Communication Apprehension

Communication apprehension is a measure of the degree of anxiety someone feels in response to real (or anticipated) communication with another person or people.

Communication ApprehensionCommunication Apprehension refers to the fear or anxiety that individuals experience when they need to engage in communication activities, such as public speaking, group discussions, or any form of interpersonal communication. It often leads to discomfort, nervousness, and avoidance of communication situations.
TypesTrait-Based: Some individuals have a general predisposition to experience communication apprehension across various situations. – Context-Based: It can also be situation-specific, where individuals feel anxious in certain communication contexts but not others.
CausesFear of Evaluation: Apprehension often arises from a fear of being judged, criticized, or negatively evaluated by others. – Lack of Confidence: Individuals may doubt their communication abilities or fear making mistakes. – Past Negative Experiences: Previous failures or embarrassing situations can contribute to communication apprehension. – Social Factors: Peer pressure or cultural norms can influence apprehension.
SymptomsPhysical: Symptoms may include sweating, trembling, a racing heart, or an upset stomach. – Behavioral: Avoidance of communication situations, speaking hesitantly, or using filler words (e.g., “um” and “uh”). – Psychological: Feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, or low self-esteem in communication contexts. – Cognitive: Racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, or mind going blank.
ImpactPersonal: It can hinder personal and professional growth by limiting opportunities for advancement. – Professional: Communication apprehension can affect job performance, especially in roles that require public speaking or interpersonal skills. – Interpersonal: It may strain relationships due to avoidance of communication. – Academic: Students may struggle with class presentations or participation.
ManagementSkill Development: Individuals can work on improving their communication skills through practice and training. – Relaxation Techniques: Learning relaxation methods can help manage anxiety. – Professional Help: In severe cases, seeking therapy or counseling can address underlying issues. – Supportive Environment: Creating a supportive and nonjudgmental environment can reduce apprehension.
OvercomingPreparation: Thoroughly prepare for communication situations. – Visualization: Mentally rehearse and visualize success. – Positive Self-Talk: Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. – Desensitization: Gradual exposure to feared situations can reduce anxiety. – Seek Feedback: Constructive feedback can boost confidence.
ImportanceOvercoming communication apprehension is crucial for personal and professional growth. Effective communication is a vital skill in various aspects of life, and managing apprehension can unlock opportunities for success.
Examples– An employee avoiding a presentation at work due to fear of public speaking. – A student feeling anxious about participating in a class discussion. – A job applicant struggling with interviews due to communication apprehension. – An individual avoiding social gatherings because of social anxiety.

Understanding communication apprehension

According to James C. McCroskey, a former Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication Studies at West Virginia University, communication apprehension is the “fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons.”

Communication apprehension affects all of us at various points in our lives. We may be nervous about an imminent job interview and, once in front of the panel, experience tremors, sweaty palms, and a dry mouth. 

Others can relate to a pounding chest or head whilst public speaking that only subsides once we have resumed our seats.

Indeed, according to an article published by The Washington Post in 2014, some 25.3% of Americans fear public speaking more than they do heights, snakes, needles, or enclosed spaces.

The different types of communication apprehension

Note that there are several different types of communication apprehension. While this could be construed as a negative, the good news is that employees who understand the various types will know themselves better and may be able to reduce their anxiety before an event.

The four main types are listed below.

1 – Trait 

Trait apprehension refers to anxiety rooted in one’s personality and is based on trait theory.

This theory posits that some people are more likely to experience anxiety than others, but whether this is due to nature, nurture, or a combination of both is still debated.

2 – Context 

Those with context communication apprehension feel anxiety in specific contexts or situations.

For example, an employee who received poor feedback from a superior may feel a sense of dread whenever their next performance review is due.

Context apprehension can be further divided into three subdivisions:


Where the individual is anxious in formal situations such as during public speeches or press conferences.


Where the individual feels anxious when they do not know what to expect.

This may occur when new members are added to the project management team. 


Where the individual feels anxious in any new situation such as a topic, workplace, company, industry, or environment.

This is a common source of anxiety for those who start in a new role.

3 – Audience

As the name suggests, audience anxiety occurs when the individual is more worried about the audience than the topic or act of communication.

