Talking over the phone can cause a ‘feeling of dread’

Emily Henbest , Reporter

The unspoken rules of communicating over the phone or through a voicemail have transformed with technological advancements, leading to fewer instances where utilizing these tools would be within this new status quo.

“While I haven’t specifically seen the data on this, I think it is safe to assume that speaking to a person over the telephone or even leaving a voicemail have declined and been replaced by technologies, such as text messaging,” Sharon Docter, communication professor, said in an email interview.

People aren’t making as many calls and leaving voicemails as they once were because new technology has made this act no longer a part of our second nature. Feeling your phone buzz in your hand might bring up many different feelings, depending on who is calling, what time it is or whether a call was expected. Feeling happy that someone is trying to connect with you is the “Public Relations answer” to what people feel most often when this occurs. 

However, I’ll admit a lot of the time I feel dread when receiving a phone call, and this might be because it takes more energy to engage in verbal conversation than it did in the past. The shift to being on the phone is far greater today because there is so much around us demanding our attention already, especially on our phones. So, whether you are scrolling through social feeds, hanging out with friends or eating lunch, getting a phone call insisting you have to pick up quickly before it stops ringing, has the ability to make you say “ugh.” 

Jessica Sillers, in “Why do phone calls give us anxiety?” featured on the Headspace website, defines “telephone phobia” as “the fear/avoidance of phone conversation,” which Sillers says affects 15 million people in the U.S. because of it is an aspect of social anxiety. 

“Fears that they are intruding, being unintentionally rude, or even that their voice sounds funny can keep people from making a call,” Sillers said. “Telephone phobia can also exist outside of another anxiety disorder, or it can be an indicator of depression. Given how sophisticated phones are now, it can be easy to avoid your fear, rather than confront it.”

Awareness of the emotional effects a phone call can have on someone, even if the feeling of dread lasts only the duration of the call notification, blocks whatever content they were consuming prior, perpetuates telephone phobia and hinders people from making the call to begin with. So, instead, we compose text messages because it’s less disruptive.

Also, one other small factor that has made me cringe at the sound of an incoming call is the possibility that it will be spam. Especially recently, spam-likely phone numbers take up the majority of my incoming call logs. The general rule of thumb I use is that if I don’t have them in my contacts, I will not pick up, and if it’s someone I know then they’ll text me. The only people who leave me voicemails are telemarketers and my dentist’s office.

“When you rely solely on written communication, then it is sometimes difficult to read social presence cues. For example, it is much more difficult to interpret something like sarcasm in a written communication form as opposed to a spoken communication form,” Docter said. “Because speakers do not receive immediate feedback from listeners in written communication as they would in spoken communication, then this can lead to more unfiltered messaging, since the speaker does not immediately have access to how their communication is being received.”

Additionally, through text, we can carefully craft a more eloquent message than we speak in an immediate response during verbal communication. 

The good news is that we haven’t stopped the chatter entirely, and new devices of verbal communication are becoming more popular. Voice audio messages could be the new medium for verbal communication that saves us all from a never-ending socially awkward phase.

According to Magdalene J. Taylor’s article “The Year of Voice Message: A Modern Guide to Phone Etiquette” for the Wall Street Journal, a possible explanation for the popularity of expressive and tone-sensitive communication was the need for personal connection during the lockdown.

“Platforms like Bumble, a dating app, used the moment to expand its voice-based messaging. Vivienne Sung, vice president of product, reports that people were increasingly using Bumble’s in-app voice call and video chatting features during the pandemic. Once the app added voice notes in 2020, she says people adopted that medium too, since it let them form deeper connections without taking the leap to a call,” Taylor said.

We are all human, looking around, seeking connection through everything we do. It looks like it took isolation for us to realize how comforting speaking to one another is. 

In my opinion, technological advancements have created an unspoken stigma around taking over the phone, leading to the decline of using this tool of communication.

The hit that verbal communication took as a result of the rise of texting made everyone more aware that we can talk in a less disruptive way. As we do, society has changed to create a demand for technology to provide a way to connect verbally with peers in a way that makes us feel more comfortable and less intrusive. As the preferred ways of communication evolve, the need for human connection will remain.