Telephonophobia: It’s a Real Thing, Study Says

It’s no secret that smartphone technology has drastically changed the way we communicate. But are some workers actually afraid to make an old-fashioned phone call? You bet, according to one recent study.

Telephonophobia: 1. (noun) The fear of making phone calls in the workplace.

You’re not likely to find that definition in the latest edition of the Merriam Webster dictionary, but according to a new study, the condition most certainly exists. And it afflicts the young most acutely.

A survey of 2,500 office workers in the United Kingdom found that about one of every 20 employees between the ages of 18 and 24 suffer from telephonophobia, meaning that making a phone call “terrifies” them. Four in 10 young workers said communicating by phone makes them nervous. And 94 percent of respondents in all age groups said they prefer to use email.

The findings were not surprising to Rebecca Barnes-Hogg, founder and CEO of staff development firm YOLO Insights, LLC. “We’ve got this generation now that’s been raised on technology, and I really have the sense that they’re losing the ability to connect with people because they’ve been in front of a screen almost from the time they were born,” she said.

But the fear of making telephone calls extends beyond younger workers, Barnes-Hogg added—a view supported by the survey, in which 28 percent of all employees said telephone communication made them nervous.

“With the younger generations it may be more pronounced, but I think even for baby boomers, it’s this fear of not knowing what to say or being judged or being vulnerable,” she said. “People hate making a call because they feel like they are being a nuisance or they don’t know what to say or are afraid they won’t be viewed as being knowledgeable enough. It’s really a fear of what people think of us, not necessarily the telephone.”

So how to overcome that fear? Start by Making a personal connection, Barnes-Hogg suggested.

“Don’t just pick up the phone and jump right in,” she said. “Have some pleasantries, break the ice, find that common ground, and build from there, and then suddenly the conversation is easier. It’s not as difficult to talk to somebody when you know a little something about them.”

Developing confidence in phone or face-to-face conversation is important, she said, because these forms of communication can bring about clearer understanding.

“We’ve all had those email trails that just go on and on, and it’s just like a bouncing ball, and it gets worse and worse,” she said. Picking up the phone can clarify things, and “you could save a whole lot of time and emotional trauma.”

The key to perfecting the art of the phone call, like anything else in life, is practice.

“Anything you do becomes more comfortable when it becomes a habit,” Barnes-Hogg said. “It’s like a duck on a pond—they look so graceful, but what you don’t see are its feet underneath the water frantically kicking away.

“You might never be 100 percent comfortable, but you can get over that fear and sound confident and in control while you’re on the phone.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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