Woozle 15:58, 4 May 2005 (CDT)
My own experience has varied between these extremes; sometimes I can listen to messages, but it gets harder if I know I am behind on my work because I am afraid that the message will be reminding me of something I haven't done.
It is a problem which I have had almost as long as I can remember. I believe it is largely rooted in having a very poor short-term memory, which means that I easily forget things I am told verbally -- to the point where I will find myself completely at a loss as to what to say next in a conversation, or even whether it is my turn, or if the conversation is now over or not. In face-to-face conversations, I can often read nonverbal cues to help guide me, but these cues are almost entirely lacking in phone conversations. If the conversation were taking place in print (e.g. email or instant messaging), I could re-read what had taken place so far until it sank in, and then work out what to do; with the phone, there is no instant replay, and there is an expectation that you need to respond within a small time-window.
This problem has also been very costly to me -- not just because of missed opportunities because I couldn't make a phone call, but also because of problems dealing with people who agreed to handle phone calls for me.
Although this problem is not, as far as I know, recognized by any official psychological association, I have lost count of the number of people I have spoken with who have more or less the same problem. Some others have said that they have experienced this problem but "got over it"; after 35 years of trying to "get over it", by various means, I do not think the forceful approach works very well. (I have more to write about this, but will have to come back to it later.)
I've been trying to think of possible sources for the aversion. Here's what I've come up with:
[ 2005-05-22 18:48 (CDT) ] I ask a question. The person on the other end says something, but it doesn't soak in -- I don't hear it, to oversimplify a bit. It can actually be physically painful (leading to intense migraine headaches) to make myself replay the sounds in my head and listen to them more carefully, or else to ask the person to repeat what they said and force my head into a mode where I can take in the information at the speed at which it is given.
[ 2006-04-18 09:32 (EDT) ] The person on the other end says something friendly, though off-topic. If I'm in the right mood, I might be able to (a) successfully process what they said and (b) reply in kind – but if I'm not, it takes me too long (i.e. the length of the necessary pause passes the "comfort zone" and goes into the area of awkwardness if one person or the other doesn't say something) to work both of these things out, and I'm forced to either (1) ignore the diversion, (2) explicitly say something to "get back on track", (3) somehow stall for time so I can think (and try to think while doing so), or else (4) go for a very general reply in the same tone (i.e. shoot without aiming). #1 and #2 have the very unwanted effect of conveying to the other party that I prefer to be "strictly business" and possibly stand on formality. #3 sometimes works, but can be very frustrating (and leading to feelings of inadequacy) when it fails. #4 also sometimes works, but often misfires (with much the same upshot as #3).
[ 2007-07-17 some additional thoughts ] During the dialogue, I feel intense pressure to say [the next thing], whatever that happens to be (and not waste the other person's time, I guess) – but if [the next thing] doesn't happen to come easily into my head, then there's an intense spike of almost-pain until I either figure it out, or find some acceptable way to temporize.
If the dialog goes "off-script", I can usually handle it ok – but the extra resulting almost-pain spikes are kind of exhausting, not to mention discouraging of further calling activity. (It may well be these "spikes" which are at the root of the aversion.)
Harena 16:11, 4 May 2005 (CDT)
I have had great difficulty pinning down just what it is that makes it so hard to make phone calls. "Fear" is what comes to mind at first. But Fear of What? Well, there's the whole, "What if the person who I'm calling has no clue who this is that is calling?" and then I have to go into lengthy explanations that make me sound idiotic. Or something. And then there is this trapped feeling. When on the phone, I can't escape. Also I can't see what the person on the other line is doing; how they are reacting to what I say. Little cues like that make me feel detached & awkward.
And maybe it's just All of the Above.
Just my humble 2 cents worth.
(there's more in there *taps on forehead* but that's all that came out at this time)
Mechamancer 15:23, 24 May 2005 (CDT)
I also have this fear. I keep having to ask people to repeat things because of the bad reception. And as said before the lack of visual clues is disturbing. I also hate the awkward silances that you get. And I always have problems starting and ending conversations. I like to pick up a thread of a conversation not start one. Plus you never know who you will talk to when you call someone. I can never rcognise peoples voices.
anonymous user 220.127.116.11, 15:06, 20 July 2005
I know one reason why I don't like to answer the phone or make calls. The phone is a huge time-suck, especially when friends insist on blathering away for hours on end. I don't know how to say goodbye, so I get stuck listening to the endless drone.
clappy 12:12, 25 July 2005 (AST)
Wow Woozle, you just pegged me exactly. I have spent the last 6 years working at callcenters and the like. In that time period, I have taken over 90,000 phone calls, generally lasting 6-10 minutes each. I used to hate talking on the phone because I could never recognize someone's voice, having to ask them every time. After taking that many phonecalls, I technically have the experience to take control of any telephone conversation, and yet I avoid the phone like the plague in my personal life.
I always get a sinking feeling when the phone rings. Often I won't answer it, or I'll wait until my roommate answers it instead. I also have self esteem/rejection issues that usually stop me from calling people. I wait until I am contacted so I am certain the person does want to be in my company. Thanks for sharing your stories.