What I’ve learnt from being forced to talk to people on the phone

To preface: I used to absolutely hate talking to people on the phone. I would avoid it as much as possible, to the point where even talking to my own family on the phone felt like an insurmountable ordeal in my life. I know I’m not alone in this, and that heartens me. In a few short years, I will be able to successfully sidestep the phone and conduct all my dailies without having to talk to anyone at all. As it is, I could probably live a talk-on-the-phone-free lifestyle but I do not have the luxury of that. Mostly because I will be working for people that still expect me to pick up the phone and talk to a person.

Now, before you start shaking your cane/mortgage/NOKIA 3310 at me, I will have you know I am not an antisocial person. I am just an anxious person. Like every other millennial. Also, none of us actually likes being anxious, we just have to develop coping mechanisms and cross-stitch reminders that we can do the dang thing, you All-Lives-Matter-touting ding-dong.

And so, let me launch into what I’ve learnt from being forced to call people on the phone – something I’m actually capable of doing now!

  1. Let’s start with the basic essentials: always leave your name and a number/email you can be reached at! I cannot stress this enough, and will be calling back (this was an accidental pun and I am thrilled) to this point later.
  2. When you do leave your name and number, make sure you spell your name out as painstakingly as possible. This is my usual spiel: “My name is Neiha Lasharie; that’s N- N for Nancy-E-I-H-A, Lasharie, L-A-S-H-A-R-I-E, Neiha Lasharie.” Why N for Nancy? Because I’m tired of being called Meiha and I live in constant fear of the day I have an international flight ticket with the wrong spelling of my Pakistani passport-holding name.
    1. Subpoint: memorize some approximation of the NATO phonetic alphabet. That way, you don’t have to scramble to find the stupidest word possible that happens to start with the letter in question, or end up in a situation where you forget that Phoenix does not, actually, start with F, or decide that “hallelujah” is the word you’re going for instead of, I don’t know, hotel (I have done this).
  3. Almost always, the person answering the phone will tell you their name right at the beginning. If they don’t tell you their name – or you forgot/were too busy panicking to register it, it’s nice to ask their name again right before you get off the phone. Write it down somewhere, it’ll come in handy later down this list. If nothing else, the person on the phone appreciates it, and it will make this mutual ordeal seem a bit more palatable and human. Look at you go!
  4. (Increasingly) no one actually likes talking on the phone. The person you are calling wants to get off the phone as quickly as you do. You don’t have to exchange pleasantries; in fact, the more streamlined you can make your phone call experience, the better it is for them to! Stick to the bare minimum; if they have questions, they’ll ask you. However…
  5. …you just put down the phone and realized that you forgot to give the person you were talking to a key bit of information! Dang it! “That’s too bad I guess, oh well, I could always-” don’t you do it, 19-year-old Neiha, don’t you throw the person on the phone under the bus for something you should be responsible for! You call that person back! You call them back as soon as possible so they still remember you and you don’t inconvenience literally everyone around you except yourself! Anxious child!
    1. This is where having left your name and number really helps, along with any correspondence number/order number/reference number if applicable.
    2. Additionally, if this a customer service type situation or there’s more than one person likely to pick up the phone, having the name of the person you talked to previously handy will make a big difference! Either they can run a note to the other person, or just hand the phone over if possible.
  6. If this is a work-related thing, or you have to ask a detailed question to someone, it’s good to write a script. But like, physically write it out if possible. You will 100% remember individual points way better if you lose the script because you wrote it down by hand. Scripts are also extremely handy if the call goes to voicemail and you panic – because as much as talking to another person is rough, talking into the void is way worse.
