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Communication apprehension


It all starts at a young age when you get associated with the quiet kids. Often you are the shy one in the class, but no one really thinks much of it. Then you move on to middle school and have a handful of friends, still though, you are not the popular one. After middle school you preparing for high school and classes take on a whole new dimension. You are asked to participate in class discussions and even work with others in a small group environment. In the past, everyone knew you as being quiet and shy, so when it comes to people choosing their group, you are not exactly on their priority list. This eventually leads to lower self-esteem and negative reinforcement. High school progresses and so does your fear of social situations such as public speaking and working in groups. Nevertheless, you pass with mediocre grades and eventually gain acceptance into college. Little do you know that your worst nightmare is just around the corner. You have to take a public speaking cou!

rse to graduate from your university. Somehow you manage to live through college and your public speaking class, but the nightmare continues. Now you enter the real world and come to realize that in every job you apply for you have to go trough an interview, which is heavily, based on your communication skills. Your fear and shyness has now haunted you for 25 years but its more than a fear, it is a disorder and no one has helped you.

Public Speaking is the number one fear of Americans today (Whitworth, Cochran, 1966). Unfortunately, public speaking is essential in almost everything we do now- a- days. It is perfectly natural to feel "butterflies in your stomach," or sweaty hands right before you are going to speak in public, or even in a small group. But sometimes, the fear gets so intense that you cannot control it. You feel so much anxiety that you begin avoiding all situations that make you feel this way. This natural fear could turn into communication apprehension.

Communication apprehension refers to an anxiety syndrome associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons (McCroskey 1977). It is also associated with the avoidance or nonparticipation in, and subsequent withdrawal from communication due to inadequate communication skills, a general unwillingness to communicate based on fear and anxiety; or avoidance due to inadequate communication skills (*******).

This syndrome is extremely common in our society. Ten to twenty percent of the population suffers from extreme communication apprehension and possibly as many as twenty percent more suffer from communication apprehension to a degree that it has some impact on their communication behavior (McCroskey 1975). No matter what field you are in, you are more than likely to speak in public at one point. Speaking in public even begins as early as grammar school. A large part of class grades even rely on your ability to participate in class, both in high school and college.

Communication apprehension is very hard to detect. Since it is a common fear among Americans, it is hard to distinguish between a normal nervous reaction and actually suffering from communication apprehension. This does not only affect the person as a communicator it also affects them psychologically. People who suffer from CA tend to have other problems that go hand in hand. People suffering from CA tend to be rejected by people. They are interpreted to be shy or not interested in the subject and therefore begin receiving negative feedback. People associate them as mediocre, lazy, and unwilling to put effort into work. As you can see from the previous description, this affects the individual’s self-esteem. All the individual has are memories of being rejected and unwanted. No one ever explains to them that they might be suffering from a common disorder so in their eyes, they are the only ones with the problem and no one seems to understand it. This eventually evolves into a m!

ore psychological problem and a vicious cycle. They are presumed to be inferior and different from everyone else and therefore rejected. This rejection leads to further avoidance, which supports the original perceptions of people judging these individuals suffering from CA. One of the biggest questions many people want to know is how does a person become afflicted with communication apprehension.

One of the predecessors to communication that must be addressed is fear. Although some people are comfortable speaking in small groups or in large crowds, there is a large segment of society that truly has a deep fear of it. The question is how does this fear appear in a human. It is important to understand that these fears are formed and truly cause severe anxiety of speaking in a social situation. According to Kagan (1994), there are three classes of events that create fear in an individual. These fears are innate fear, conditioned fear, and fear of the unfamiliar.

Innate fear is an instinctual reaction that produces fear independent of experience (Kagan, 1994). Kagan goes on further to explain that this is formed when hearing a loud noise, or a looming object. When a speaker is in front of a group speaking the idea of having his entire audience facing him can cause innate fear. The idea of having several eyes staring at the speaker at once can easily be seen as a looming object. Also being in a room where the speaker is surrounded by others, such as a large group discussion, can cause the speaker to have the fear that they are being surrounded. Although innate fear is something much of society experiences when speaking in a social situation, there is also conditioned fear.

