Nice to Hear Your Voice

phone calls

By Yvonne Milosevic

We’re on the cusp of the holiday season during a global pandemic. To put it mildly, people are feeling out of sorts. With many cherished traditions on ice until (fingers crossed) 2021, we’ll need to work extra hard to connect with each other. Sure, you can send out a Rona-inspired greeting card. But may we suggest another method proven to pump up the feels?

UT McCombs School of Business marketing professor Amit Kumar believes the best way to nurture our interpersonal connections is to pick up the telephone.  A phone call, rather than an email or text, makes us feel better, he shares in this piece in Medium.

“Humans are a social species,” he says. “Positive connections are really important for happiness and well-being, and that drives a lot of the hypotheses that I tend to have.”

Getting Past the ‘Uncomfortable’ Part

Kumar and research partner Nicholas Epley of Chicago Booth School of Business ran a series of experiments looking at phone calls and emotion. They tasked the mostly-college-aged study participants with connecting with both old friends and strangers. The subjects would predict how reconnecting by phone versus email would make them feel afterward.

Then, participants were randomly instructed to use either phone or email to reconnect with that person. Even though the participants correctly predicted they would feel more connected by talking on the phone, fear that it would be uncomfortable or weird prompted them to email instead.

This overblown aversion to awkwardness prevents us from choosing what we know will be the more enriching form of communication. And even if it is a bit awkward for the first few moments, the bulk of the conversation is usually fine. After all, says Kumar, “Most of the time when you talk to somebody, it goes well. It’s not like you’ve had lots of horrible experiences talking to an old friend.”

Keep this in mind:

“If your inclinations lead you to opt for texting, you will never experience the fact that your expectations could have been wrong.”

Curiously, Kumar also discovered that phone calls were just as effective as video chats to convey closeness. While visual cues are great, hearing someone’s voice is what creates those strong feelings of connection, he explains.

Why Do Phone Calls Terrify Us?

Psychologists have several theories to explain our phone anxiety, as Cari Romm explains on The Cut. And it affects more than just those who have social phobia. For some people, it’s because they don’t know what the other person is thinking without reading their body language clues. Others don’t talk on the phone often, and they’re plain out of practice. A phone call is much more time-consuming than a text, so some may feel like they’re imposing on the other person.

“The most effective way to combat phone anxiety, unfortunately, is to suffer through some time on the phone,” Romm writes. “Think of a phone call as exposure therapy — the more you do it, the less daunting it will seem.”

Just Do It

Loneliness was already a public health crisis before COVID-19, and months of physical distancing has only intensified the problem. Kumar hopes his research empowers people to strengthen their interpersonal bonds.

“People need to feel connected right now,” Kumar says. “It’s worth knowing how your beliefs might be mistaken and what makes you feel more connected.”

So, even if you feel hesitant about calling to reconnect with old friends and family, push past those fears and pick up the phone. You will feel better afterward.