    1. Depending on the type of person you are, you can either write out the entire script word for word, or bullet point it. I personally prefer bullet pointing it.
  7. Speaking of voicemail: when you leave one, it’s helpful to speak as slowly and clearly as possible. No one actually knows how voicemails work, especially in an office setting. Speak slowly, carefully, and repeat things. Say your name in the beginning, and repeat your name at the end. Say your phone number twice. It’s also helpful to give the time and date you made this voicemail, and if it’s something where a follow-up will be needed, give the person you’re trying to reach the courtesy of telling them you’re about to hound them. But in a nice way.
  8. The build-up will always make it worse. Counting down the minutes to a phone call is hell. Usually, it’s not even worth it; the call goes to voicemail, and you’re left kinda underwhelmed. Just go for it. I know that’s not always possible for a lot of people, but for me, I sound and feel way more natural if I just pick up the phone and call someone instead of when I’m hyping myself up for it.
  9. During my first co-op, whenever I had to make a phone call, I would always isolate myself and find the most remote location possible. I didn’t want anyone to witness my embarrassment. But – and this is a good life lesson in general – no one cares if you stumble over your words. People stutter and stumble all the time. Now, I actually prefer calling people when I have someone around. It emboldens me.
  10. Always have something to write notes on. Make sure the thing you have to write notes on isn’t your phone. You WILL miss something in the transition from ear to speaker. This is crucial if you’re asking for contact information. Always have them spell out the name. Always confirm the number/email you’re been given. Basically, treat that situation with the same care you wish a Starbucks barista took when scrawling your name onto a grande iced latte.
  11. PACING HELPS SO MUCH. YOU WILL FEEL BETTER. But also don’t slip. I’ve definitely slipped during a phone interview.
    1. ALSO SCRIBBLING. This is something I picked up from my mom. Just doodling on a note card or newspaper or whatever it is you have nearby helps you focus.
  12. If you’re talking to someone important on the phone, don’t panic. It’s a totally different atmosphere than when you’re meeting with someone in real life. You don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing, or your body language – as long as you treat them with courtesy and respect their time, you should be good. But also, chances are, you’re talking to their secretary or assistant; be nice to them too. Actually, be especially nice to them – they have total control over whether or not you’ll get to talk to their boss.
    1. Some of the best interviewing advice I’ve ever been given has been from my father. This is very useful for an in-person interview but also applies to a phone call. Make yourself feel physically bigger; take a deep breath, square your shoulders, hold your feet shoulder’s width apart, just make yourself feel powerful. You’re feel more confident for it.
    2. The other best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is from a friend who didn’t even really mean it as advice; pretend you’re someone you really admire. Don’t, like, steal their identity. Just put yourself in their shoes, and you’ll find yourself adopting their perceived confidence too! This is the one piece of advice behind my public speaking success.
  13. Finally, it doesn’t matter who you’re calling, be as courteous to them as you would if you were talking to them in person. If someone is explaining something to you, make sure they know you’re actually listening. Ask questions. Be patient if you need to repeat yourself. Feel free to make fun of the situation, if you mess up! Don’t immediately hang up because you called yourself Zach and your name is definitely not Zach. It’s okay to ask someone to hold because you need a second to take a deep breath and dive back into it.

