Dealing with Anxiety Without Control.
My work requires a lot of conference calls. It isn't unusual for the calls to have three or four countries on the line. The firm I work for solves difficult problems for large facilities; along with their own technical staff. So it is almost always true that there are people in the call I have never met or spoken with before; and further that these people don't follow any CC rules at all. They do and say whatever they want; come and go as they please, and may or may not be on the next call with this client. Due to the international nature of our clients, calls can occur at any point on the 24 hour clock.
Even the people on our side are not fixed: Due to the nature of work the team assembled to solve it depends upon the problem: I'm American, but only about a third of our specialists are Americans. My particular super power applies to about 25% of clients. Other super powers on our side hail from Germany, Sweden, the UK, France, Japan, China, Canada --- and more I'm not thinking of. The firm I work for has specialists scattered around the world, and most (like me) are not 9-to-5ers, but are invited to teams when their skill is needed.
So, although I don't have a hearing problem, I often deal with strongly accented English from non-native speakers I cannot control. (I am never in charge of these meetings; I am not a project manager). Further, clients often discuss something during the call with each other, in a language I don't understand.
How to deal with it?
Preparation, and Zen.
Do what you can with your OWN equipment; make sure you can work hands free and wireless.
If you can record the call, do it.
Make sure you know how to mute your microphone in an instant (I work from an office in my home; but interruptions happen. Deliveries, dogs outside, neighbors we are friends with, etc.)
Before the conference starts, I get a full list of attendees from the call organizer. I arrange a plain chart with names and roles on a legal sized paper; more than one if needed. I keep track of questions I have on the call, written near the person I think needs to be asked, or written separately.
I am working the whole call, trying to follow the conversation, contributing if I get the chance, or writing notes for my Qs and Answers if I don't get the chance.
After the call, I go over these notes and try to figure out what I still don't know, and who can help me with that. I will be contacting the project manager (or call organizer) with my questions and any answers I thought of, but it is important to do some of this while the call is fresh in my head.
The Zen, or Understanding:
I believe if people are talking over each other, chances are the topic is not settled. I don't make an effort to understand them (and get anxious for failing), I'm okay with not knowing what is going on and use that time to note the time and keywords to write a question later, by email. If they end up agreeing or gaining a new insight during the CC, I have a check-mark for that, if I don't understand the insight, a question-mark for it: They figured it out, ask exactly WHAT they figured out.
I do not think of my role as being the best in the room at anything except my narrow area of expertise. I will talk over people that try to TAKE my role or speak for me. But my role is not to contribute to every conversation.
Yes, the whole point of the meeting is to be real time and save time by hashing things out in conversations. But I know myself: I am not fast on my feet, I don't think of ramifications quickly, problems or responses or rational arguments that seem obvious in retrospect just don't occur to me in conversations. I don't think that way, and I am not paid to think that way.
So for me, the CC is almost never the end of the conversation.
I'm not anxious (anymore) because I have perspective. My job is to be great at one relatively narrow kind of task. If I am on the team, then all my crew on my team and all the crew on the client side want and need me to succeed at my one thing. Just as I want and need other specialists to succeed at their specialties, and I will help them in any way I can.
On our side, we have project managers whose specialty is to know everybody and what they do, to be a good conversationalist and to manage the information or decisions that come out of such calls.
I usually follow up with them, in emails or by phone, to get clarifications, to make arguments I couldn't make during the call, and to answer questions when I did not get the chance to talk (or just didn't think of an important point at the time). I can note who I think said what, and if I recorded the call the times in my notes let me review in private what was said.
A business CC is not a sports game or contest to be won or lost in the moment. I have been on CC that lasted an hour, where I did not say a thing other than introduce myself --- But a day later, after a few clarifications and a night's sleep, suddenly realized how to solve the problem being discussed with an approach that actually worked.
I think nobody really cares that I had no idea how to solve it and nothing to contribute during the CC. Including me! It got solved.That is what matters.