Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How About I Call You Back?

As an introvert, I cannot express how much I hate the phone.

I have always detested the phone, even as a child. Nothing was worse than hearing the dreaded "Call your aunt to thank her for your birthday gift". "Right now?", I would ask. Begrudgingly, pick up the phone and pray for the answering machine.

Not much has changed.

Unexpected phone calls are much worse than scheduled ones, for two reasons. One, I am completely unprepared and know I will likely have to engage in chit-chat with the caller. Often, after the call ends and I have had time to process what the caller said, I end up berating myself because I should have said this or that. And sometimes, god forbid, it results in me having to call back. Two, if I'm in the middle of a task, I feel completely thrown off and interrupted, because I like to place all my focus on one thing. Nothing about an unexpected phone call is on my terms, as selfish and ridiculous as it sounds.

Picking up the phone to call out is even worse. My heart starts racing no matter how many times I yell at myself to "Relax! It's just a phone call." Yes, that's more a symptom of anxiety than introversion. But, I believe I've made myself phone-anxious because I know the second the person on the other line starts talking about something outside the direct point of the call, I'll be thrown off.

At home, I can easily let my cell phone go to voicemail if I don't recognize the number (Thank you, caller ID!). If it's an important call, a message will be left and I then know what the caller needs from me. It's also much easier for me to engage in a phone conversation with someone I am familiar with, but there are even times when I don't feel up to talking to a friend. Work presents a much different situation. I'm a paralegal, which requires me to constantly communicate via the phone. Letting the call go to voicemail is an office no-no. The piece of plastic with its blinking lights might as well be mocking me all day. The phone rings and I let out an automatic, audible groan. My cubicle neighbors undoubtedly think I'm bananas.

The reality of the situation is that I can't go through life avoiding the phone. Nor can any introvert. Does anyone else avoid the phone like the plague? Any techniques? I have found that at work, doodling on a post-it helps. Sure, the resulting zigzags and lines drawn over and over again would probably raise the eyebrow of a psychologist or two, but it really reduces my tension during the call. When I have to call out, I draft a quick list of points I need to make. At home, I schedule a time to return calls so I can mentally prepare myself.

I'm really working on ways to calm my phone dread. As much as I accept being an introvert, there are just some introvert adverse things in life I must accommodate. I need and want to conquer this.

If nothing else, thank god for e-mail.


  1. I am so glad to have stumbled upon your blog and to have read this post. I have struggled with the phone my entire life. My mom actually tried bribery when I was young because she wanted me to pick up the phone once in a while. I had a bunch of temp jobs as an office assistant/receptionist and I was horrible at it because it all involved answering phones. None of those jobs lasted very long- the worst was getting fired after the first day because I just couldn't, with all my might, yell across a large office to an executive's office because the phone transfer system didn't work. "Just yell when I get a call" he said. I was literally praying that the phone wouldn't ring all day.

    I will always send emails even for little things. I use the excuse that I would rather send emails because I prefer to have everything in writing. So far that is working well. Text messaging is also a god send.

    I used to be really bad with the phone- always letting it go to voicemail and then replying back with an email. The main thing that motivates me to not hate the phone is to accept that I HAVE to use it. My career depends on being able to contact people on the phone. I have to sometimes cold call to find work or call people I've met in the past to small talk and "catch up" (I'm a freelance photographer). I HATE doing it. But I have to do it. I am totally fine to have a few hours of a high energy photo shoot with people but the best is a huge wave of relaxation going through my body when I get to go home. I love photography but I have to behave like an extrovert in order to make a living out of it. It is exhausting and tiring and I worry that I won't be able to keep up with it. But I have no other passion. My desire to make a living as a photographer drives me. It's hard and extremely difficult to try to be a certain way when my actual brain just doesn't work that way.

    To everyone struggling with this same issue, I think pursuing a passion or having a goal in mind to reach helps alleviate such anxiety. Unfortunately, calling companies to follow up or to complain about bills over the phone is another thing. It just sucks.

  2. Swishyellow, thank you for this great comment! As a teenager, I had a job in a bakery where I had to constantly scream to the back room. It was SUCH a struggle for me.

    I can completely relate when you say you worry that your job is going to wear you out. It's frustrating that something that is a key to success in your career, is something so difficult and draining for you and I.

    I also much prefer e-mail and looove your excuse that you like to have everything in writing. Being a lawyer, I should have already thought of that one.

    At the very least, it's nice to hear you're not alone. Good luck to you and thanks again for such a great comment!