Okay, wow, this is way more advice than I was expecting to give. Feel free to ask me any questions! I’m happy to answer as best as I can! Now back to trying to get a hold of literal ambassadors!

Poetrygrams, privacy and setbacks

I hate calling myself a poet, in the way I always struggled with calling myself an artist (I still don’t like calling myself an artist). To be a “poet” or an “artist” means you have received a degree of instruction, or self-taught prowess, of a calibre that it can be disseminated. I don’t think I have that distinction at all. I can barely call myself a writer. It’s easier to create some space between myself and the act: I write poetry, I make art, both are more palatable in that they aren’t claims, they aren’t identities, but they are easily identifyable actions.

At some point, I had forgone this cautionary practice and – kind of arrogantly – started calling myself a poet. For what reason? I got a handful of likes on some poetry I threw onto my Instagram feed, and it fed my ego. I wrote more stuff, and threw it on my Insta feed, and got more affirmation. Don’t get me wrong – I cared about the poetry I wrote, and I took care in the writing process. I sat on poems until I was happy with them, for weeks and months at times. But at the back of my mind, I knew the medium I was writing for. I had a formula – no more lines than can fit the length of my phone, linebreaks so that there were no run-on sentences past the width of my phone, and squat enough that the poem could be easily squared and put up on Instagram. I was immediately limited to short bursts of prettily strung together sentences that, sure enough, were poems but by no means the best poems I could write. At some point, I had accrued enough poems that I could dedicate a separate poetrygram to my work, and I did. I felt wonderful about that – maybe I could find a poetry community for myself on Instagram. I could cultivate followers, get feedback, learn from the feedback. It would be a form of workshopping that I didn’t have access to.

A few months passed. Feeling somewhat dissatisfied still, after a few months of playing around with the poetrygram, I created a poetry WordPress blog. I felt wonderful about that again, but in a slightly wiser way. That was my first inkling of understanding. Once I started writing poetry specifically for the WordPress blog, I found that I became more experimental. I started playing with formats and styles, wrote longer poems, I created room for myself to expand into. All the little lessons I had stored away in the back of my mind in my miserliness after years of reading diverse poetry finally had a space to come out in. I was Silas Marner, and this endless space for growth and writing was my Eppie. I was a surprised at how different my poetry had become, within days – I wasn’t writing for a specific medium anymore, and, honestly, I wasn’t writing for the easy validation either. I hate admitting that the influx of likes made me feel better, more talented, but it did. But I never got the poetry community, the access to the world that I wanted.

But the WordPress blog brought to light a whole other issue. With the advent of the WordPress blog, I found the courage to submit poetry to various publications and reviews, and – well – I was knocked back onto my butt with an important realization: the poetry world rewards privacy. That is to say, you can’t publish stuff that has appeared online before in any form.

I reeled. I should have known this. Somehow, I thought a blog – an Instagram feed – I thought they didn’t really count as having appeared online before. What a weird combination of arrogance and self-deprecation. In the process of years of writing dozens and dozens of poems and subsequently uploading all of them to Instagram and WordPress, I had completely nullified 80% of the opportunities available to me; I had stunted my own ability to access a poetry community. (I say 80% here because there are definitely publications out there that take work that has previously appeared online.) All this in pursuit of the instant affirmation I got from one-click uploads and Instagram-savvy/SEO-friendly (hash)tagging. All because of my inability to appreciate poetry as a private pursuit.

I felt like crap. But it was a moment of much needed clarity. I’m overwhelmingly grateful for being humbled like that. The poetry I’ve written to this point matters to me. I parsed away little pieces of myself in everything I’ve written thus far, and I’m grateful that people got to see what they did – but I need to start from scratch now. I need to keep my work close to my chest, learn to actively workshop, learn to actually utilize the lessons I take away from the poets and poetry I read, to not cater to easy validation anymore. More generally, I need to care for my privacy. I’ve received a few harsh lessons in the part regarding privacy, and I don’t seem to have learnt anything. If not for my own safety, I should at least learn from the blow my ego – my ambition – has been dealt because of my own lack of diligance and easy susceptibility to memetically engineered cultures of art.

I’ve already taken down my poetry blog. I won’t be taking down my poetrygram. I think it’s important to face the physical manifestation of my arrogance head-on and learn from it. Removing the poems I’ve written so far from the face of the internet won’t help me much anyway. It’s also way too easy to pretend I never made a mistake. But, so help me God, I won’t be putting more content on there that hasn’t already been published elsewhere. I’m also going to stop making excuses and actually go to poetry workshops from now on.

I feel wonderful.


PS: I have…more feelings about Instapoetry than I’ve let myself disclose/discuss in this blogpost. There is a whole discussion about accessibility and democratizing poetry that I haven’t really touched on. This is not a commentary on making poetry accessible, just my experience with Instapoetry culture and the adverse impact it had on me as someone trying to be better at poetry.