Today’s question:

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

I pretty much always do this, except in rare circumstances when I’m going to call my sister or a very good friend–you know, someone who won’t judge me for sounding like a moron and forgetting what I called to say. Certainly for business calls I rehearse, but since most telephone calls I make to social acquaintances are kind of business-like–in that they are not made for the primary purpose of socializing–I end up rehearsing for most of those too. Not out loud or anything. I’d be too embarrassed to rehearse out loud, even if I were all alone. Which I usually am. I don’t like to make phone calls in front of other people. For one thing, other people are distracting. For another thing, if I end up making an idiot of myself on the phone, I don’t want an audience. But back to the point, which is that I only rehearse in my mind. I may rehearse in my mind about a dozen times, depending on what sort of phone call it is. It usually works pretty well, i.e. most of the phone calls I make are not entirely disasters.

The trouble is when I can’t rehearse for a phone call because I really don’t know what I can say that won’t make me sound like an idiot. This is usually the case with business calls, especially those that have to do with health insurance. Health insurance problems are usually very complex, and it’s hard to know where to start and what one can safely leave out. This is why I hate automated customer service systems that use voice recognition. “Briefly tell what you are calling about.” But I can’t tell it briefly! It’s a very complicated problem and I don’t even know what general category it falls under! Can’t you give me a list of options and make me push buttons until I can talk to a real person, who can then transfer me to another real person, who can then transfer me to another real person and put me on hold and talk to her supervisor? I’d much rather do that.

You see, I don’t even like to sound like an idiot in front of a computer.

But it’s worse when I sound like an idiot in front of a real person who doesn’t have the first idea what I’m talking about. They just sit there waiting for me to make sense. That can be excruciating. But I digress.

It’s funny to think that I once worked at a job that required me to make phone calls all the time. You can’t really be a newspaper reporter and not make phone calls. Obviously, I used to rehearse then too. I had to psych myself up for each call. I got better at it as time went on, which led to me being more comfortable, but not to not needing to rehearse anymore. I have always had to rehearse, and I expect I always will. I did get extremely good at leaving messages on answering machines. I know some people hate answering machines–or voice mail, I guess it is now. Does anyone use an answering machine anymore? Anyway. Some people hate talking to voice mail, but I used to actually prefer voice mail. I could say everything I’d rehearsed without being interrupted, and I wouldn’t have to deal with any unexpected responses I hadn’t rehearsed for. The ideal thing was to have an entire conversation conducted entirely through voice mail. That didn’t happen often, just in case you’re wondering.

Tangentially-related aside: There are rules for voice mail, and I still get annoyed when people don’t follow them. I don’t necessarily mind long, detailed messages on my voice mail. What I do mind is when people give long, detailed messages on the voice mail without following this very important rule: Always say your name and phone number (clearly!) at the beginning and repeat them at the end. This way, if the person listening to the voice mail doesn’t catch the name and/or number the first time (or wants to double-check that they got it right), they don’t have to listen to the whole stupid five-minute-long voice mail again just to get your stupid name and/or number. Always repeat your name and number! (Unless it’s your mom or something, and she already knows your name and number.) Rehearse it if necessary.

So I’ve explained how I usually (not just “ever”) rehearse before making phone calls. Have I not made it clear why? Have I not made it clear that it’s because I have crippling social anxiety that is for some reason aggravated by the telephone? I don’t think I have the same level of anxiety if I have to talk to someone in person. Probably because I figure that in person I can come off as a slightly odd but not insane individual, whereas over the phone there are no visual cues the other person can use to determine that I am not drunk.

I don’t have a lot of purely social telephone calls anymore. Probably because of the internet and e-mail and the Facebook and whatnot. I used to be capable of very long telephone conversations with close friends or my sisters or my mother (when she was alive–I haven’t talked to her since that stopped being the case). I can’t have long telephone conversations with my father, who I think expects me to do all of the talking, or my brother, who is just like my dad. But I don’t have extended phone conversations with my husband either, even when he’s out of town. Sometimes he goes out of town for a few days and we don’t talk at all until he comes back. Some people think that’s weird. But my limited sample has led me to believe that most men just don’t see the point of talking on the phone beyond whatever business must necessarily be conducted upon it. I don’t care if he doesn’t call me while he’s gone, as long as he lets me know when to expect him for dinner.

Do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say on the phone?

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