Think of an employee in a training program who is comfortable showing initiative in front of others but avoids doing so in front of the course coordinator.

Ultimately, people prefer to communicate in front of those with whom they feel are similar.

They may find the audience more relatable because they feel they have a comparable level of knowledge or expertise.

4 – Situation

Situation apprehension is similar to context apprehension but with a few key differences.

Essentially, when some factor (or a combination of factors) works against the speaker, they feel more anxious than if the factors were not present.

Some examples include tiredness, delays, malfunctioning equipment, connectivity issues, a disinterested audience, time constraints, and distractions such as noise. 

Three ways to reduce communication apprehension

Here are three ways to reduce or avoid communication apprehension altogether:

Systematic desensitization

The individual can reduce anxiety by repeatedly exposing themselves to the offending situation in a controlled manner.

This reduces both the novelty and uncertainty aspects we explained earlier.

Cognitive modification

This means introspectively listing your fears, what causes them, and why they surface in a certain way.

Employees can lean on colleagues for their exercise, while others with more ingrained issues may find therapy useful.

Skills training

When you are more prepared to speak publicly, you tend to be more confident in your ability and less anxious.

Preparation and knowledge of the subject matter are important, but so are public speaking skills such as rhythm, tone, intonation, and the proper use of body language and gestures.

Key takeaways

  • Communication apprehension is a measure of the degree of anxiety someone may feel in response to real (or anticipated) communication with another person or people.
  • The four main types of communication apprehension are trait, context, audience, and situation. Within the context type there are three subdivisions: formality, uncertainty, and novelty.
  • To reduce or avoid communication apprehension, the individual can repeatedly expose themselves to the anxiety-provoking event to become desensitized. They can also involve themselves in cognitive modification and public speaking skills training.

Key Highlights

  • Definition and Impact:
    • Communication apprehension is the fear or anxiety associated with real or anticipated communication with others.
    • It affects individuals in various situations, such as job interviews or public speaking, leading to physical symptoms like trembling, sweating, and dry mouth.
    • A significant portion of the population, around 25.3% of Americans, fear public speaking more than common phobias.
  • Types of Communication Apprehension:
    • Trait Apprehension: Rooted in an individual’s personality, some people are naturally more prone to anxiety.
    • Context Apprehension: Anxiety occurs in specific situations, like performance reviews after poor feedback.
      • Subdivisions: Formality (formal situations), Uncertainty (unknown situations), Novelty (new situations).
    • Audience Apprehension: Anxiety is tied to the audience rather than the communication itself.
      • People prefer communicating with those they perceive as similar in knowledge or expertise.
    • Situation Apprehension: Similar to context apprehension, influenced by factors like fatigue, technical issues, disinterested audience, etc.
  • Ways to Reduce Communication Apprehension:
    • Systematic Desensitization: Gradual exposure to anxiety-provoking situations to decrease anxiety over time.
    • Cognitive Modification: Introspection about fears and their triggers, seeking support from colleagues or therapy.
    • Skills Training: Developing public speaking skills, preparation, subject knowledge, tone, body language, and gestures.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • Communication apprehension measures anxiety in response to real or anticipated communication.
    • Types include trait, context (with subdivisions), audience, and situation apprehension.
    • Strategies to reduce or prevent apprehension include desensitization, cognitive reflection, and skills development.

