Think About What You're Going to Say Before You Say It

Planning what you're going to say before you dial can help give the call some structure, cut down on some of the awkward silences, and maybe even give it some purpose. It's one thing to beat around the bush by exchanging pleasantries, but others will quickly grow tired of your “um"s and “What was I going to say?"s. Particularly when you're phoning 911 about your elderly neighbor's spill down the stairs. That said, planning what you're going to say before making a call can be a double-edged sword. If you spend too much time thinking about it and over-analyze, you run the risk of babbling utter nonsense or completely psyching yourself out of using the phone at all. If you fancy yourself an actor, you can try writing out “lines" for yourself and think of the call as a performance. But if you aren't theatrically inclined, you should probably skip the phone script, because you'll end up sounding something like Michael Phelps on Saturday Night Live (but worse, because you'll be on the phone and Will Forte isn't there to save you).

Remember to Breathe

This one sounds easy enough, as breathing plays an integral role in being able to read, and you're reading words right now. So what is it about making a phone call that all but sucks the living air out of you? For some it's the anxiety of having to verbally communicate with a fellow human being that grows exponentially with each dial tone, for others it's the realization that the person they're trying to get in touch with might not be the one who answers the phone, and for an unlucky few it's the stubborn refusal to buy a cordless phone and too much spinning in place. Failure to breathe properly while dropping a line can result in severe headaches or death, but most likely the person on the other end of the line will just think you're a weirdo for panting while ordering a large mushroom pizza in short, fragmented sentences.

Speak Clearly

If you're going to take the time to put together a coherent sentence, you might as well make sure people can actually hear it. Enunciation is especially important if you're talking to an older relative, automated voice response system, or one of those pretentious jerks who go out of their way to tell you not to slouch—even when you're totally not slouching! Using proper pronunciation is important too, but only if you can't pass off your vocal missteps as regional dialect or avant-garde slang. Habitual mumblers will likely feel out of sorts making an effort to say words that can be heard by others, but they can take solace in the fact that they can break out into a cold sweat and stare at the ground for as long as they'd like without jeopardizing the conversation.


Dial, Wait Three Seconds, and Hang Up

As far as the other person can tell, you're mature enough to make a phone call and considerate enough not to leave a long-winded voicemail. Not only that, but the pressure of leading the conversation is now on someone else. Now they're the one who has to press that little green button, wait for you to pick up the phone, and think of something to say. In other words, the call is in their court. If the person calls back and is curious as to why you ended the call after only three seconds, just pin the blame on a faulty phone or shoddy connection. The only way this can go wrong is if the person you are calling answers after one ring—but let's be honest, if you're calling the type of person who answers after only one ring you're already doomed.

Never Leave a Voicemail

Recording a message on someone's voicemail is the modern communication equivalent of leaving an unwanted child on a doorstep. You do it with the best of intentions, but more often than not you're just bestowing an incredible burden. Not only will the person have to take time out of their day to listen to you recite your name and number (despite having all of this information readily available in their call log), they now have to remember (and correctly enter) a password, which probably involves finding the “#" button, all just to make that little icon go away and get their phone to stop blinking. If you must let someone know why you called, send them a follow-up text message. It may take a little more time on your end, but you probably won't come off sounding like such an idiot. Your phone will let you know when you misspell “definitely" in a text, but the addition of the letter “s" to the phrase “anyway" in a voicemail will go uncorrected.

Screen Calls

If you don't recognize the number or can't imagine why that person is calling you, don't answer. If it's really that important they'll call back, and if it's not, you just saved yourself five minutes of shouting “What? I can't hear you—are you driving?" at the contents of the caller's pocket. If you do know who is calling and would like to discuss something with them without stressing your vocal chords, just let the phone ring, wait a minute or two, and send a text message asking if they called. Of course you know they called, but it sounds much nicer than “I'd like to know what you have to say, but I don't want to listen to you talk or be put in a position where I might have to feign interest." And finally, if you find yourself being called by a private number, just pretend like it never happened. It may look important, but it's almost always a group of junior high kids who just found out about The Jerky Boys, or your dad calling from work because he's still not over that patch of grass you left unmowed over the weekend.