While texting has become a more common form of communication, there still may be plenty of instances where someone in your life wants to talk to you on the phone. Friends, romantic partners, or family may prefer chatting on a call instead of texting because it can be easier to catch up, it may feel more personal, or because they have certain availability needs.
However, talking on the phone for some can be uncomfortable at best and panic-inducing at worst. Having a list of conversation starters like favorite memories, current trends, or upcoming holiday plans can help mitigate some of the anxiety you may feel at speaking on the phone and build rapport as you delve into deeper questions.
Why Talking On The Phone Can Feel Stressful
There are a variety of different reasons that a person might find talking on the phone to be stressful or anxiety-inducing. First, unless it’s a video call with a good angle, you can’t see the person’s body language or other physical cues. This can lead to awkward silence, making it more difficult to interpret the meaning behind what a person says, to know when they’re done speaking, or simply to feel connected to them. Second, other communication methods like texting or email give you time to think about your response and craft it the way you want to. On the phone, you might feel put on the spot since you have to come up with responses and questions in real-time, making small talk essential.
For those with clinical anxiety disorders—especially social anxiety—talking on the phone can be even more distressing. Social anxiety is a diagnosable mental health disorder that’s more serious and often more debilitating than simply being shy. It usually stems from extreme self-consciousness and a fear of being judged by others. It can lead those who have it to experience both mental and physical symptoms in social situations—such as blushing, trembling, their mind going blank, and feeling nauseous—or even to avoid such situations altogether. However, this disorder is treatable. Research shows that treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can alleviate symptoms for around 80% of those with social anxiety.
Topics To Talk About On The Phone
However, if it’s simply nervousness or awkwardness you’re feeling about speaking on the phone with someone, keeping these conversation topics on hand can help ease your nerves and avoid any silent periods that may make you feel uncomfortable.
Ask Specific Questions About Their Week
Asking how someone’s day or week has been might get you a basic, short answer that doesn’t propel the conversation forward. That’s why it can be helpful to mix things up a bit. You might ask instead what the best thing about their week has been so far, something that made them smile today, or what they’re most looking forward to in the next few days. These more unconventional questions about someone’s daily life can spur all kinds of interesting conversations and can be a great conversation starter, potentially leading to further conversation about a favorite memory, childhood experiences, or fun pop culture topics.
Ask What Brings Them Joy
A question like this can light someone up with excitement and enthusiasm, both of which are generally good elements to have in a conversation. It can turn the topic to something they're passionate about, which is a great way to get them engaged and keep the conversation flowing. They might tell you about their favorite book, embarrassing moments that still make them laugh, their first car, or the most important lesson they've learned in life. The answers to this question can vary widely, which can help keep things interesting for you both and lead to deeper level discussions.
Ask For Stories About Their Childhood
This line of questioning can be a good choice for older adults and relatives, especially. They may enjoy reminiscing, and you might get to know a part of them that you otherwise would not. You could ask about their favorite childhood memories, what they did in their free time, their favorite thing about growing up, or the last concert they attended as a teenager. These questions can help start a conversation and provide insight into their own hobbies and interests, making it easier to find common things to talk about.
Ask Where They’ve Lived Or Traveled
Asking someone about different parts of the city, state, country, or world that they’ve lived in or visited can be a fruitful topic of conversation. If they haven’t lived elsewhere or traveled, you can get their expert opinion about their favorite parts of their hometown, state, or country. You could also ask them about what point they’d like to visit if they had a free plane ticket right now, or what travel-related items might be on their bucket list.
The Importance Of Listening
Asking questions is a normal part of most conversations, but do take care to not inundate the other person with too many. In general, you want it to be a healthy dialogue where both parties have the chance to speak and listen, rather than an interrogation or a monologue. So in addition to bringing up questions and conversation topics, don’t forget to be an active, engaged listener.
According to an article in the International Journal of Listening, active listening includes three components:
- Nonverbal cues to show you’re paying attention (on the phone, this usually takes the form of “mhmm's” and similar noises of affirmation)
- Refraining from passing judgment on what you hear
- Asking questions for clarification as needed
According to the same journal, study participants who received active listening responses were “more satisfied with their conversation” than those who received simple acknowledgments and saw their conversational partner as “more socially attractive.”
Setting Boundaries With Phone Calls
It may sometimes be necessary to set boundaries around who you talk on the phone with and when. If you have a relative, parent, or someone else in your life who likes to spend time on the phone criticizing your life choices or telling their unwelcome political views with you, for example, it may be necessary to set boundaries on what topics you will or will not engage with them on. Instead, you could have a good laugh, discuss the last book they read, or their favorite app, which can be lighter conversation topics most people enjoy.
If someone calls you too frequently or gets upset when you’re busy and can’t answer, you may need to explain that you need them to respect your time and would prefer to arrange calls beforehand. Finally, if you’re too tired after a long day at work, feel too anxious, or simply aren’t up for speaking on the phone, you’re allowed to express this and reschedule the call for another time while considering what to talk about when you eventually catch up.
