Phone Anxiety 101
By: Dr. Helen Ofosu
Phone Anxiety 101
I recently discovered a song called Just a Picture by KYLE ft. Kehlani that compares real-life social interactions to their online equivalents. It showed how much the phone has evolved. Now, many people use their phones for everything except talking. There are a bunch of advantages associated with these versatile devices but there’s also a dark side: a significant number of people physically struggle to talk on the phone. This is having a negative impact on their career progression and their career mobility.
What is phone anxiety?
Many of us have heard of Social Anxiety, an official disorder that’s found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). People who experience social anxiety feel relief when their plans are cancelled. To them, staying in is the new going out (read more about Social Anxiety here and here).
Some people will assume that phone anxiety is one of those ‘high-quality first-world problems’ that seems to afflict millennials. The fact is that some non-millennials dislike and dread talking on the phone too. When combined, the socially anxious, plus the phone avoidant millennials who grew up using text and email instead of talking on the phone, represents approximately half of the modern workplace. This means that it’s not some trivial problem, it is consequential.
What’s the difference between worrying and anxiety?
- Worrying involves our thoughts. We worry about specific things like making it to the train station on time. When we’re worried, it often leads to problem-solving behaviours. For example, students who are worried about their grades will study hard before a test or exam.
- Worry usually happens because of something realistic. For instance, someone who works at a grocery store or bank might be worried about job loss because of ATMs and self-checkout kiosks.
- Worries tend to be short-term. Worrying doesn’t usually have a negative impact on our professional or personal lives.
- Anxiety is something that we feel in our bodies e.g. our hearts may race, we may get sweaty, experience muscle tension, etc.
- We feel anxious about traveling, which is more vague and general.
- Someone might be anxious about job loss because their boss didn’t ask about their son’s soccer tournament.
- It’s much harder to talk ourselves out of our anxieties since we have much less control over them.
- Anxiety tends to linger
- Anxiety can make it too difficult to focus and perform effectively at work.
Some people just don’t like talking on the phone, how is that a problem?
Some people are introverted, but are still extremely effective on the phone and enjoy talking on the phone under the right circumstances. Other people like to speak to others in person but they don’t really enjoy talking on the phone — but they’ll still do it if and when necessary or beneficial. There are others who avoid talking on the phone because it makes them feel anxious enough that they avoid it at all costs. This phone anxiety and the related avoidance behaviours creates significant problems in their professional and (probably their) social lives. They miss out on worthwhile opportunities or experience negative consequences.
One concrete example is one of my clients who I’ll call Jessica. Jessica is doing well at her job except in one domain … she cannot bring herself to make work-related phone calls. Jessica confided that she’s considering going to HR to ask for an accommodation so that she won’t be expected to make phone calls. My client asked me if that was appropriate and of course, I said, “I recommend that Jessica seek help in for her phone anxiety because this will benefit her in the long-term. It will make her more confident and much more productive. Everybody wins.” So, when phone anxiety becomes a career-limiting or life-limiting obstacle, it’s worth addressing it. Incidentally, Jessica and I are working on building her skills and confidence around phone calls so that her phone anxiety becomes a distant memory.
Why should phone anxiety matter to organizations?
On the surface, phone anxiety may look like a problem that individuals should deal with on their own. In some respects, it’s a life skill that’s worth mastering almost like learning how to cook, swim, or drive. Jobs that require these basic core skills assume that employees can perform them, they don’t expect to teach or develop these skills.
The problem is that when you combine the fact that millennials will soon be the largest demographic in the workforce and there are also non-millennials who also experience phone anxiety, that’s a huge percentage of the workforce who may be actively avoiding the phone. That’s a major obstacle when in many workplaces, employers are relying on the phone more than ever because it helps reduce travel costs, keeps remote workers connected, and avoids many of the miscommunications that are caused by detached text, email, and instant messaging. More importantly, when time is short and the stakes are high, the phone is the most effective option when face-to-face isn’t possible.
Globalization means that clients, colleagues, and managers/executives may be located in different locations. Practically speaking, this means that audio, video, and web-based conference calls are all becoming much more common and necessary.
If you are actively avoiding the phone at work, losing out on work opportunities or feel customers are getting frustrated, and you are losing valuable project time there is a solution.
I invite you to contact me for a free, confidential, 15-minute initial consultation. Don’t let phone anxiety or phone phobia limit your career progress and career mobility.
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