I love talking on the phone!” said no introvert ever. For me, as far as anxiety goes, phone calls are right up there with hanging out with people I don’t know, staying out past nine p.m., and carpooling to an event (which means I can’t leave when I’m ready to bail).
When it comes to phone conversations, or just answering the phone in general, I find there is a missed opportunity on personality assessments. For example:
What is your gut reaction when your phone is ringing?
a. Stomach clenches, heart palpitations increase, walls are closing in
b. I feel loved, unless it’s a telemarketer
c. Neutral; it depends on who’s calling and what I have going on at the moment
Under what conditions do you answer your phone?
a. If I’m not busy, I always answer my phone
b. If my mom is calling
c. I only answer if the caller (one of my inner circle) has texted, PICK UP PICK UP PICK UP, IT’S AN EMERGENCY
We could devise all kinds of survey questions addressing the phone issue. If you’re an introvert, most likely your answer will reflect, at the very least, certain stipulations for answering phone calls. Or you simply choose not to answer at all.
Personally, I answer anytime my husband calls, if I’m not in the middle of a conversation or, god forbid, on another phone call. I have the span of ten seconds or so to decide whether or not I’m in the right headspace to answer for my mom or sister (about 50 percent of the time). If I don’t recognize your number, there’s no way in hell I’m answering.
Why Do Introverts Hate the Phone?
One of the things I hate most about talking on the phone is how hard it can be to end a conversation without feeling bad.
Most of the phone talkers in my life are extroverts, and therefore, could chatter on happily for hours. If I don’t have a buffer in my schedule, as in a time constraint that allows me to bow out gracefully, I feel as trapped as in the carpool scenario: I’m ready to leave the party after thirty minutes, but they want to mingle for another hour — or four.
For the introvert, who has limited social energy, this is utterly exhausting.
Another reason phone conversations can be such a drain is that it cuts off my use of nonverbal cues and forces me to rely on my verbal abilities — which, for most of us introverts, is not our strength under pressure. It can feel like flying blind. So much of what I excel at in relationships is nonverbal: reading body language, allowing my facial expressions to speak, creating space for silence and emotion. These skills are either not available over the phone or require far more energy to convey than in person. And to top it off, there’s no time to digest information before needing to offer a response.
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Overall, it can just feel like too much pressure, am I right?
How to Make Phone Calls Suck a Little Less
I used to force myself to suck it up and suffer through the fatigue and discomfort of phone conversations, back when I didn’t fully understand introversion and felt I needed to always be the one who bent to the preferences of others.
Over the years, my aha moments have been gradual and liberating, but also hard won. This process may look different for you, dear introvert, but here are four ways I’ve made phone calls suck a little less.
1. Self-knowledge is power.
This is a huge one. For most of my life, I denied my introversion because I grew up in an extroverted religious culture. Love was equated with saying yes to anyone who needed you, anyone who called or showed up at your door. It was being socially busy, because too much alone time was “selfish” and loving other people came before loving yourself. So for years, I lived an extroverted lifestyle and tried my hardest to fit within the parameters set for me. Naturally, I was physically and emotionally drained.
Finally, after many Myers-Briggs tests, several years of therapy, and ultimately leaving this religious culture behind, I was able to step back and see myself without judgment. With compassion. It wasn’t bad to be an introvert, and as such, it wasn’t bad that I had an aversion to certain things like phone calls.
In other words, I no longer needed to fight myself.
Give yourself permission to not constantly be connected to others. To talk on the phone less. To not answer every call.
2. Choose your preferred mode of communication and share it with others.
Setting healthy boundaries only happened after I came to understand how I’m wired and accepted this as neither good nor bad, but as a revealing of my true inner compass. This acceptance helped me understand what I need to thrive, so that when I do give, it’s from a place of fullness and desire instead of guilt or obligation.
When it comes to the phone, I’ve gotten really good at telling people I prefer other modes of communication. For some, it may be a text, an email. For me, I’ve found an app that largely solves my phone dilemma: Voxer.
Although not without its flaws, Voxer is a walkie talkie style app that offers the best of both worlds: conversation and connection, but on your own terms. Conversations can happen in real time or can be picked up whenever each person has the availability and/or desire. There’s no pressure to talk longer than you’re comfortable, pick up when you’re tired, or simply not in the mood. Potentially longer conversations can be broken up into smaller chunks of time.
On the flip side, there are virtually no interruptions in conversations, as each message is like a personal monologue, giving each party a chance to feel heard before the other responds. For introverts who struggle with verbal processing, Voxer provides a safe way to practice hearing yourself think and expressing yourself to others without editing.
Since joining Voxer, I’ve talked most of my friends and family into downloading the app (you can get the basic version for free). This has become my primary way of staying connected to the people I care about, and while it’s not for everyone, it can offer introverts and extroverts a way to meet in the middle.
3. When you can’t avoid it…
Sometimes, the phone call is unavoidable (*shudder*). Here are a few things that have helped me tame my anxiety and discomfort during phone calls:
- Plan ahead whenever possible. Have you been putting off that call to the phone company? Choose a time that sets you up for relief. For me, this would generally be after I’ve gotten some breakfast and coffee in me and before I tackle the rest of my day. Been needing to catch up with an old friend? Schedule a phone date ahead of time, and perhaps stick it after yoga or your meditation practice.
- Give yourself permission to set a time limit for the call. This may not be possible if the call involves resolving an issue with a customer service rep, but it may be possible for a social call. If you don’t have the energy for an open-ended conversation, but you must answer, let the person know at the beginning how much time you have to talk. For example, “Hi mom, so good to hear from you. Just so you know, I’ve got about twenty minutes today — but I’m all ears.”
- Do something active while talking. If a call interrupts something I’m doing, this can create further anxiety. The feeling of having to put everything on hold for a call I wasn’t prepared for, especially if it’s a longer one, can make me antsy. So, try taking it outside and walking around the block. Sit by the window and watch the birds. Put the phone on speaker and do some light stretching. Make yourself a cup of tea. Anything that helps put you at ease.
4. Be your own social interpreter.
We can’t expect people, especially extroverts, to understand us without some translation. I’m getting really good at respectfully educating new people about my needs from the get-go and stamping out that sense of guilt that still wants to creep in at times.
For example, a new acquaintance recently messaged me, asking if I wanted to meet up for an art walk on a Friday night. I have a Friday evening yoga class I like to attend, so I told her I already had plans and thanked her for thinking of me. She then asked if I wanted to meet up after my yoga class for some live music at a bar. At this point, my anxiety began flaring up, and I had a decision to make.
I chose to be honest.
I told her, in general, I’m a one-social-event-a-night kind of person and yoga class was my social event. I went on to explain that I also have anxiety about being out later than nine p.m., since I have nocturnal animals that need to be fed and attended to. I thanked her again for the invitation and countered it with an invitation to meet for a walk sometime during the week. She was very understanding and we were able to arrange a time to meet up during the day instead.
It’s basically the art of offering a yes within a no.
No, I can’t give that, but yes, I can give this. No, I can’t talk on the phone today, but yes, I can instant message you.
I’m not saying you should be stubborn, inflexible, or demand that it’s your way or the highway. I’m talking about being mindful of your limits and finding ways to connect with others while still honoring those parameters.
Bottom line, people won’t know those parameters if we aren’t willing to communicate. And we can’t communicate with others unless we first know ourselves and respect the unique ways we’re wired. Yes, the burden of responsibility falls on us, but with this responsibility comes freedom and, hopefully, deeper connection with ourselves and others.
As an introvert, you may never love talking on the phone — and that’s okay. But you can make it suck a little bit less.