Conditioned avoidance without fear is often a fear that many people suffer from. Often people are very extroverted and able to speak in large groups, but a bad situation can change all of that. That bad situation happens when a person views a bad situation in which another speaker had a bad experience when speaking. This causes a fear that it could happen to them too. Obviously this is something that can correlate directly into several social situations that people encounter. Watching the best speaker in the class totally lose their confidence is something that many college students witness. This triggers the fear inside of the college student waiting to speak because they assume that if the best speaker can lose their ability to speak confidently, then so can they. There is one final fear though that is acquired in some people. (Horowitz, 2002).

The last fear to understand is unfamiliar event fear. This fear is acquired when a person is continuously denied the opportunity to speak in social situations by a much more experienced speaker. This can be seen in classrooms all over the country. Many times a student will be overlooked by his or her group because the leader does all the talking. This creates an unfamiliar situation when this student is chosen to lead a future group. The fear arises because they are totally unfamiliar with this situation. They become shy and unwilling to speak up because the entire experience of speaking in this situation is entirely new to them. This is a fear that many college students and high school students suffer from. This fear can also be triggered when faced with a situation in which a parent was over-dominant. Having a mother or father that never let their child speak up in the house can cause their child to suffer from this fear when faced with a social situation in which they must speak up. Aside from fear, another major contributor to communication apprehension is anxiety (Horowitz, 2002).

According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2001) anxiety is defined as "an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it."

The fear of speaking in front of a small group or large group directly causes anxiety for most people. It is important to understand that this anxiety is normal, but in some cases, it is a disorder that can be very serious.

Anxiety can cause many problems for people facing the idea of speaking in a social situation. Whether it is speaking in a small group, or in a large auditorium, anxiety is something that many people suffer from. What is also important for a person to remember is that they are not alone. Many people go through the same situation when getting ready to speak. Sweaty hands and increased heartbeat are normal. When a person suffers from more than just common anxiety, that’s when the problem is serious.

A look at the DSM-IV reveals that there are several disorders that lead directly to the possibility of a person suffering from communication apprehension. Disorders range from social phobia, which is a fear of social situations, to Agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in a situation that can cause extreme embarrassment. It is important to understand the difference between these types of disorders and having just a slight bit of anxiety before facing a social situation. Many times when a person is seen as nervous or shy in a group it is because they are suffering from some sort of disorder such as depression, not just communication apprehension alone. Communication apprehension is a disorder which is usually the cause other types of disorders so the cycle is often painful for a person. There is help though. People who suffer from communication apprehension, or some of these serious disorders are not in a situation that they cannot get out of. There is help for those suffering !

from these conditions. The next section is designed to try to help explain some of the ways you can overcome these dreadful situations (Horowitz, 2002).

In the past, the need for professional help to alleviate communication

apprehension was not well recognized. There were very few research centers that offered services to help social phobias. Today, there are several professional schools and universities that recognize the seriousness of the problem and provide help to overcome it. This includes Julliard School of Performing Arts, Northern University, Yale University and a few others. But, most of these programs were developed to help performing artists who have not yet conquered their fear of performance. However, performing artists aren’t the only people who suffer from communication apprehension. Unfortunately, there are millions of "ordinary" people who suffer from CA as well. Services are not as readily available to these people. Stage stars, office workers, professionals, athletes, and students share the debilitating effects of communication apprehension equally. Consequently, treatments and management strategies used to treat CA are very similar for all who suffer. (Horwitz, p137-138)

