I have a fear of phone calls — making them, in particular.
It’s an embarrassing, long-held secret. Largely irrational, born from personal experience. I suspect that’s often true of fears.
As a reporter, particularly one covering politics, a large part of your job is speaking with people who don’t want to speak to you, getting information they don’t want to give to you and, sometimes, taking a lot of verbal abuse in the process. Do that enough and you start dreading the phone.
Successful reporters develop a thick skin. I faked one, but never quite managed.
Fear, however, holds us back, even as we strive to push forward. And so I have, organically, developed a process for overcoming fears.
I still don’t like making phone calls. But this process gets me through.
Someone once told me to “dance with your fears.” For me, it feels more like a mutual introduction, an acknowledgement. “Hello there, fear. I’m Kirsten. I’ll be tackling you today.”
I’m afraid of making phone calls. That’s as ridiculous as it sounds. But if I don’t acknowledge the fear, I’ll just avoid making phone calls instead of moving through the fear I attach to them.
“Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself,” Dumbledore says in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
Everyone has a Voldemort. Look yours in the face. Call it by name.
Play worst-case scenario
What’s the worst that could happen?
That’s actually what I ask myself, and then I play it through in my head.
I go all in: What’s the worst thing that could happen when I make this phone call? I stutter and stammer, the person on the other end thinks I’m an idiot and says so, loudly and repeatedly. I’m embarrassed. Then that person calls me out, by name and business, on social media accounts. So now I’m professionally and personally embarrassed in front of everyone I know, plus millions of strangers. Also, there’s a permanent electronic record so that, from now on, anyone who Googles my name will see this written documentation of my professional humiliation.
And then what? That’s what I ask myself.
What would that situation look like? How would I feel? What would I do? And then what would happen?
Spoiler alert: I always survive.
Planning for the worst-case scenario, knowing how to survive it, decreases my fear of any other outcome. If I can survive the worst, I can survive anything better, yes?
Microtize your fear
Microtize? Not a word. But it’s the one I use for breaking down a big fear into individual components.
“I have a fear of phone calls,” I say, but that’s not precisely true. My “fear of phone calls” is a collective term for a number of fears. So let’s take it apart.
I fear not knowing what to say. I fear being told “no”. I fear verbal attacks.
OK, now I’m getting somewhere. Because having microtized the big fear into little-fear chunks, I’m able to act on them.
Fear of not knowing what to say? Plan ahead. “OK, self, this is what I’m going to say: Hi! I’m Kirsten Adshead. I founded motheriblity.com, a website aimed at helping moms run their own businesses, and I’d like to interview you for an article I’m working on.”
Fear of being told no. Visualize, accept and move on. What does it look like if someone declines? “Thank you, but I don’t want to be interviewed.” How do I respond? “I appreciate that. Thank you for your time. Have a great day!” Find someone else to interview and repeat as necessary.
Fear of verbal attacks. Rationalize. This is an irrational fear held over from my previous job. In reality, verbal attacks in my current role are unlikely. On the off chance that a verbal attack comes, though, I don’t have to listen to it. “Sir/madam, I appreciate your perspective, but this feels like an inappropriate attack, so I’m going to end this conversation. Thank you for your time.”
Polite, professional, done.
“Face your fear” is a common directive, but it’s incomplete.
Fear is self-feeding. It’s existence relies on our avoidance.
So, do the opposite: Focus intensely on your fear. Starve it with attention.