The power dynamic of a telephone call

Power dynamic of a telephone call

Wow, you answered your phone. I’ve never seen you do that before.

 – My boyfriend, approximately 9 months into our relationship.

On the occasion in question we’d gotten home from our Friday night “big shop” and were just settling down for a night of watching TV and planning our first holiday together when my mobile phone rang. Usually, depending on which number showed up as calling, I’d either decline the call or worry about it long enough for it to go to voicemail.

On this particular day I just picked up the phone, said “hello”, and walked out of the room to find somewhere quieter to talk. Why was it so easy? Because I was the one with all the power.

The backstory

A friend of mine – who I’d met in World of Warcraft, of all places – needed a website for his Warhammer 40k weekly game group. He knew I made websites. It was a natural fit.

With most website clients I avoid phone calls like the plague, worrying that they’ll ask me questions I don’t know the answer to or will generally expect me to be something I’m not.  So what was the difference here?

The difference

The difference is that in WoW, I’m a guild leader. This guy was one of my guild members, which meant that – in game, at least – I was to a certain extent the one in charge. Despite him being a paying client, I didn’t feel like the “lesser” person in this exchange, so I was able to answer the call and talk like a normal human and everything was fine.

Recently this memory has been resurfacing in my mind because we’re house hunting. It’s relevant, I swear.

For every one of my viewing enquiries that is dealt with efficiently, another 3 or 4 are somehow lost, or replied to by three separate agency staff, or just never replied to at all. For every successful viewing is a string of last-minute cancels, forgotten keys, or mixed up addresses.

Because of the general level of incompetence shown by letting agents, this is one group of people I have no problem talking to on the phone. I feel in charge, because the other person in the call is often incapable of moving things along without my harassing them to do so. Plus, it’s their job to keep me happy so I’ll give them money.

Contrast this with my old job in a call centre. Despite being the one making the calls, on behalf of large companies, everyone involved knew that the poor person wasting their time to take my call was the one in charge. If they decided it wasn’t worth it, they’d tell me in no uncertain terms. And then that would reflect badly in my performance stats.


The’s the best word for it really: pressure. When the pressure is on my “performance” in a phone call, I freeze up. When the pressure is on someone else to make me happy, I can do it just fine.

Although, if I’m honest, I’d still much rather do everything by email.

Does any of this ring true for others with social anxiety and/or phone fear? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to discuss how differently (or not so differently) we experience things.

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