Here's Why You're Afraid to Talk on the Phone

February 5th 2017

Most Americans have to use the phone for important things in their lives: calls for work, calls to make appointments, calls to loved ones, and (maybe recently) calls to political offices.

However, people also report having anxiety or fear associated with picking up the phone. 

So why are people afraid of talking on the phone? 

People are afraid of being judged negatively based on their phone interactions, and a fear of judgment is rooted in human survival, according to experts. 

"Maintaining our social ties and not causing problems with your allies was especially more important in other historical times like tribal times," Avishek Adhikari, assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles, told ATTN:. "If you cross someone incorrectly there could be serious consequences."  

Barbara Van Noppen, Ph.D., is an associate professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, and she's treated patients with social anxiety who have a fear of talking on the phone. 

"I worked with a young lady and she had difficulty even ordering a pizza, let alone calling for an appointment," she said. 

Noppen said that talking on the phone takes away non-verbal feedback like body language and this blind spot can make some people uncomfortable.  

"Feedback is confirmatory gestures that lead to thoughts like, 'This person is responding favorably to me because they're smiling,'" she said. 

How do you stop being afraid of the phone? 

People who work in offices often have to make phone calls for work. Adhikari recommended writing down the main points of a phone call before hand, and going to a private place, if possible, to make the call. 

"I think people fear being exposed, and everyone can listen to what you're saying in an open office," he said. 

Noppen said people who consistently become fearful when they make phone calls, could write down the negative feelings they get before making a call, then write down positive statements about the call that offer another way to look at the situation.

"They can come up with coping cards that say things like, 'how many times have I called people and it never really was that bad?'" she said. 

However, the only way to overcome the problem is to address it, whether it's a more common form of discomfort with the phone, or a more serious form of social anxiety that should be treated by a mental health professional.

"Avoidance is not a good thing," Noppen said. "Avoidance, even though in the moment it will reduce the discomfort, it just contributes more to the problem."

RELATED: How to Make Your Congressman Listen to You

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