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Highlights | Call Me Maybe

  • Would you rather text than talk? These quick tips can help ease anxiety.
  • Give yourself space for phone conversations and be sure to listen actively.
  • Slowing down and showing compassion can go a long way when you’re on the line.

If having to actually talk on the phone fills you with dread — you’re not alone. Many people would much rather text than talk, especially those who didn’t experience clunky answering machines or picking up a ringing landline with no idea about who might be on the other end.

Although most of us don’t have to talk on the phone nearly as much as we used to thanks to how technology has evolved, not every call is avoidable. So how can we make things a little less awkward when we do have to talk?

What’s the deal with phone calls?

When it comes to why, exactly, people are so anxious about talking on the phone, Beth Strehlo, senior operations manager at the UW Medicine Contact Center, thinks it comes down to wanting to feel understood. And since most people are more used to communicating via text or email, they often feel like they can get their point across more easily in writing.

But sometimes you just have to have that phone convo — which is why we’re here with useful tips (and an expert) to help phone chats go more smoothly for you.

Talking tips from the experts

Strehlo shares the following tips for less anxiety-inducing phone conversations:

Make space to talk

Strehlo’s first recommendation? Make sure you have the time and space and some quiet to actually have the conversation.

Slow down

Even if you don’t think you are — you’re probably talking too fast. Take a deep breath and slow it down.

“I have a tendency to talk pretty fast, says Strehlo, “and I would find that that would make my caller get really worked up because they felt like they needed to go fast also.”

It will help you avoid the feeling that the conversation is running away from you.

Be prepared

If you’re having a conversation where you need to provide information (like cards, ID numbers, etc.) make sure that you have them easily accessible so you’re not scrambling while you’re on the phone and getting flustered.

Be an active listener and have empathy

In Strehlo’s words, “practice listening to learn rather than listening to respond.” Focus on really hearing what someone is saying rather than just waiting for it to be your turn to speak again.

Also — no matter what end of the phone you’re on, it’s important to be kind.

Strehlo points out that often times, faced with health issues and other stressors, people dialing the Contact Center aren’t always calling on their best day. Which is why being kind and polite can go a long way — and often means the other person is more likely to act that way as well.

Keeping the conversation going

When it comes to the most difficult calls the Contact Center receives, Strehlo thinks that utilizing active listening is almost always the best approach.

“They [patients] trust that you’re going to take care of their issue better if they feel like you’ve really heard them,” she says. “So, giving them the time to say what they want to say and asking follow-up questions helps them know that you were listening closely, and they’re more confident that you did understand what they said.”

The same tactic can be used for any phone call, especially if you’re looking to keep the conversation flowing. Active listening also means you aren’t continually talking over each other, which can interrupt the flow and make it harder to communicate.

“If both parties are listening really carefully, you’ll kind of naturally know when the person is coming to a pause and when it’s appropriate to respond,” she explains.