It seems as though everybody has one simple, daily task that they absolutely loathe. Chores like paying bills, or vacuuming: easy, straightforward things that are mundane to 99% of the population, but manage to trip up and befuddle a small faction of people.
Hands down, my dreaded duty is making phone calls.
It’s a task that requires very little to no skill, and yet, I’m terrible at it. In person, I can interact with you like a somewhat-well-functioning human being. I can listen to what you say, provide clues to let you know I’ve understood you (or not), and then reply in an appropriate manner.
I’m a communicating champion.
But get me on the phone, and I turn into a total friggin’ weirdo. Imagine the rigidity of a robot combined with the wide eyes and manic behavior of a hyper Chihuahua, and you have an idea of what I’m like.
Talking on the phone causes me to instantly develop a disability that I’ll call “Impaired Phone Hearing” – meaning I have totally normal hearing in everyday life, but on the phone, I inexplicably cannot hear or understand half of what people say.
Also, after asking them to repeat themselves 2-3 times, I get worried that I’m bothering them, so I’ll pretend to understand them, even when I don’t.
Grandparent: “Amanda, I need a new kidney and you’re a match. Can I have yours?”
Me (not understanding): “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
Grandparent: “Can I have your kidney? Mine’s not working.”
Me (still not understanding): “Sorry, still didn’t quite catch that.”
Grandparent: “Gimme your kidney.”
Me (giving up): “Erm…alrighty then! Sounds good!”
Note: the above conversation didn’t actually happen. Probably.
Another issue is the lack of nonverbal cues. Facial expressions are an important part of communication, and without them, I’m apparently a social skills disaster. When I can’t see the other person’s reaction, I become paranoid that the mild, harmless joke I just made may have gravely disturbed them, so I back-pedal in an atrociously graceless way.
Parent of child client: “I tried to call you yesterday, but the lady who answered said no one was in the office.”
Me: “Yes, we all decided to just leave and go home for the day!” (Laughs jovially).
Parent is silent for less than half a second. Panic sets in.
Me: “JUST KIDDING! We were off for the holiday!” (Makes loud noise that is half-laugh, half-whimper)
Note: the above conversation actually did happen.
The absence of nonverbal cues mingles together with my Impaired Phone Hearing disability to create a perfect storm of phone awkwardness.
The worst of the stories comes from when I worked at a rehabilitation center, where my entire job involved calling people. All day long, I phoned former clients of the rehab and asked them overly personal questions about their sobriety and employment.
The following is a cringe-worthy phone
conversation catastrophe that actually took place:
Me: “Hi, this is Amanda with Such-and-Such Rehab. Is this a good time to answer a few questions?”
Guy: “Uh, how long will it take?”
Me: “Only about five minutes!”
Guy: “Well, actually, this isn’t a good time. My son is dying.”
His devastating statement kicked the perky attitude right out of me. Based on the information I had about this client, I knew he was young, and therefore, must have had a very young child. I genuinely felt shocked and sad on his behalf.
Me: “Oh, my God. I am so sorry, sir.”
Guy: “Eh, it’s fine.”
Hmm. Guy on phone sounded remarkably relaxed about his dying child, which only increased my shock and discomfort. I know people grieve in different ways, but who feels “meh” about their kid dying? Several painful seconds passed before I was able to form a polite and professional response.
Me: “Why don’t I just call back at another time. Do you think a month from now would be okay?”
Guy: “Uhhh, you can just call me tomorrow…”
Confusion riddled my brain. His son was dying today, but tomorrow would be a better time to talk? What could he possibly mean by that? And why did he sound confused, too? What the hell was the matter with this dude? I struggled to come up with a reply.
Me: “Uhh….Nah. It’s… uh, cool if we put the follow-up off for a while. I’ll just call you back in about a month, okay?” Please let this conversation be over now.
Guy: “Seriously, it’s fine. I’ll just charge it tonight and it’ll be good to go tomorrow.”
Turns out, his phone was dying. Not his son. He didn’t even HAVE a son.
The man simply declined the follow-up interview because his battery was going out, and I responded with over-the-top sympathy and offers to give him space.
Please sir, take thirty days to mourn your dying phone. No, no – I insist.
Is anyone else strangely inept on the phone? Please tell me there are more of “me” out there.