homepage logo

Tech Matters: Telephobia at work: What’s it all about?

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jun 12, 2024

Photo supplied

Leslie Meredith

You may have noticed a growing trend: Younger colleagues, and perhaps even your own kids or grandkids, seem to dread phone calls. Instead, they prefer texting or messaging. This shift can be puzzling, especially for those of us who find voice conversations to be more satisfying and effective. You're not alone in valuing the warmth and clarity of a person's voice over the impersonal nature of text messages.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 75% of millennials prefer texting or messaging over talking on the phone. This trend extends into the professional realm as well. A survey by Smith.ai found that up to 76% of millennials and 40% of baby boomers experience some level of phone anxiety in a work setting. Understanding the reasons behind this telephobia can help bridge the communication gap.

One significant factor is the lack of visual cues during phone calls. Younger generations miss out on the nonverbal cues that we rely on during face-to-face interactions. Body language and facial expressions add depth to conversations that are missing in phone calls, making them feel awkward for those accustomed to visual interactions. Additionally, some people feel self-conscious about their voice or word choice on the phone, fearing they'll be judged. This performance anxiety can be heightened in professional settings where every word seems to count.

Furthermore, the generational shift plays a big role. Younger people have grown up with instant messaging and texting as their primary modes of communication, making phone calls feel uncomfortable. While video calls can provide some of the visual cues missing in phone calls, they still trigger similar anxieties for many. The fear of being judged or scrutinized on camera can be just as daunting, even though working from home during the pandemic gave us plenty of exposure.

I remember adjusting ring lights and other lighting to get the best look, along with making sure my lipstick was in place and hair neatly brushed. At the time, my dad and I were working together on a series of webinars and he'd laugh because I'd be in a nice dress, but still barefoot. People had to train themselves not to stare at their own image on the screen during calls. But most of those concerns evaporated over time as we used video calls so frequently. Still, messaging eliminates any leftover worries about appearance.

Despite these challenges, there are times when a face-to-face conversation is critical. A phone or video call allows for better understanding and empathy for nuanced or emotionally charged topics. If you need an instant response or a back-and-forth dialogue, a call is often more efficient than messaging. And, phone and video calls can help build stronger personal connections and trust, which are essential in many professional relationships.

In sales, phone calls remain an essential tool. Many companies still rely on call quotas to measure productivity and believe the more calls, the more sales. They're not wrong. According to a study by the RAIN Group, a global sales training firm headquartered in Boston, 57% of C-level executives prefer to be contacted by phone, and 71% of these buyers want to hear from salespeople early in the buying process. Assuming age correlates with job level, this insight can be a motivator for sales teams when reaching out to C-level prospects.

If company policy mandates phone calls, managers can take steps to help their teams feel more comfortable on calls. Offering regular training sessions and role-playing exercises can help employees build confidence and improve their phone skills. Pairing less-experienced team members with seasoned colleagues through mentorship programs can provide guidance and support. In fact, managers may need to just rearrange the seating plan in the office. A study by the University of California, Berkeley, found that if you sit next to a high performer, your performance will increase by 15%. However, if you sit next to a low performer or underperformer, it will decrease your productivity by 30%.

Managers can also provide resources such as scripts, talking points and other materials to help employees prepare for calls. Recognizing and celebrating successful calls and closed deals can build morale and encourage a positive attitude toward phone calls. These strategies can make a significant difference in how employees perceive and handle phone calls.

Personally, I love the immediacy and connection I feel from a video or voice call, but I understand that not everyone feels the same way. It's all about first understanding each person's feelings about calls and responding appropriately -- whether that's sending a text to your daughter or training up your sales team.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)