Tips And Topic Ideas For Less Stressful Phone Conversations

Medically reviewed by Katrice Hollins, LCSW, LICSW
Updated September 12, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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.

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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

If you experience debilitating anxiety symptoms at the prospect or reality of certain social interactions like talking on the phone, it may be wise to seek professional treatment instead of forcing yourself to take the call.

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: 

  1. Nonverbal cues to show you’re paying attention (on the phone, this usually takes the form of “mhmm's” and similar noises of affirmation)
  2. Refraining from passing judgment on what you hear
  3. 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.

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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.

Counselor Reviews

“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!”


Talking on the phone can be stressful for some. The conversation topics on this list can give you a bit of confidence and help keep the conversation flowing the next time someone gives you a call. Meeting with a therapist can also help you get more comfortable with situations like these if that’s your goal.

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