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.

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.

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

The ASE model posits that human behavior can be predicted if one studies the intention behind the behavior. It was created by health communication expert Hein de Vries in 1988. The ASE model believes intention and behavior are determined by cognitive variables such as attitude, social influence, and self-efficacy. The model also believes that intention predicts behavior such that one’s attitude toward a behavior is influenced by the consequences of that behavior. Three cognitive variables are the primary determinants of whether the intention to perform a new behavior was sustained: attitude, social influence, and self-efficacy. Various external variables also influence these factors.

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.

Main Free Guides:

About The Author

Scroll to Top