Firstly, I apologise for the overstatement; I do understand that not all introverts dislike talking on the phone, and not all extroverts enjoy it. However, I will argue that it does tend to be a trait more widely associated with introverted personalities, and who am I to pass up a catchy title peppered with generalised stereotyping?
I imagine at least 90% of the jobs in the world will require you to pick up a phone at some point, and so having an instinctive aversion to this activity can therefore become not only a constant source of discomfort and worry, but also pain in the arse for employers, colleagues, friends and family members.
Not many introverts are able to put their finger on why the thought of answering the phone breaks them out in a cold sweat, or why they find themselves rehearsing every possible dialogue scenario in their head before calling someone. It’s difficult to overcome, and even more difficult to explain.
This may not be true for everyone, but for me it’s the lack of facial expressions and body language that leaves me utterly perplexed. When you already find social interaction a baffling and uncomfortable task at best, removing the two most helpful visual cues is a daunting prospect.
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What most people don’t realise is that non-verbal communication such as kinesics (aka body language), is extremely important to conversation. Without being able to see someone’s face while talking to them, you aren’t able to see the genuine, friendly smile that might put you at ease, or the subtly narrowed eyes that suggest a hint of distrust. Without seeing their posture, how can you know what sort of day they’re having, or how confident they feel? Without having them in front of you, how can you tell when they’re about to speak, so that you don’t interrupt them?
It is possible to gauge some of these things from tone of voice and speaking style through the phone, and some of us are simply better at doing this than others. For the rest of us, however, trying to have a conversation through a device remains a trialling endeavour.
Perhaps I rely too heavily on these visual cues during everyday conversation. Maybe I end up understanding through the emotion and meaning portrayed through gestures and expressions, rather than listening to the actual words.
It can be useful in some situations, especially if you’re prone to the occasional daydream. If your mind wanders and you haven’t been listening to someone, you’re still able to react appropriately by quickly analysing their body language and sending a smile, nod or look of sympathy their way. Likewise, if you don’t understand a word or phrase, you can use the person’s gestures as clues and come up with a fitting response.
Unfortunately, since the inception of webcams, Skype, and video conferencing software, introverts and socially inept people alike are no longer able to wield the lack of visual clues as a valid excuse. These tools are a seemingly logical answer to a mostly illogical problem, but to me, the jerky, lagging blur of a person on my screen feels like a poorly executed quick-fix, rather than a viable, long-term solution.
Another common question often posed to me when discussing this topic is: “If you don’t like talking without seeing the person’s face, why are you fine with writing texts and emails?”
It’s an understandably confusing premise, and at this point my argument for the necessity of body language goes out the window. Weirdly, I’d 10X rather write an email to someone than pick up the phone and speak to them; something that makes little sense to anyone else but me.
Personally, I feel more comfortable expressing my thoughts and feelings through written word, rather than spoken. When talking, I have a tendency to stumble over words, forget the names for things, or lose my train of thought mid-sentence; thus making me seem clumsy, awkward and generally bored of my own voice. When writing, I use carefully selected language, punctuation and the occasional meme or emoticon to convey the emotion of my message. Not to mention the God-sent ability to undo, delete, cut and edit my words infinitely. Overall, I find it a much more effective way to communicate.
I’m sure different people harbour their own legitimate reasons for their negative feelings towards talking on the phone, and some of them may appear to be more inconsistent and nonsensical than others. I’ve found it to be a much more common problem than I originally thought, and in some ways it is comforting to know I’m not the only one.
Leave a comment below if you can relate to any of the above, or indeed if you can’t, and you’re eager to impart your bewilderment. I’d love to know if anyone has any tips on overcoming these emotions, or any different reasons why they feel the same way.