How is phone call anxiety affecting our relationships?
BY Matt Abrahams
17th Nov 2023 Dating & Relationships
2 min read
Phone call anxiety is on the rise, with a quarter of 18–24 year olds avoiding picking up the phone. Why is this, and what is it doing to our relationships?
In an era dominated by texting and messaging apps, phone calls seem to be becoming a relic of the past, particularly among younger generations.
"Why do we find phone calls so awkward, and is avoiding them damaging our relationships?"
A recent survey by Sky highlights this shift, revealing that a quarter of 18–24 year olds refuse to pick up the phone, and over half ignore calls from their parents. This raises the question: Why do we find phone calls so awkward, and is avoiding them damaging our relationships?
Why are we making less phone calls?
The avoidance of phone calls isn't just a preference; it's a manifestation of anxiety. The immediacy and directness of a phone call, without the ability to carefully curate responses as in text-based communication, can be daunting.
This anxiety is not entirely new. Even traditional forms of speaking can trigger a release of oxytocin, which helps reduce social anxiety symptoms. However, in the absence of physical cues and the comfort of a known audience, phone calls can exacerbate these anxieties, making the experience feel more intense.
Phone conversations can be awkward due to the lack of non-verbal cues. In face-to-face interactions, we rely heavily on gestures, facial expressions, and body language to interpret messages, which are absent in phone conversations. This can lead to misunderstandings and a feeling of disconnect.
Additionally, the pressure to respond immediately without the buffer of time to think, as afforded by messaging apps, can increase the anxiety associated with phone calls.
How phone call anxiety affects our relationships
Despite the discomfort they may cause, phone conversations are an important skill. In the professional world, the ability to communicate effectively over the phone remains a critical skill.
As I emphasise in my teachings and workshops, clear, confident, and authentic communication can significantly impact personal and professional success. Therefore, it's crucial to teach younger generations, including Gen Z, the art of phone conversation, not just for professional success but also for nurturing personal relationships.
Relying solely on messaging apps can have detrimental effects on Gen Z's wellbeing and relationships. The survey indicates a growing discomfort with direct voice communication, which can lead to a lack of deeper, empathetic connections that are often forged through more direct forms of communication like phone calls. This can potentially impact their ability to form meaningful relationships and navigate situations where direct communication is indispensable.
"It is crucial to encourage and relearn the art of phone conversation"
Moreover, as I advocate in my approach to public speaking, incorporating emotional elements into communication enhances memorability and impact. Phone conversations, with their immediate and personal nature, can foster a deeper emotional connection than text-based communication.
While it's understandable why phone calls can feel awkward in today's digital age, it's essential to recognise the value they hold in effective communication and relationship building. As we navigate this "phone anxiety pandemic", it is crucial to encourage and relearn the art of phone conversation, balancing the ease of texting with the depth and authenticity of a real-time voice call. This balance is key to maintaining healthy, meaningful relationships and ensuring personal and professional growth in an increasingly digital world.
Matt Abrahams is a lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the author of Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot and Speaking Up Without Freaking Out, and the host of Think Fast, Talk Smart The Podcast.
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter
Loading up next...