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Calm your employees’ “telephonophobia”

Some team members may suffer from "telephonophobia," but talking on the phone remains a crucial skill, writes Marlene Chism.

5 min read




There’s a new phobia in town. It’s called Telephonophobia: The fear of using the phone. Coaches and therapists are coming out of the woodwork, offering hourly rates to premium-priced half-day workshops to solve the problem driving managers crazy: Employees refusing to use the phone. Telephonophobia is being blamed on Gen Z, COVID-19, ADHD, being neurodivergent, personality disorders or simply being an introvert.   

The truth is the dislike of the phone has been alive and well for many decades. I used to hate the phone, and that was before the invention of text, teams, email and Slack. I’ll never forget what my first business coach said to me: “Marlene if you want to be successful, you need to fall in love with the phone.” He was right. The reason I hired him, among other candidates, was his phone skills and presence. I felt totally heard and understood, and that was without video! 

Now, due to all the choices available, the phone has become the most misunderstood and misused communication tool. Here’s how to save some money on therapists and coaches and get your employees to fall in love with the phone. 

Bust the myths

Before trying to institute a change only to get push-back, take a short poll or do some informal interviews to understand what all the resistance is about. Myths are at the heart of most resistance.  Some common myths include

  • The phone is a timewaster
  • The phone is no longer relevant
  • Everything can be done by email or text
  • Other people will waste your time 
  • The phone works alone

These ideas indicate a lack of understanding, lack of discernment, and more specifically, a lack of skills.  You’ve heard the saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you see every problem as a nail.”  

With some skills training, mindset shifts and practice, the phone can be one of your most effective communication tools. 

Prepare in advance

Teach employees how to strategize in advance of a call rather than shooting from the hip and getting lost in the process. Knowing the outcome before a call is requested changes the game. Stating the intention of the call at the beginning of the call or with a text request before the call makes it easier to stay in charge of the conversation and manage time. 

Schedule the call

Text can be a great way to ask for a quick ten-minute call, when there are lots of complexities that can turn into a winding email thread. It goes like this: “Would you have ten minutes to jump on a quick call today? I’m flexible between 12:00 and 3:00 if you have any time.” Name the issue in advance, and after the call, send an email briefing of what was discussed or decided. 

Set boundaries

One of the most effective skills for time management on the phone is the ability to set boundaries. For example, “I only have 15 minutes” or “I have a hard stop at 2:00” is effective if the other person requests a call. If you request the call, you can still create a boundary by saying, “I only need 15 minutes of your time.” When the 15 minutes is up, end the call and keep your commitment. Depending on the circumstance, fifteen minutes of a phone call can save hours of reading through multiple threads or dropped emails where there’s been no decision reached.   

Politely interrupt

There’s nothing worse than being on a time crunch, and the other person is long-winded and barely comes up for air. You can mitigate the fear of wasting time if you know when to interrupt politely. Here’s how to do it: “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but as I mentioned, I have a hard stop at 2:00.” Or “I’m enjoying our conversation, but I have another meeting in ten minutes.  I’d like to ask a couple of critical questions…” 

Get agreement

When you initiate the call, even with a set appointment, start the conversation by saying, “Is this a good time to talk?” Pause for a moment and let them say “Sure” or “No.” Being considerate of their time makes them more agreeable to talk or to reschedule. 

Text and email are efficient tools but are often misused and abused. The reality in today’s hybrid workplace is that the phone is still relevant. The phone can save time and the frustration of reading three-page threads where the subject has changed, but the subject line hasn’t. The phone no longer works alone but works best in tandem with text and email.  ZOOM fatigue is real, and it becomes a ridiculous waste of time when everyone goes to ZOOM only to turn cameras off. When it comes to telephonophobia, don’t blame the younger generation, COVID-19, ADHD or introversion. The phone is a tool that can be super effective with some good old-fashioned skills development and practice. 

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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