Curious phenomenon: Why some people just don’t answer the phone

Chatting with friends, taking photos, sharing videos, checking emails: the smartphone is always with you. Nevertheless, younger people in particular are making less and less calls. Why actually?

The list is descending: 14 minutes browser, 10 minutes Instagram, 5 minutes pedometer, 3 minutes Whatsapp. Phone: one second. What Tobias Lang’s smartphone recorded in terms of usage times on a Monday until midday is not representative. The 29-year-old is a journalist, so making calls is part of his job – actually. Despite this, he is still reluctant to pick up the phone. Especially when someone calls.

When it came to making a reservation in a restaurant, Lang used to let others pick up the phone. And acquaintances sometimes still have to ring the bell several times before he decides to answer. Even at work, he sometimes ignores callers and prefers to wait for an email. “It pulls me out of what I’m doing right now, I have to get involved with a person,” Tobias Lang explains his displeasure. “Sometimes I just don’t feel like it.”

Young people lack practice

Because young people in particular are increasingly communicating via SMS, WhatsApp & Co., they lack practice in making phone calls.
Because young people in particular are increasingly communicating via SMS, WhatsApp & Co., they lack practice in making phone calls.

Bild: Getty Images

Tobias Lang isn’t the only one who considers telephoning to be one of the unpleasant activities in life. Some people even develop outright panic attacks when a phone call is imminent. And young people in particular are apparently simply lacking in practice.

A study by the IT industry association Bitkom from 2017 shows that more than three quarters of young people use Messenger or SMS to keep in touch with their friends. Face-to-face interviews came in second, with only a good third of those surveyed using the phone.

“Young people actually have more problems than they used to,” says Uschi Schöllhammer. She is a telephone trainer, and through her institute in Bamberg she gives courses for employees in switchboards, in customer service or for trainees. The qualified psychologist explains the phone shyness as follows: “The situation is difficult for many because it requires absolute mental presence.” This is different with a written exchange. You can read e-mails, text or chat messages again and take your time with the answer. You have to react immediately on the phone.

In addition, callers cannot see the person on the other end of the line. “That makes telephoning a bit disturbing,” says Schöllhammer. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t answer, you can’t tell if he’s annoyed, inattentive, distracted – or just didn’t understand. The good news: telephoning can be practiced. Even if there are deeper reasons behind the fear of calls.

Symptoms like a panic attack

Christine Rummel-Kluge always has to deal with people for whom phone calls are a real problem. “Cold sweat, palpitations, dry mouth – symptoms like a panic attack,” says the doctor, who heads a special outpatient clinic for anxiety disorders at the University Hospital in Leipzig, describing the problems of her patients.

Such cases are not uncommon, they usually occur in the context of social phobias, says Rummel-Kluge. Although terms such as telephone or telephony phobia appeared again and again, this is not a disease in its own right.

In principle, it is about the fact that direct communication costs those affected a lot of effort. “A patient had to complain because her heating wasn’t working and was afraid of saying something wrong,” says Rummel-Kluge. Such people then prefer to write an e-mail or let acquaintances take the call.

But that only makes the situation worse in the long run. “The hurdle only gets smaller if you practice,” says Christine Rummel-Kluge. For example, clinics offer training in social skills. Critical situations can be acted out in role-playing games. The doctor advises that friends, relatives or colleagues should also offer help rather than take everything away from the other person.

Write down important information beforehand

This can be done through encouragement, by practicing difficult conversations, slipping into the role of the landlord or the angry customer and then giving constructive feedback. But for many it is already helpful if you simply take them seriously.

“What bosses sometimes do wrong: they register employees for telephone training without informing them beforehand,” says psychologist Schöllhammer. Above all, this is how you get a sick note on the day in question.

If the excitement before a call increases, you can prepare well with pen and paper, explains Schöllhammer. You should write down important messages beforehand, as well as the name of the person you are talking to, the topic or your own concern. In difficult situations, pre-formulated answers are a lifeline, for example: “I’ll find out more and call you back.”

Important: Mistakes can happen, not every phone call has to go perfectly, says Schöllhammer. “Better five bad ones than none at all.” Otherwise the fear of a phone call will only increase. The psychologist also advises smiling and concentrating on breathing. “It puts you in a different mood.”

Leave a Comment