Simply don’t hit my line

Phone calls leave much to be desired as a modern form of communication

Katie Langley, News Editor

It’s pretty much understood that a 20-year-old girl who doesn’t know anything about cars besides the fact that hers is a decade-old orange Toyota isn’t going to be respected at the auto repair garage. However, the moment that fills me with immeasurable existential dread isn’t the inevitable mansplaining or overcharging, it’s the initial phone call.

I’ve spent almost two and a half years writing for the news section of the Chronicle and a summer interning at my hometown newspaper. It’s fair to say I’ve made quite a few phone calls. I’ve done phone interviews with everyone from police, to state house representatives, to Facebook moms and university students.

And every time, I really, really hate it.

According to Headspace, telephone phobia, “the fear (and/or) avoidance of phone conversations,” affects 15 million people in the U.S. There are many fears associated with telephone phobia. One might fear being judged for their voice or choice of words, or be afraid that they’re interrupting or intruding on the person they’re calling. They might even avoid phone calls in order to dodge receiving bad news.

For me, telephone phobia is connected with my imposter syndrome more than anything else. When I call sources for my articles, I’m often afraid they will see right through my professional facade and mark me as a student journalist or a 20-something intern, both of which I am. I find myself nervous because I don’t have a fancy title behind my name, like “Katie Langley, New York Times,” that my sources will think less of my ability, and– literally or figuratively– laugh in my face.

When you’re speaking over the phone, you can’t see a person’s body language or behavioral cues such as head nods and smiling, and it’s difficult to read a person who is sitting silently on the other line, according to Headspace. Instead, you ask yourself all kinds of hypothetical questions and make assumptions about your phone partner, such as will they like me? Will they listen to me? Respect me? Am I saying something wrong?

As older members of Generation Z enter the workforce, we are increasingly communicating with bosses and coworkers by text, email and message boards like Slack. It’s quicker and easier than a phone call and takes out all the pleasantries while getting to the point. Like many in my generation, I’ll never understand people who have to pick up the phone just to ask someone a simple question.

However, phone calls come with the territory of being a journalist. As someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, I’ve sometimes doubted my ability to be able to project confidence over the phone, especially with the often necessary cold call. My fear of awkward social interactions has admittedly been a detriment to my self esteem in my chosen career. But what you love doesn’t necessarily have to come naturally.

Though it’s much easier to avoid making that doctor’s appointment or talking to the mechanic, it’s (regrettably) not sustainable in the long run and will probably make you feel worse. Sometimes, life is just a cycle of phone calls you really don’t want to make. And though my heart says that society has progressed past the need for phone calls, the world is a little late to catch up. However, there are some ways you can make it easier on yourself.

Coping strategies range from everything from cognitive behavioral therapy, to exposure training (for example, calling a restaurant and asking what time they close), to rewarding yourself after you make the big call with some self care, according to VeryWellMind.

Personally, I always go into a phone call with notes. In any interaction, my nerves can make me forget what I was planning on saying. Having at least a brief outline of what I need and how I’ll ask for it can help me keep some of my composure.

Though there are ways to navigate a world dependent on phone calls, I certainly hope it isn’t this way forever. When the COVID-19 pandemic moved all in-person meetings online, I hoped that Zoom would be the death of the awkward phone call. Face-to-face interaction, even by computer, allows us to read each other’s body language and helps ease some of the uncertainty of chatting with a stranger. I would take dealing with glitchy faces on Zoom over picking up the phone any day.

But, until I completely work through this fear, please, just text me.