Communication Apprehension Strategies

Public Speaking PresentationPublic Speaking Apprehension:An employee is assigned to deliver a presentation to a large audience during a company meeting. They experience public speaking apprehension, leading to anxiety, nervousness, and a fear of speaking in front of others.Reduced confidence and presentation effectiveness.Impaired message delivery and potential audience disengagement.
Job InterviewsJob Interview Apprehension:Job candidates preparing for interviews may experience job interview apprehension, leading to nervousness, self-doubt, and anxiety about answering questions effectively and impressing the interviewer.Impaired interview performance and self-presentation.Potential missed job opportunities and lower confidence.
Negotiation MeetingsNegotiation Apprehension:Negotiators representing their organizations in high-stakes negotiations may experience negotiation apprehension, leading to anxiety, fear of making concessions, and concerns about reaching favorable outcomes.Impaired negotiation skills and decision-making.Potential unfavorable negotiation results and lost opportunities.
Team PresentationsTeam Presentation Apprehension:Team members tasked with delivering a collaborative presentation may experience team presentation apprehension, leading to concerns about coordination, message alignment, and the overall presentation’s success.Reduced team cohesion and presentation effectiveness.Impaired message delivery and potential audience disengagement.
Leading MeetingsMeeting Leadership Apprehension:Employees assigned to lead meetings may experience meeting leadership apprehension, leading to anxiety, doubts about facilitating discussions, and concerns about maintaining participant engagement.Ineffective meeting facilitation and engagement.Reduced meeting productivity and participation.
Sales CallsSales Call Apprehension:Sales representatives making sales calls may experience sales call apprehension, leading to nervousness, fear of rejection, and concerns about effectively persuading potential clients and closing deals.Impaired sales pitch delivery and persuasive skills.Potential lost sales opportunities and lower sales performance.
Conflict ResolutionConflict Resolution Apprehension:Employees tasked with resolving conflicts in the workplace may experience conflict resolution apprehension, leading to anxiety, fear of confrontation, and concerns about achieving resolutions.Ineffective conflict resolution and communication.Potential unresolved conflicts and decreased workplace harmony.
Performance ReviewsPerformance Review Apprehension:Employees undergoing performance reviews may experience performance review apprehension, leading to anxiety, self-evaluation stress, and concerns about feedback and career development discussions.Impaired self-expression and constructive feedback.Reduced employee engagement and career growth.
Networking EventsNetworking Apprehension:Attending networking events or conferences, employees may experience networking apprehension, leading to social anxiety, fear of approaching strangers, and concerns about initiating conversations and building professional connections.Missed networking opportunities and relationship-building.Potential limited professional growth and missed collaborations.
Team Building ExercisesTeam Building Apprehension:In team-building exercises or activities, employees may experience team-building apprehension, leading to concerns about participation, fitting into groups, and engaging in team activities.Reduced team cohesion and participation.Impaired team bonding and potential missed benefits of team-building.
Change Management CommunicationsChange Communication Apprehension:Employees involved in change management communications may experience change communication apprehension, leading to concerns about delivering messages about organizational changes, adapting to change, and managing resistance effectively.Ineffective change communication and engagement.Resistance to change and potential difficulties in change implementation.
Project Status UpdatesProject Update Apprehension:Employees responsible for providing project status updates may experience project update apprehension, leading to concerns about delivering updates accurately, addressing challenges, and maintaining project transparency.Impaired project communication and stakeholder trust.Potential project setbacks and stakeholder dissatisfaction.
Diversity and Inclusion DiscussionsDiversity Discussion Apprehension:Employees participating in diversity and inclusion discussions may experience diversity discussion apprehension, leading to concerns about engaging in sensitive conversations, using appropriate language, and fostering inclusion.Reduced participation in diversity initiatives.Impaired diversity and inclusion efforts and potential misunderstandings.

Read Next: Lasswell Communication Model, Linear Model Of Communication.

Connected Communication Models

Aristotle’s Model of Communication

The Aristotle model of communication is a linear model with a focus on public speaking. The Aristotle model of communication was developed by Greek philosopher and orator Aristotle, who proposed the linear model to demonstrate the importance of the speaker and their audience during communication. 

Communication Cycle

The linear model of communication is a relatively simplistic model envisaging a process in which a sender encodes and transmits a message that is received and decoded by a recipient. The linear model of communication suggests communication moves in one direction only. The sender transmits a message to the receiver, but the receiver does not transmit a response or provide feedback to the sender.

Berlo’s SMCR Model

Berlo’s SMCR model was created by American communication theorist David Berlo in 1960, who expanded the Shannon-Weaver model of communication into clear and distinct parts. Berlo’s SMCR model is a one-way or linear communication framework based on the Shannon-Weaver communication model.

Helical Model of Communication

The helical model of communication is a framework inspired by the three-dimensional spring-like curve of a helix. It argues communication is cyclical, continuous, non-repetitive, accumulative, and influenced by time and experience.

