You know what’s a great way to both cure and exacerbate phone anxiety?
At the Bernie Sanders campaign – and I imagine practically every other campaign is the same – they give us new kids lists of aggregated phone numbers attached to names, ages, genders, and party affiliations. We then have a script (which we are encouraged to use as a guide more than anything) with which we ask each person we call whether or not they plan on voting in the primary, who will they vote for, issues they are curious or unsure about, etc. I, personally, have not yet had a situation where I have stuck to the majority of the script in a meaningful way. But I know this is a strategy to get in touch with voters that the campaign has at least some chance of swaying to their side.
I used to have real problems with phone anxiety – I didn’t ever make my own appointments, I barely answered calls unless it was my parents, I didn’t dare answer a call from an unknown or blocked number. I have, through the progression of adulthood, squared my shoulders and learned to make do with scheduling appointments and disputing charges. I have also had to dip into the customer service side of telephony – working at my school’s IT helpdesk has granted me some skill in problem solving in what is for me a less than ideal form of communication. So I thought I was getting better at this whole “calling people” thing.
Maybe not so much.
Obviously I volunteered so I can’t complain too much. It is, however, quite daunting to go from answering calls on technical questions that I can usually answer to having to go on- and off-script over the phone with people I’ve never met in a state I’ve been in for just a few days. I’m sure I’ll have even more fun when we do our weekend-long canvassing, talking with people in a state I know so very little about. This experience will most certainly challenge ever bit of public speaking and social skill that I have reserved in my little introverted heart.
But as much as I am a political science major, I am also a psychology major, and my psych nerd constantly tells me that one of the most effective ways to treat a phobia (clinical or not) is exposure. Yes, the type and severity of exposure matters, but avoidance of negative stimuli only perpetuates the fear response. Sometimes, only neutral or positive stimuli can breed extinction.
Or, something like that.
I don’t mean to discourage anyone who’s been having inklings of volunteerism lately. In fact, I very much encourage anyone who has the passion and initiative to go and volunteer for whatever your campaign of choice may be (although I am somewhat obligated to hope that you can volunteer for Bernie).
Just know that if you are somewhat shy, or reserved, or introverted, or a tele-phobic, this experience may well test your limits. You just got to breathe and dive into the deep end, and not let your mental recitation get in the way of you actually paying attention to the conversation. You may also find yourself wanting to call someone you know just so you won’t get hung up on again.
And to the rest of you, citizens of the great state of New Hampshire (or any state where campaign calls are the norm), please remember that, just like any telemarketer or unknown number, that us phone banking volunteers are, in fact, people, and not politics-spewing robots. At the very least, if you plan on hanging up on us, try not to speak to us like we’re mud on a shoe.
--Carly Fitzgerald is a sophomore at St. Olaf College majoring in political science and psychology. She is in New Hampshire as part of a St. Olaf political science class studying the presidential election.