A former colleague posts an article each day on LinkedIn to help her friends and readers navigate the world. My work day often begins by reading either the full article or Anoka’s helpful summaries, which is how I learned about the existence of telephone anxiety.
An article on The Conversation website reported that a 2019 survey of UK office workers found 76% of millennials and 40% of baby boomers have anxious thoughts when their phone rings. As a result, 61% of millennials would completely avoid calls if possible, compared with 42% of baby boomers.
In my family both parents enjoyed talking on the telephone, so this new information surprised me. However, I may be behind the times. In a recent conversation on the topic, our millennial son told us that his generation believes phone calls can be an imposition on someone else’s time. And when this tweet showed up in another context and hit too close to home, I was reminded that there are many different perspectives to consider.
Nonetheless, let’s have a look at telephone anxiety. There were several reasons given in the article as to why people feel anxious when the phone rings (or chirps, or whatever) for them. Anoka summarized them as:
- Talking on the phone can be daunting because we’re limited to just the sounds of our voices.
- Research also suggests phone anxiety is related to a preoccupation with what the other person thinks of them.
- Another reason phone calls can sometimes feel overwhelming is the pressure that comes with being someone else’s focus.
- A phone conversation can feel impulsive and risky.
I admit to having experienced pangs of worry in the past when taking certain calls. But on the same day that Anoka posted her article, I used the phone to call a friend. We once worked together on an almost daily basis. Over the last 20 years, however, we had done little more than exchange holiday letters. Now in his 90s, his last letter led me to think that a call would be welcome.
It turned out to be the best twenty minutes I spent that day.
After getting over his surprise to hear this voice from the past, we jumped in to discuss the pandemic and current family situations. Then we moved into a discussion about work and associates, past and present. Even into his 90s he is writing an autobiography about the lessons learned from landmarks. He had a suggestion for a project I am involved with at the moment. We both were able to express our appreciation for the support given by the other over the course of our careers.
Given the health effects of the coronavirus on those over the age of 65 — an age group that may also struggle managing Zoom technology — the all-too-important human touch often has to be limited to coming “over the telephone wire” as we used to sing. But reaching out and hearing that human voice brings so much meaning that an email or even a letter cannot achieve. That can also be true even for those in younger generations.
To combat phone anxiety, the article suggests making a list of the people you need to speak to on the phone, such as friends or colleagues, and then going through each one by reflecting on what it is about the call that makes you anxious. If you think you might benefit from seeking professional help, counseling is a great option and there are a number of talking therapies available.
But one of the most effective ways to overcome phone anxiety is to expose yourself to more phone calls. Pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Take a chance that it won’t be an imposition but will, in fact, be welcomed. Say hello in there. Then do it again. And again. And again.
You will likely receive just as much in making the call as the other person will in hearing from you.
Above all, be kind.
Have a good week.
More to come…