With both Halloween and Bonfire night coming to an end, the past two weeks have inspired a thought-provoking topic of conversation in our office. So much so that we decided to write a blog post on it! What is the problem in question? Phone phobia at work. Or Telephonophobia, to use its more technical name, is one of the most common workplace phobias. This article aims to help you understand the condition a little better and highlights ways you can overcome this common workplace fear.
What is Phone Phobia?
For the majority of us, making a phone call is as simple as picking up the phone, dialling a number and having a conversation. So what’s all the fuss over? Well, if we consider the same situation from the position of someone suffering from Telephonophobia, this is what the symptoms look like whenever the phone rings:
- Shortness of breath
- Voice cracking
- Heart racing
- Sweaty palms
- Nervous trembling
- Avoidance behaviour
Why Do Some People Experience Phone Anxiety at Work?
A recent survey of 500 UK office workers found that a massive 62% admitted to having experienced phobias relating to phonetic phone usage. The reasons sufferers gave for their anxious thoughts when receiving phone calls at work were:
- Feeling unsure of how to deal with a query (33%)
- Fear of “freezing” on the phone (15%)
- Worries that the caller may think negatively of them (9%)
- Concerns of phonetic articulation, sounding “strange” when talking aloud (5%)
Telephone conversations are different and often more frightening than an ordinary, everyday conversation as you have the loss of one vital sense – your sight. If you cannot see the other person, their facial expressions, it makes it harder to judge their reactions to your side of the conversation. This inability to gauge reactions is a significant reason for individuals suffering from phone anxiety in the workplace.
However, if we break down potential scenarios, the likely hood of receiving a ‘bad’ phone call is very slim. But yet, many are still worried.
It is almost as if we forget that we have the power to stop the call at any time, which is something we don’t have in face to face conversations. Some believe that it is in fact, our renowned British politeness which prevents hanging up. Allegedly, we are too sweet to say what is really on our minds and therefore, avoid the situation entirely. Unlike in text messaging where one has several attempts to phrase, rephrase and paraphrase, real-time conversations are void of this kind of editing.
Why Does it Matter?
In our personal lives, it’s easy to get through a typical day without needing to answer the phone. If we don’t feel like picking it up, we have the technology available to us to text the caller back and apologise for being busy.
Workwise, however, it’s hard to find a job where you would not be required to receive calls these days. Of course, the obvious answer for someone who feels nervous about answering phones is to avoid customer service jobs. But even to get a job that doesn’t involve customer service, the majority of employers now use phone interviews as part of their screening process.
So, does this mean that we’re terrified to speak to each other? Have we lost the art of conversation?
No, not necessarily. With the increased use of mobile phone conversations via social media channels, it’s clear to see that people are still conversing. However, their platform for doing so has changed.
Indeed, it is surprising just how many people identify with a fear of talking on the phone, despite the average screen/usage time increasing.
The Impact Telephonophobia Can Have on Work
As noted above, being asked to ‘pick up the phone and call’ often sends shockwaves through the sufferer’s entire body.
Moreover, the sufferer is likely to be the subject of even more worry. Fear of talking on the phone can result in procrastinating or avoiding specific office tasks altogether. Such behaviour may reflect negatively on an individual’s work performance.
Sufferers may risk appearing lazy if they have not hit their call targets or have opted for a different preferred medium of contact. For instance, employers may conclude that an individual does not work ‘quickly’ or ‘effectively’ if choosing to email rather than phone, because it is more time-consuming.
Speaking From Experience
One of Adria’s Director’s, David, admitted that he suffered from phone phobia at work earlier on in his career and had some advice for others wanting to overcome their fear:
“Remember to pause for your thoughts and listen to theirs. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We should, therefore, always make sure we are listening to the other participant’s side of the conversation more than we speak ourselves”.
David admitted that spending more time listening than talking helped to alleviate some of his anxieties such as; what if I say the wrong thing? Talk too much? Talk too little? When you are listening to the recipient, you focus on the conversation – not your anxieties!
In closing, he offered this final piece of advice – identify what the cause of your phobia is and address the issue.
For David, the source of his anxiety was evident. He had a speech impediment when he was younger and as a result, spoke with a lisp. Despite having elocution lessons to help correct his speech, he was still nervous about his articulation as an adult. It worried him that his words would get muddled and that people may not be able to understand him when he spoke on the phone.
How to Overcome Phone Anxiety
The advice from our director is practice – lots of practice with as many people as you can. Start by having simple conversations with friends and family. Don’t expect to have learned everything from one phone call. Always make sure you take away another lesson from each phone call, and you will see an improvement in time.
Many relate a fear of speaking on the phone with other common social phobias such as social anxiety disorder. Cognitive-behavioural-therapy (CBT) is commonly used to remedy such anxiety. Essentially, CBT helps to retrain your anxious behaviour. CBT is available on the NHS, and you often don’t need a referral from your GP for this.
The environment that you’re in can also make it difficult for people to make calls if they have to answer the phone in front of other people, for example. If this is an issue, maybe you could ask your boss if you could sit somewhere quieter?
Does The Thought of Taking A Phone Call Send your Heart Racing?
Do you experience anxiety when the phone rings? Does it hold you back at work? Do you have any advice that might help others deal with their fear? If you have any feedback, we’d love to hear from you! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
We hope you found this article helpful. If you know anyone who suffers from Telephonophobia, please share it on social media. They will be sure to thank you for it!