Phone-Phobia: Why the Next Generation Won’t Pick-Up

Phone-Phobia: we are talking about actual ‘talking’, not texting, gaming, iming or twittering.

305519653_0e017825e8_mHave you ever tried to get a teen on the phone? It is impossible.  They will text you right back or email you, but they won’t pick up.  I know, because I am the same way.  I will do anything to get out of a phone call, I will write you an ebook, before having a chit chat.  This is not good, I know, sometimes the personal connection is important, maybe even crucial to forming partnerships.  Yet, I cannot stop the feeling of dread, anxiety, even paranoia when I hear my phone ring.

Here are some facts and ways to approach a phone-loather, whether it is your kid, best friend or you.

1) Warn, warn, warn

I try to warn people about my phobia of long drawn-out conversations.  If you are a phone-hater, you have to warn those calling or wanting to reach you in multiple ways.  I try the following:

“Would love to chit chat, but I am terrible on the phone, can we try to work through it via email?”


“Sure, we can talk, but just a little warning, I am a writer at heart, and am not very good on the phone.”

On my message:

“I am really bad at checking messages, so only leave one if you are patient and really have to, otherwise I will probably respond within 20 minutes if you email me, my email address is ______.”

2) It is Not Personal

I really do not mean to be rude, although I know it can be.  Neither do my teen clients and interns who also hate the phone mean to offend.  It has nothing to do with you, we are not avoiding you or avoiding working with you, we just do not have the skills to enjoy and utilize the phone.

3) There is a Difference

…between not liking the phone and not being good at it.  If you have ever called someone’s house and their teen picks up, it often goes something like this:

“Hi, is Nancy there please?”
“Can I speak with her?”
“Uhh. Who are you?”
“Hi, is this Billy? This Sarah, Kat’s mom from across the street?”
“How are you?”
“Great, I was calling your mom about the meeting tomorrow.”
“Uh huh”
“So, maybe I can talk to her?”
“She’s not here.”
“Oh, OK, of course, do you know when she will be back?”
“Uh huh, can I leave a message for her?”
“Um, there is not paper here.”
“Ok, why don’t I just call back and leave a message?”
“Uh huh”
“Ok, thanks Billy.”
“Uh huh.”

I actually teach many of the teens I work with how to be polite on the phone.  It is a skill and many teens, because they are constantly online, do not have much practice.

4) Fear of Inefficiency

This is the main reason I do not like the phone.  I totally understand the need to network and talk and just schmooze.  But, somehow the phone feels rampantly inefficient.  I live my life making things the most efficient I possibly can.  I used to study in the shower by putting my flashcards in Ziplocs. Multitasking is a state of being for myself and most members of my generation (not saying this is a good thing), but it can shed some insight into why we so avoid the phone.  There is a fine balance between using the phone to get to know another person, and using it to spitball the same ideas back and forth.

5) Agenda

I often find that it takes down my anxiety about the phone when I have an idea of what to talk about.  For people who hate the phone you should ask the other person for a list of the things you will be talking about so you can think about them ahead of time.  This keeps the call efficient and productive while you still have ear to ear time. If you have someone who is avoiding your calls, sending them an agenda can help get them to call you faster.  Something like (on a voicemail or email) “Hi, It’s Mike, I just wanted to talk to you about 3 things,  the schedule for Friday, the handout and your tech needs for the presentation, it should not be more than 10-15 minutes.”  Then make sure to respect that list and the time you proposed.

6) Types of Listeners

I am a visual learner, I love to work alone and I express myself through writing.  This is the opposite of the phone.  It is not bad or worse, just different.  When I work with people on projects, I ask them what kind of worker they are and usually address right away my phone phobia.  If they are an audio learner and need to collaborate, then we strike a compromise before we both get aggravated.

In person is the best, but for working with partners, it can be important to have that phone time.  If you have phone phobia, try to let people know you have this problem and set agendas with them. If you are frustrated by a coworker or friend who is anti-phone, try to strike a compromise and realize it is not a personal avoidance of you.

This post is dedicated to Tara Paterson, whom I always owe a phone call to! I am sorry Tara, I promise  I will call you back and it has nothing to do with you!