How Therapy Can Help
about talking on the phone with someone, a therapist can evaluate your symptoms and help you identify strategies to manage them. However, meeting with a counselor can still be helpful even if you aren’t experiencing a mental health condition. They can help you with things like building self-confidence, improving communication skills, and learning to set boundaries. Their job is to provide a safe, nonjudgmental space where you can tell whatever may be bothering you and work towards solutions together.
Research suggests that online therapy offers similar benefits to in-person sessions, which is one reason more and more people are turning to this format for support and treatment. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you’ll have the option of speaking with a licensed therapist on the phone—and if that feels uncomfortable to you, you can also meet with them via video call or chat with them via in-app messaging. If you prefer to meet with a therapist face to face, you can find a provider in your area instead. The best course of action is usually to pick the therapy format that feels most comfortable for you. If you’re interested in online therapy, read on for reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people in similar situations.
“Amie has truly helped me so much these past months with my anxiety and feelings of depression. She has continuously helped me with my social anxiety which is the main reason I came on here. I would always recommend her to anyone."
“I had the pleasure of working with Ann for a few months, and she helped me so much with managing my social anxiety. She was always so positive and encouraging and helped me see all the good things about myself, which helped my self-confidence so much. I’ve been using all the tools and wisdom she gave me and have been able to manage my anxiety better now than ever before. Thank you Ann for helping me feel better!”
How do you keep a conversation going on the phone?
When the dialogue lags during a phone call, there are a few things you can do to revive the conversation:
- Ask more involved questions to demonstrate your interest in the conversation. For example, if you’re on the phone with a friend who tells you they have a new job, instead of giving a shallow “oh, nice,” you may consider asking an open ended question about what they think about their new coworkers, the new commute, or the amenities and perks of the job.
- Keep small talk to a minimum. While discussing trivialities can help you begin a conversation, it can also kill it when overdone.
- Try to connect emotionally during the conversation by asking meaningful questions that direct the attention to your conversation partner. For instance, in the case of the “friend with the new job scenario,” you may ask how they felt during the interview or on their first day. Was it a difficult day? Were they nervous? Confident? These types of questions let them know that you’d like to better understand their inner life.
What should we talk about on a phone call?
When deciding what to talk about on the phone, you may begin with their interests, background, life experiences, and goals. You may also ask about things like films they’ve watched lately, their favorite TV series, the kind of music they like, their favorite books or how they spend their free time. It could make the conversation even more interesting if you discover not only do you have things in common but also how your tastes differ. However, remember to maintain a non-critical tone to avoid making your conversation partner feel disrespected.
What questions are good to ask on a call?
Here are some suggestions for what kind of questions you can ask on a call to keep the conversation fun and help you learn more about your partner:
- What is the strangest dream you’ve ever had?
- What do people compliment you on the most?
- What things are people most surprised about when they learn about you?
- What is the best concert you’ve ever been to?
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
- What were your favorite subjects at school?
- Where is the most spectacular thing you’ve done for a friend?
- What was your most difficult day at work?
- Do you prefer hugs or a peck on the cheek when you greet an old friend?
- Have you ever had a long-distance relationship? If so, how did it work out?
What topics do you talk about on the phone?
The topics you choose to talk about should reflect the person on the other end of the phone. For example, when speaking to a work colleague, it would be appropriate to talk about your workplace, projects you’re working on, or past career/educational experience. For example, if your boss is an editor for a large publication, you could ask if they have ever worked as a freelance writer, and if so, did they have a specific niche? You may want to steer clear of more personal topics you’d discuss with a friend, such as their free time activities, relationships, or plans for the week.
How do you start a little conversation?
Though small talk isn’t always popular, it can be a good launching point for a simple phone conversation or an in-person meeting. You may begin by complimenting them about something other than their appearance (unless you know them well enough to know they’d be comfortable with that), comment on something positive you have in common, or ask about their hobbies and interests.
How do you keep small talk?
Despite popular belief, you can keep a conversation going with small talk as long as you:
- Give them your undivided attention by putting away your electronic devices.
- Practice active listening, maintain comfortable eye contact, and use body language to show you’re engaged in the conversation.
- Ask open-ended questions.
How do I start deep talking?
While small talk may have its uses in starting conversations sometimes, many people prefer to skip to deeper, more interesting conversations. You can begin deep talking by introducing thought-provoking topics like pop culture and science-related subjects or asking about their interests using open-ended questions. Deep talking on the phone is a great way to prepare for first-date conversations, too.
How do you make a call interesting?
Making a call interesting typically involves keeping the conversation focused on your partner, finding things you have in common, and discussing things like current events. (Just remember to avoid controversial topics.) Once you’ve gotten more comfortable, you can talk about more personal issues and exciting things going on in their life at the moment.
How do you keep a conversation going?
The rules for conversing in person are the same as on the phone. Whether in a big group or it’s just you and another person, listen actively, show interest by asking personal questions (if appropriate), and find commonalities.
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