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:
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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