After the tone

I spend a lot of time on the phone for work, much to my chagrin. On the one hand, talking with people on the phone addresses a weakness: immediacy, confrontation, conflict. I was told once that I was good at thinking on my feet, and that’s true, to a point.

For a long time, I avoided making phone calls when I could. There was a barest handful of people I could talk to without my anxiety crippling it, making it strangled and nervous. It was a strange contrast, at times, to what I fashioned as a public persona, in front of people. I got better, though. I never thought I would.

She had been one of them, once, who I could talk to without worrying. We talked for hours, before. And then, I stared at the phone, lifeless in my hands, unable to move, to breathe, to act in a manner befitting my adulthood. To talk to her. The trust was gone, shattered.

There are times I call customers, and hope they don’t answer. When my analytical side already worked out the possible endings, none of them good. When I believe it a hopeless cause, a sale not done, a conflict unresolvable. Was that my anxiety, too? Preparing for the worst, bracing for a storm that might not come?

Even having that experience, its strange calling from the other end, as someone asking for something. As if I’m imposing on them. Experience and logic can cut through the absurd reasoning, but in the moment, in thought, I drown in the emotion.

No wonder she didn’t want to talk. I barely could.

It’s gotten better, slowly. I’ve developed relationships with people I trust, and let that buoy me into places I don’t know. I’ve often said that this work has been good in pushing my boundaries, making me uncomfortable in a good way, in pushing away the shyness/anxiety that’s stayed with me my entire life, and doesn’t leave.

Adding new experiences, having to do things as an adult, has helped. Calling to schedule a car appointment, even something like that was a struggle. But having that experience, gaining that traction, gives me something to build on for the next time.

I’m someone who remembers the struggles, though. The tone of her voicemail, a relief and a worry, my words coming faster than I want, sounding dull and lifeless and ineffectual to my own ears, almost regretting them even as I say them. I wasn’t saying the right thing.

I put on the shirt and tie, go into the office, and become someone different. I can’t be anxious, or uncertain. That’s death, for a salesman. Facing down a fear makes it less scary. Knowing the fear, understanding it, makes it less daunting, sometimes.

So now, when I do that for myself, I know I’m not imposing on someone. I’ve seen it from both sides, and understand it better. The understanding helps, for someone as analytical as me.

Though it probably doesn’t hurt that the new lady prefers texting.

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