How I overcame my fear of cold calling

How I overcame my fear of cold calling

It just doesn’t come easily to me, calling people and interrupting their day. Whether it’s my introverted nature or star sign, I have always had a mental block against cold calling – a problem when you are running a business and need to spread the word.

Pretty clearly I needed to change my behaviour. Putting aside “doctors make the worst patients and teachers the worse students”, I became my very own case study of how to change behaviour. Here’s how I did it.


Behaviour change model


The place to start with any behaviour change situation is to break it down into four questions:

1. What’s the current behaviour? i.e. Not cold calling

2. What’s the desired behaviour? i.e. Cold calling six businesses a week over across at least three days

3. What are the barriers to change?

4. What are the enablers of change?

This is the model I developed and use with clients to get to the heart of the problem and design solutions.

Barriers to cold calling


There are three core barriers to any behavioural change: laziness, paralysis and fear. Here’s how they were playing out for me.


Laziness is the way I talk about failing to recruit System 1 – our intuitive, emotional, fast-thinking selves – to the cause. When we ask ourselves to do something we really don’t like doing we’ll find any excuse not to do it, and believe me, I was finding lots of reasons not to make calls. Wrong time of day…school holidays…wrong day of the week…I’ll feel like it tomorrow…I’m too busy…And because I’m my own boss I could easily excuse myself without fear of accountability.

Remember that any new behaviour is effortful – requiring System 2 processing – and we are geared to follow the path of least resistance and stick to existing habits. In other words, be “lazy”. My task was therefore to make cold calling as easy as possible and find a way to keep myself accountable.

How I conquered laziness

To make cold calling easy and hold myself to account I used four techniques:

  • Write it down: two cold calls are added to my to-do list in my diary. The act of physically handwriting them made it harder for me to disregard (I find it too easy to ignore electronic alerts).
  • Seinfeld Method: Jerry Seinfeld writes a joke every day and marks it with a big red cross on his calendar once it’s done knowing that we are loath to break a chain of successes. For me I mark off each week that I have met my goal.
  • Normalising the task: Part of my goal was to call across at least three days. Why? I’m trying to normalise the calls as part of my workday rather than a once-a-week binge.
  • Public declaration: Being true to my word is important to me so by writing this blog I am holding myself up as someone who can and does cold call.


When we have too many options we can find it overwhelming and fail to act – the Paradox of Choice. In my case I was confronted with the question “who should I call?” I started looking at online directories but found that this seemingly endless treasure chest didn’t help me decide because all the businesses seemed equally weighted. My task was to limit and structure my options.

How I conquered paralysis

The answer for me was to pick up a print phone directory because it helped in three ways:

  • The ads gave me more a feeling of the size of the organisation.
  • I could judge how many businesses were in the category.
  • I could mark off those I contacted as a record of my progress.


Loss Aversion, when the fear of what we stand to lose drowns out any appetite for gain is the biggest hurdle of the bunch, and for me it was an irrational fear of rejection. Sure, intellectually I knew it wasn’t personal but asking for help doesn’t come easily. Fear of annoying someone, being asked a question I couldn’t answer, or sounding stupid, these were the deep seated (and irrational) anxieties I had that were preventing me from reaching out.  I can happily talk to a room of 1000 but making an unsolicited call to a stranger was my Achilles heel.

How I conquered fear

The more I cold call the less anxious I feel, but here’s how I specifically dealt with fear:

  • Shrunk the task: six cold calls may not seem like a lot to some people but the secret of habituating a new behaviour is to keep it really small so it doesn’t seem daunting.
  • Reframed: “Cold calls” is a tainted label so I decided to reframe and instead refer to it as “Howdy calls”, tricking myself into thinking that all I’m doing is saying hello. Not selling, not asking for commitment, just introducing myself.
  • Saw an expert in action: One of my kind and talented friends invited me to watch and learn so I could see how harmless an exercise it was.

So now you have an insight into how I have changed my behaviour. I’m interested, have you struggled with cold calling? What tricks have you used to get yourself dialing?

And if you are reading this and just thinking, “What’s the problem? Pick up the phone!” then this article is clearly not written for you, though I hope it has provided an insight into the battles many of us face. Where some people prefer to talk and be the focus, others prefer to listen and focus on others – neither is right or wrong and both come with their challenges. The good news is that any of us can change how we behave, and the Behaviour Change Model is really great way to go about it.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.


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