Lasswell Communication Model

The Lasswell communication model is a linear framework for explaining the communication process through segmentation. Lasswell proposed media propaganda performs three social functions: surveillance, correlation, and transmission. Lasswell believed the media could impact what viewers believed about the information presented.

Modus Tollens

Modus tollens is a deductive argument form and a rule of inference used to make conclusions of arguments and sets of arguments.  Modus tollens argues that if P is true then Q is also true. However, P is false. Therefore Q is also false. Modus tollens as an inference rule dates back to late antiquity where it was taught as part of Aristotelian logic. The first person to describe the rule in detail was Theophrastus, successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school.

Five Cannons of Rhetoric

The five canons of rhetoric were first organized by Roman philosopher Cicero in his treatise De Inventione in around 84 BC. Some 150 years later, Roman rhetorician Quintilian explored each of the five canons in more depth as part of his 12-volume textbook entitled Institutio Oratoria. The work helped the five canons become a major component of rhetorical education well into the medieval period. The five canons of rhetoric comprise a system for understanding powerful and effective communication.

Communication Strategy

A communication strategy framework clarifies how businesses should communicate with their employees, investors, customers, and suppliers. Some of the key elements of an effective communication strategy move around purpose, background, objectives, target audience, messaging, and approach.

Noise if Communication

Noise is any factor that interferes with or impedes effective communication between a sender and receiver. When noise disrupts the communication process or prevents the transmission of information, it is said to be communication noise.

7 Cs of Communication

The 7Cs of communication is a set of guiding principles on effective communication skills in business, moving around seven principles for effective business communication: clear, concise, concrete, correct, complete, coherent, and courteous.

Transactional Model of Communication

The transactional model of communication describes communication as a two-way, interactive process within social, relational, and cultural contexts. The transactional model of communication is best exemplified by two models. Barnlund’s model describes communication as a complex, multi-layered process where the feedback from the sender becomes the message for the receiver. Dance’s helical model is another example, which suggests communication is continuous, dynamic, evolutionary, and non-linear.

Horizontal Communication

Horizontal communication, often referred to as lateral communication, is communication that occurs between people at the same organizational level. In this context, communication describes any information that is transmitted between individuals, teams, departments, divisions, or units.

Communication Apprehension

Communication apprehension is a measure of the degree of anxiety someone feels in response to real (or anticipated) communication with another person or people.

Closed-Loop Communication

Closed-loop communication is a simple but effective technique used to avoid misunderstandings during the communication process. Here, the person receiving information repeats it back to the sender to ensure they have understood the message correctly. 

Grapevine In Communication

Grapevine communication describes informal, unstructured, workplace dialogue between employees and superiors. It was first described in the early 1800s after someone observed that the appearance of telegraph wires strung between transmission poles resembled a grapevine.

ASE Model

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Integrated Marketing Communication

Integrated marketing communication (IMC) is an approach used by businesses to coordinate and brand their communication strategies. Integrated marketing communication takes separate marketing functions and combines them into one, interconnected approach with a core brand message that is consistent across various channels. These encompass owned, earned, and paid media. Integrated marketing communication has been used to great effect by companies such as Snapchat, Snickers, and Domino’s.

Social Penetration Theory

Social penetration theory was developed by fellow psychologists Dalmas Taylor and Irwin Altman in their 1973 article Social Penetration: The Development of Interpersonal Relationships. Social penetration theory (SPT) posits that as a relationship develops, shallow and non-intimate communication evolves and becomes deeper and more intimate.

Hypodermic Needle

The hypodermic needle theory was first proposed by communication theorist Harold Lasswell in his 1927 book Propaganda Technique in the World War. The hypodermic needle theory is a communication model suggesting media messages are inserted into the brains of passive audiences.

7-38-55 Rule

The 7-38-55 rule was created by University of California psychology professor Albert Mehrabian and mentioned in his book Silent Messages.  The 7-38-55 rule describes the multi-faceted way in which people communicate emotions, claiming that 7% of communication occurred via spoken word, 38% through tone of voice, and the remaining 55% through body language.

Active Listening

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

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