of us, the thought of getting on the phone with someone when we can be emailing, chatting, or texting produces anxiety. If I can outline everything I need to tell someone in a clear and thorough email message, why would I take time out of my day for a phone call to discuss what can be summed up in a subject line, a couple of paragraphs, and a question or two?

Why, instead of sitting quietly at my computer, gathering my thoughts to put into grammatically correct sentences that essentially will be recorded and serve as documentation so that no one has to remember anything or take notes, would I choose to have a telephone conversation?

Because sometimes it’s the better way to communicate. Sometimes hearing someone’s voice allows you to connect in a way that the Georgia font can’t. We’ve gotten so reliant on being online constantly that we rarely even use our phones for their original, primary purpose. Sure, certain roles (sales, I’m talking to you) require talking on the phone each and every day, but for a lot of us, it simply doesn’t factor into our professional lives—unless we’re checking email.

And so the prospect of scheduling a phone meeting or suggesting a call to your new networking contact is kind of daunting. But it doesn’t have to be! Here are three steps to take to become a phone person overnight.

1. Call Your Sister

Or your brother, or cousin, or long-distance best friend. It doesn’t really matter who you call; what matters is that you make the call instead of relying on texting as per usual. Practice makes perfect, right? Many of us have become so anti-phone that the only way to get over the fear is to stop fearing it. Talking on the phone isn’t a strange phenomenon, I promise you.

Screening calls doesn’t have to be your default mode. I’ve gotten into the habit of setting up "phone dates" with my friends who live in various parts of the country, and along with frequent texting, it’s been a great way to stay connected. What’s more is that it’s helped me get over the hurdle of planning calls with my editorial team and expert I’m interviewing. It’s enabled me to better get to know people I work with and has strengthened many of my professional relationships.

Once you get over your initial discomfort of stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of hopping on a call (sorry, but sometimes you really do just need to get off email and "hop on a call"), you’ll find that it’s really not so bad, it may save you time, and it may help you build and maintain connections.

2. Write Down Your Points

If having a call with a remote coworker or client makes you nervous, it may simply be a result of feeling unprepared or anxious about the need to give your (hopefully) undivided attention to the person on the other end of the line. When you’re glued to your computer screen, you can multitask, beginning an email in one window, and scrolling LinkedIn profiles. You can get a quick read of the news, and you can send the attachment your boss asked you to send. You have time to figure out what you want to say, whereas on a phone call—professionally but sometimes personally, too—you’ve got to show up ready.

Avoid awkward silences, word stumbling, or rambling by writing down talking points. That way you’re less likely to forget things and more likely to emerge from the other side feeling like you had a productive conversation that would’ve taken way too many back-and-forth emails.

3. Make Yourself Comfortable

I’ve taken calls in busy hallways, in stairwells, in my bathroom. They were never the most fruitful—or clear—phone conversations, and it didn’t take long for me to realize it was because of poor planning. My open-office floorplan meant that if I didn’t book a conference room in advance or make a point to work from home in the morning and have the calls then, I was stuck moving from corner to corner to steal a bit of peace and quiet to talk without disturbing my coworkers. I’ve since learned from my amateur ways, and now I only plan calls if I know I have an appropriate place to situate myself.

Making an effort to set myself up well before I’m required to be on my A-game has been a huge help and has cut down on distractions and losing track of what the person on the other end is saying. Maybe you like walking around, maybe you derive energy from a purposeful stroll around the block with your headset in, tuned into the phone meeting. The key is to figure out you need to feel at ease—a cup of coffee, ear buds, room to walk around, a window to look out of, a blank wall ahead of you, a chair to relax in—and then make it happen before your next call.

You may never fall in love with dialing numbers. You may continue to resist being a phone person, but at the very least, you shouldn’t fear it. Give yourself room to occasionally embrace taking the conversation from typing to using your voice. You never know when you might need to bring your best phone game—an interview, talking to your remote boss about a raise, having a difficult conversation with a colleague—and if you get cozy with the idea of it now, it’ll be a heck of a lot easier when there’s something important on the line.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.

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