As mentioned before, the reason most people get anxious when speaking in front of a group is that they are afraid of looking foolish in front of peers or important people. They are afraid that their lack of speaking skills will lower the opinion others have of them. There are some basic steps that can be used to overcome this fear. These tips are primarily helpful when preparing for an oral presentation. The first step is to be well prepared before you speak in front of a group. The best way to ensure that you won’t make foolish mistakes s to prepare beforehand. Weather you are giving a performance in front of fellow classmates or a critical presentation to corporate executives, you must be sure that all material is ready, strategies are laid out, contingency plans are made, and that every detail is taken care of. Secondly, you must have a back up. In case something goes wrong in your presentation, it is worthwhile to bring a "safety blanket". For example, have your speech outlined on note cards in case you have a mental lapse. But, you should not have to depend on your backup. Thirdly, try to reduce the fear you may have of your audience. One old trick is to imagine that the audience is naked. A ridiculous image like this can help to relax you and may help you view your audience as not all that important. After all, they are just people and they are there to hear what you have to say. Lastly, you must practice, practice, and practice. The more you practice what you have to say, the more automatic it becomes and the more confidence you will have in your abilities to give the speech. (Kurtus, These simple practices may help some one who has moderate anxiety or communication apprehension when speaking in front of a group. However, those who suffer from more severe communication apprehension may benefit from professional treatment. Although there are many self-help books available about communication apprehension, evidenc!

e shows that these alone do not work. To receive the most effective help, one must enroll in a formal, clinical treatment program with the help of a trained professional. There are several treatments used to reduce communication apprehension, but the three most common are systematic desensitization, cognitive restructuring, and skills training.

Systematic desensitization was originally used by Wolpe in 1958. It has a success rate of 90 percent in reducing high levels of communication apprehension. And about 80 percent of those professionally treated with systematic desensitization are no longer highly apprehensive. The body responds physiologically to apprehension, (sweaty palms, increased heart rate), so ways for treating this cause are meant to reduce the body’s reaction. There are two main steps involved in systematic desensitization: "1) teaching people the steps for deep muscular relaxation and 2) having the people visualize participating in communication while in a state of deep relaxation." Generally, treatment includes small groups of five to seven people with a trained counselor that meet in one-hour sessions over a period of several days or weeks. (

Inappropriate cognitive processing is a large source of anxiety. This is when people have irrational thoughts about communicating. People become anxious because they don’t think they can communicate successfully. Cognitive restructuring was developed by Meichenbaum in 1976, but he generated his ideas from Ellis (1962). This method attempts to have people change their thoughts about negative communication in order to become successful communicators. It is similar to systematic desensitization in that it takes time and involves a counselor working with a small group. The counselor will work to help rid people of negative thoughts and then assist them in developing new, more positive ideas about communication. This treatment includes four steps: "1) introducing the person to the treatment, 2) naming the negative statements (illogical beliefs) the person uses, 3) developing new statements (to take place of the negative ones) and, 4) practicing the new coping statements such as " I am excited about sharing this information." or "This is easy, I can do it." Research indicates that this method of treatment has about the same success rate as systematic desensitization. Though it has not been proven conclusively, many believe that cognitive restructuring along with systematic desensitization can give better results than either by itself.

The people who benefit the most from inadequate communication skills programs are those who seek help themselves and who are able to identify small, select areas in which to work on. For effective skills training a person should use seven steps: "1) naming the particular problem area, 2) determining small skills which make up larger skills, 3) developing realistic goals for reaching the skills, 4) watching a parson model the appropriate behavior desired, 5) understanding verbally the extent of the needed skills, 6) practicing the new skills in a safe environment with the counselor/instructor, and 7) practicing the new skills in the location where the skills are needed." ( J. McCroskey, Reducing Communication Apprehension)


Horowitz, B. (2002). Communication Apprehension. Canada: Thomas Learning.

Kagan, J. (1994). Galens prophecy: Temperament in human nature. New York: Basic Books.

Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (10th ed.). (2001). Springfield, MA: Merriam Webster

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