Telephobia: Why Have We Developed A Fear Of The Phone Call?

Telephobia: Why Have We Developed A Fear Of The Phone Call?

Carmela De Simone March 20, 2022

The phone rings and, of course, you would go to answer – but suddenly the anxiety takes over and the phone call fear kicks in. That’s right, telephobia has struck but why?

Ordering a pizza, buying a cinema ticket, booking a doctors’ appointment, taxi, or a table at your favourite restaurant, can all be done from our phones. Mobile phones are one of the most multi-functional device in modern technology and the world is literally at our finger tips.

The emergence of smartphones and rise of social media over the last few decades would suggest most young people are remarkably sociable.

But as interaction has become increasingly digitised, many young people have developed an aversion to telephone interaction.

Telephobia is now a recognised social anxiety disorder, despite a major attachments to our phones, there is a reluctance or even fear of making and answering phone calls.

Clinical Assistant Professor at Department of Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Ariane Ling describes this as ‘an intolerance of uncertainty’, when answering the phone.

Cultural shift throughout the pandemic

When COVID-19 restrictions were implemented in England, Google meet, Google classroom and Slack amongst other social networking platforms became vital commination tools as we worked and studied from home.

Scheduling online meetings and phone calls became a new cultural norm. The impression that impromptu phone calls demand a sense of urgency, could be a factor that’s contributes to many experiencing anxiety of answering a call.

Sales call reluctance syndrome

Sales Call reluctance syndrome was studied as early as the 1980’s, when George Dudley Shannon Goodson wrote The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance. Notably, the mobile phone, came into use in the UK in 1985.

Cold-calling is a notoriously annoying sales tactic, which traditionally would only be an inconvenience when interrupting dinner times. With the introduction of the mobile phone, sales calls are now a 24/7 grievance.  

During the pandemic nearly 45 million adults reported receiving scam texts or calls over three months in 2021 according to OFCOM.  The increasing number of illegitimate and scam calls, mean society is as sceptical as ever of sales-calls.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then a fear amongst salespeople of rejection and irritating or annoying customers. The sales call reluctance phenomenon amongst salespeople has detrimental effects on sales performance and meeting targets, due to reluctance to contact potential prospects.

According to their research call reluctance is the reason 80 percent of new salespeople fail within their first year.

Signs of phone call reluctance

Signs that suggest a person is experiencing call reluctance are;

  • Experiencing powerful negative emotions, such as fear, embarrassment, shame, anxiety, guilt and panic.
  • Anticipation of the worst, believing that every call will result in a negative outcome
  • Trying to buy time before calling instead of initiating contact. (frequent procrastination and over-preparing for calls)

Managing Telephobia in the workplace

Dreading the first ring in the office, after the clock hits 9am is something quite a lot of us can relate to. If you’re experiencing episodes of telephobia it’s not uncommon and it’s definitely rectifiable.

It may be easier to say you hate your job than face the fact you’re a prone to serial catastrophizing.

There are a number of coping mechanisms for telephobia, particularly when you work in sales- and don’t worry they’re not going to tell you to smile while you dial, but help you plan for success and dismantle irrational negative attitudes towards potentially awkward situations and customers.

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I am a journalism graduate from Brunel University. My background is in property lettings and the motor industry. I’m obsessed with all things health & beauty, travel, music and Turkish food. You will most often find me drinking vodka lime sodas and watching Shrek.