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9 Responses to “Phone-Phobia: Why the Next Generation Won’t Pick-Up”

  1. Rick
    June 13, 2009 at 12:41 pm #

    I’ve run into this to an extent with my son. I eventually had to tell him when he saw my caller Id on his phone he better pick up. Let’s face it texting is easier, but it loses the personal touch. Thanks for posting I’d never really thought about this until I saw your article.

  2. Silver Fang
    June 14, 2009 at 3:32 pm #

    I always tell people not to call me; text me instead.

  3. online games for kids
    June 15, 2009 at 2:20 am #

    reading this article, i feel relieved somehow.. because i;m not the only one with the phone problem.
    i’ve been thinking that there’s something wrong with me avoiding phonecalls. but now i’m trying to face my own phobia, starts by calling my friend instead of texting, and straight away answering any phonecalls without thinking too much. just answer! =)

  4. Sarah
    October 29, 2009 at 5:37 am #

    Oh my goodness… I thought it was just me.

    Nothing seems to penetrate my brain on the phone. If people do insist on calling me (and by some miracle I answer the phone), I have to ask them to repeat everything in an email and send it to me. I hate, hate hate the phone, can’t stand it ringing, panic at the thought of having to call someone or answer a call. I LOVE email. With phone calls there is no record of anything! It will boil down to “I said, you said” in future – with email there is a record of what was agreed and when.

    I also hate the thought of calling someone unannounced, it just seems so rude to me. For me it’s akin to bursting into someone’s office and demanding they talk to me even though they might be busy doing something else or just not feel like it at the time. So much more polite and efficient to send a quick text or email.

  5. Vanessa Van Petten
    October 30, 2009 at 2:19 pm #

    I know right!

    I wish it got better = )

    Still screen calls like it is my job


    Thanks for reading!

  6. sophi
    May 6, 2010 at 8:26 am #

    omg i thought it was just me!!!!!! Q_Q

    i’ve refused to give out my number to clients when i was doing free-lance web work… because i couldn’t remember any details from phone conversations… and they were stressful to be on. and e-mail leaves a written transcript i can check back against later.

    i worked at a call center for a while and that’s totally what triggered my phone phobia… now i won’t call anybody. except for my partners. and usually just to do very specific things. like she’s at the store and is calling to ask me to check if we have milk.

    also. google voice is AWESOME! if people call and leave a voice mail i get a transcript e-mailed to me so i can respond to what they’re asking.

    what i find most frustrating is that with all the amazing ways we have to communicate with each other businesses are still using phones and faxes as the sole means of remote communication. though i’m being very demanding of the waste management people. i want to signup for service with them without having to use the phone. :3 i even linked them this article in my last e-mail to them.

  7. phonephobiacure
    August 14, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    That was actually me at one point in life.just being afraid to talk on the phone because I thing I can make a mistake or say some thing I can not take back.But thanks to hypnosis I am doing great now.

  8. Cat
    January 25, 2011 at 5:56 am #

    I hate to say but I’m not a teen but I can’t stand talking on the phone. Probably because I had a job where I was on the phone for 8 hours straight, but I find it boring. I want to get to whatever is being said and get off. Unfortunately I come from a family of phone whores and have friends who are similar. They think nothing of calling and wanting to be on the phone for hours. I can’t stand and tend to wonder around doing things. I pity if they found out that I watch TV, read, and listen to music while they gab on.

  9. Theis
    June 14, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    I understand that you can avoid direct confrontations by doing everything over text, insted of talking. And that can ofcourse work for somebody, but it just doesnt work at all if you have a somewhat tight scheadule and need to communicate with other people. For the person at the other end, trying to reach you, it is frustrating, which often will result in alot of cons for you.
    Often you use your network of people, to gain certain benefits. It can be everything from social relations(partys, trips to the movie or something else) to getting better offers on your insurance or a new tv. And if the person trying to reach you, always just find a dead end, they will often feel less encuraged to follow up on you the next time…

    An short example from the real life: My farther should help one of my friends get a brand new car at a cheaper price, by using some of his connections. After he tryed to reach him for the 3. time on the phone, and he didnt pick up, he decided that my frind just could call back himself if he still was interrested. When he finally decided to call back 2hours later, the 3000$ cutoff was gone, and my dad did not want to use more energy at helping him.

    Ofcourse this isnt a problem if EVERYBODY you know feel the same way, as you do. But in the long run, you are cutting your self off…

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