A Brief Post about Phone Anxiety

I heard recently on a project management podcast that millennials (that is, my generation) have higher rates of phone anxiety. It was mentioned in passing, but with the subtext that we young’uns just don’t know how to talk to people anymore.

So. Yes, I have phone anxiety. But I can tell you that I didn’t always have it, and the cause isn’t texting too much, or whatever the excuse de jour is.

You know who calls people nowadays? Telemarketers, robo-calls, collections, and scammers. I haven’t dealt with collections in a decade in a half, but the other three are rarely pleasant. My parents don’t call; they text.

In college, I called friends. I called family. I called the pizzeria if I wanted delivery. And generally speaking, it was pleasant most of the time. Phone trees didn’t suck like they do now.

While the proliferation of confrontational and malicious phone conversation is one aspect of why I hate using the damn thing, the second is a bad professional experience I had. I’ve changed and omitted some of the details of the following.

Imagine you’re at your desk, well into some task that requires most of your concentration, when the phone rings. When you get a call, you’re professionally obligated to answer, so you do. It’s a client. They’re mad, about to switch to a new provider, unless some little thing that broke is fixed right that second. This isn’t something you’ve worked on or are familiar with, but they absolutely insist, and you’re the only one who can take the call. So you muddle through, and they still complain to your supervisor.

Once? Frustrating, but you deal with it.

Constantly? Over years? Your adrenaline spikes when you hear a particular ring tone.

Now imagine this. You need a piece of information from a team of specialists. You know just enough to ask for what you want, but — because this isn’t your area of expertise — you occasionally slip up, misuse some jargon, etc. But unless you get the exchange just right, you won’t get what you need, and you’ll probably be ignored until you get your supervisor to ask again, less politely.

Maybe you start avoiding using the damn phone at all costs unless you’re reading from a script.

But no, I clearly have phone anxiety because I like emojis too damn much.