Landers says that across cultures the fear of the phone closely relates to a fear of being rejected, whether that means asking for an appointment with someone or trying to close a deal.
“I don’t know a culture that loves rejection,” he says. “It’s just how you define it.”
Working a muscle
Most therapists use an approach rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy to help patients overcome their fear of the phone. Isenstadt asks patients to identify the anxious thoughts they have about talking on the phone and walks them through worse case scenarios.
“We’re helping their mind realise it’s OK and not dangerous,” she says. Eventually they build up to making low stakes calls like ordering a pizza.
In trainings, Shore recommends that sales professionals have a concrete plan for how they will start and end conversations. He suggests thinking through how they might be adding value to the person at the other end of the line.
“The key thing is to get the motive right,” he says. When a sales professional starts to see how they are helping potential clients, cold calling becomes easier. “Once you find your worst fears don’t come through, it changes your belief about what a phone call is.” And if they can’t find a way to add value, they shouldn’t make the call.
While telephobia has mainly been studied in sales professionals, it affects people across careers from journalists and public relations professionals to secretaries, lawyers, consultants and anyone else that needs to make and receive calls to do their jobs. Telephobia can even make it hard to get a job when a candidate panics over a phone interview.