Phone Anxiety

Today’s post was inspired by this one on Blag Hag. In fact, you should probably go read that one first, since this is largely a response to what Jen McCreight had to say.

I’ll wait.

Everybody back? Good.

I too can’t stand talking on the phone. While my anxiety may not be as sever as Jen’s, phone conversations bother me for much the same reasons.

I am a thinker: it’s what I do. As such, I really prefer to be able to have time to plan out my talking points ahead of time, often going so far as to play out conversations in my head. Writing, whether via email, instant messaging, or texting, gives me time to organize my thoughts, make sure I bring up all the salient points I can think of. I can come off as prepared, informed, and intelligent.

Talking on the phone robs me of that chance to prepare. An unexpected phone call can elicit a small panic response, forcing me out of whatever mindset I’m in at the time into social interaction mode. Even worse, I can’t compensate by attempting to read body language and social cues like I could in person. It’s like trying to crack a safe or pick a lock while wearing boxing gloves and blasting Dethklok over the PA at obscene levels. Using equipment you aren’t familiar with.

Not fun, in other words.

I find this comes up even in face-to-face communication, especially during lively, impromptu debates about things such as politics, religion, or other topics that people are emotionally invested in. Thinking the conversation through is an especial detriment in this case, as I find myself, in an attempt to stay a step or two ahead, forming arguments in my head then immediately refuting them by coming up with possible explanations. As such, I am reluctant to make a point unless my reasoning and data is ironclad. Which barring research and citeable sources, it never is.

Another reason to prefer written communication is that it provides a record of what was said and/or requested. Because of my ADD, I live in constant fear of forgetting some important nugget of information: a due date, agreeing to do a favor, what have you. It’s not that I don’t try to remember, it’s just that sometimes things fail to get written to long-term memory.

In fact, shy as I am, I would rather talk to someone face-to-face before I called them. I have been known to go out of my way to avoid phone calls, even if it involves driving halfway across town to stop by someone’s office for no more than a few minutes. If I had to rank my preferences for communication, it would probably look something like this:

  1. Email (or other text-based methods)
  2. In person
  3. ???
  4. Phone calls

That being said, voicemail is an indispensable tool. If I’m leaving a voicemail, I get a chance to go through my prepared script without interruption. If I’m listening to a voicemail, I can prepare for a conversation, making sure I don’t go in completely unprepared. Maybe this is why it annoys me when I leave a voicemail and people call me back without listening to it: I put in the effort to give them background on a situation (in a way that leaves a record, both of which I appreciate from my point of view), but I get denied the benefit of preparing, and am forced to repeat myself and start at square one.

So yeah, I don’t do phones very well. My sorry little flip phone isn’t much of a texting device, but the voicemail works just fine. Anything I can do to help me get a leg up in social interaction is a plus.


2 thoughts on “Phone Anxiety

  1. L Challis Jensen

    Understood. I agree with all of your points and rarely pick up the phone unless I want an emotional connection and they are unavailable for a face to face. Communication for me is not always to share an idea or to set an agenda, sometimes it is just to hear a voice, and to feel a connection I have been missing.

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