Kira Asatryan

The Art of Closeness

3 Ways to Make Your Phone Calls Less Awkward

To distinguish your calls from your texts, go deeper.

Posted Jan 20, 2016

michaeljung/Shutterstock
Source: michaeljung/Shutterstock

Nobody likes talking on the phone these days. At least, nobody in my generation (the infamous Millennials) likes it.

A good friend—a young woman who is usually warm and social—greets anyone who tries to leave her a voicemail with the following: “Don’t bother leaving a message here because I won’t listen to it. Just text or email me. Death to phone calls!”

Hyperbolic voicemail messages aside, many people have a deep negative sentiment toward talking on the phone. I asked friends and clients how they feel about keeping in contact with people over the phone. The consensus is that calls make many of them feel anxious, annoyed, and sometimes disappointed in the lack of meaningful conversation that’s possible over the phone.

It’s not only strangers or acquaintances that we dread talking to on the phone, either: Calls from loved ones are some of the most unsatisfying of all.

What is it about phone calls that make young people recoil? There is, of course, the obvious: Millennials grew up on asynchronous forms of communication like text and email, making real-time conversation stressful. The pressure to actually make conversation is clearly felt over the phone. But I don’t think this accounts for the entire phenomenon, because many of the same people who claim to hate phone calls say they love face-to-face interaction. In-person interaction requires making conversation too, right?

So what’s the difference?

Somehow, the medium of the phone call itself seems…awkward. Even when speaking with people we feel totally comfortable with in person, the phone call format makes everything feel more stilted, more forced, and often more shallow.

Is it time to give up on the phone call altogether? I would argue that it’s not. The phone call continues to be relevant because it remains the best way to maintain relationships across physical distance. If you’ve moved across the country from your family, you need to be willing to chat on the phone from time to time. If your grandparents are no longer physically able to meet up with you, it’s necessary to be available by phone to maintain a relationship with them.

You may never be in love with phone calls, but the following tips can help make yours more comfortable, meaningful, and enjoyable.

1. Ask questions.

The simplest way to make any conversation better—especially over the phone—is to start asking questions that show the other person you’re interested in what they have to say, and allow you to focus on what you’re truly curious about. Say your brother tells you he’s thinking of selling his house. Instead of responding with a stilted, "That’s cool,” hone in on what you're curious about: How did he decide to sell? What is he hoping to gain? etc. This is what will make the conversation interesting.

2. Devote less time to niceties and happenings.

When talking on the phone, almost all of us fall into the trap of discussing niceties and happenings—what we did today, what we’re thinking of doing this weekend, and what we’re working on at the office. It’s common to spend an entire conversation discussing such trivialities and walk away feeling like we didn’t connect with each other at all. Instead, try to spend no more than 50 percent of a conversation on everyday happenings. This will free up time and energy for the heart and soul of a satisfying conversation.

3. Try to understand the other person’s inner life.

This may seem daunting at first, but it’s shockingly simple in practice. The goal is simply to connect the other person’s happenings—the “what-did-you-do-todays”—with how that person feels about what they’re doing.

Let’s say your sister tells you she’s spent the last few days working on an article for publication. Instead of asking, “When is it due?” ask, “Do you enjoy writing articles like this one?” Do you see the difference? The first question is about the article. The second question is about her.

Questions about the other person’s feelings, perspectives, and subjective experiences move you beyond just knowing about her day. They help you know about her inner life. They help you know the other person.

Kira Asatryan is a certified relationship coach and author of Stop Being Lonely: Three Simple Steps to Developing Close Friendships and Deep Relationships.