Walking and talking

The other day was my daughter’s birthday. In order to continue brainwashing her regarding her love for bicycles, I thought I ought to get her a little basket for her bike. That way she can tote around … stuff.

Anyway, there’s a larger bike store here in town, and when I searched them up online to find out their hours, I found out they had a store right in the city. Within walking distance of my office. (The main store is a longer drive away and near where we live. Well, sort of.)

On their site, they show products and what store they are available in. The cute little basket showed availability in both the farther away and city store. I had a sneaking suspicion though that I’d be disappointed — they probably didn’t have it downtown. So, I could have called them and asked them. But here’s the thing — I needed the exercise. The store is a little over a mile walk away.

Is this avoiding? I don’t think so. I was going to walk there even if they didn’t have it just to see what it was all about. And it was such a nice day anyway.

Am I adding this to my pile of uncalled people, restaurants and other businesses? No. Not at all. I’ll write about that more tomorrow — sucking it up and making a call without completely freaking out about it.

So in the end I did walk downtown to the bike shop for my daughter’s basket. And … they didn’t have it.

Getting through it

As I said in my last post a long, long time ago, we moved to the States. This involves a lot of time on the phone, apparently. You have to call a bunch of people and give them a bunch of information. Over and over and over again. And of course it’s the basic stuff.

Name? Telephone number? Social security number? Wife’s name? Wife’s telephone number? Address? Last four digits of your social? Previous address?

And then, with a few calls to the doctor’s office for the kids, it’s all the above … for three kids.

But I’m getting through it all. It’s a once and done thing, mostly. And those on the other end of the phone have been patient. What I haven’t been good about is simply having a planned thing to say before making the call. I usually just call the doctor’s office … oh, right, I need to ask about an appointment. New patient, sure, soon as possible, stutter here, stutter there.

We ordered some furniture online and after a few days, I checked its status. It was something very vague, and we were hoping to get the stuff before some guests showed up. Pick up the phone. Make the call. They didn’t pick up, but they said I could press one to leave a message for someone to call me back. Ummm … I’d rather not … but I need this stuff! Ok, fine. I pressed one, and they didn’t ask for a message! Hurray! But then they asked for my phone number instead. Boo … And yes, they called me back and then it’s having to say a 16-digit order number to get service. At least they asked the address and had me confirm instead of me giving the address.

But the majority of the calls are done now, I think. I may need to call the BMV (bureau of motor vehicles) to ask them about where my vehicle registration has gone. But otherwise the doctors are mostly set up, furniture is all here, cable is ordered, and the power is on.

As a whole moving back and having to make all these calls wasn’t something that I was afraid of, stuttering-wise …and that’s simply because I never thought of how much there actually would be. But then I took it one call at a time, deep breaths, didn’t let a bad call get to me, and let the necessity push me to pick up that phone again and again and again, making it easier and a lot less scary.

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

Of course right after mention the things that I stutter on the most, I end up having to say a few of them.

For a few months (well, 2 years) I’ve had some slight eye twitching going on. It’s more annoying than anything else. It’s random. I had an MRI over a year ago, and they said it’s probably just not enough sleep and stress. Well, it’s still acting up, and my family is still concerned, so I finally went to the doctor here in Saudi to get another opinion.

Since I haven’t been to this particular hospital before, I had to register. I knew this, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. The first thing she asked me, even before my name (which she didn’t ask at all) was my phone number. Awesome!

After that, I had to call a number (from a phone at the hospital … to the hospital) to register for an appointment. The connection was bad, and of course I had to give my phone number. And I stuttered on it. Again. I set up an appointment to see the neurologist. She said they had an appointment that day. Within two hours. Perfect …

Once that was done, I had to go back to the first lady and tell her that I had registered. She asked me for my phone number. I just kept on stuttering, because, well, I stutter, and that’s life. Then she asked me for an alternate number. I took my mobile from my son and looked up my wife’s number. I handed the phone to the lady (for some reason, I felt rushed. Ugh.) Anyway, then she asked whose number it was. Of course. Stutter on …

I got through it, though. Didn’t suffer tremendously, and I got the appointment set up. So success there.

That’s it for the stuttering portion of this story. The remainder is well, par for the course here and pretty amusing. So I’ll share.

I went to the appointment at 1 p.m. as directed. It was in the neurology department. I told the receptionist I had an appointment. She said … no. “You have an appointment with urology, not neurology.”

Of course.

Um, so can I schedule an appointment with the neurologist instead? No, they’re booked today. And all week.

What about next week? Well, that’s the next month, so the schedule isn’t made yet. You will have to call (call!) back on the 29th for the appointment.

Ok, fine. No problem. And then I left. A few minutes after I got back home, the receptionist called me on the phone. The doctor is in, and he can see you now. How soon can you come back? Well, I can be back by 2, I said.

Anyway, I talked to the doctor and explained to him what was going on. I stuttered. He sat there patiently and listened. He told me I had a hemifacial spasm. They’d do an MRI and then probably Botox. Sounds like more fun blog fodder …

Stuttering Call Plan

I think for a lot of people there’s a tendency to “check out” from work at 5:01, or when you set foot in the parking lot to go to your car each evening.

You’ve been staring at a computer all day, or in meetings all day, or running around pulling stuff together. You want to go home and just forget.

And that’s reasonable. But occasionally there are some things from work that can help us after work.

What someone brought up the other day here is making a “call plan” before calling a client (potential or existing). It’s simple, it’s quick, and it instills some confidence. I know for me when I pick up the phone to call someone, I have a pretty vague idea of what I’m going to say. Sometimes I’ll have the first question or two in my mind, but nothing beyond that. And then I’ll be talking to this person and start stuttering, and then forget what I wanted to say. And then I have to call again. Not good at all.

So what goes into the call plan? Let’s say I want to call a local company here and ask about my satellite dish options. So I’d just write down, “Your name? Your hours? Eurosport? Packages? Monthly cost? How to pay? Install time? Your location?”

Notice I didn’t write down entire sentences or questions. The last thing I need to be doing is staring at questions with words I know I’m going to stutter on. All I want are concepts (reminders). Basically a list.

I know if I don’t make a list, I’ll be left stumbling and stuttering for words. Will I stutter on questions I make from my list? Of course I will. That’s fine. But at least I don’t have to do it over multiple phone calls. If I mess up the first one enough, I’ll likely not bother calling back (which may cause other problems).

My Kind of Stuttering

I don’t think I’ve ever really mentioned on here what kind of stuttering I do.

Here’s a handy chart that lists four of them.

I’ve almost always done prolongations and blocks. I’m not sure if I really do repetitions or not — I mean, if I’m trying to say a word, get the first syllable out and then get stuck on the second (a block), sometimes I’ll try the first syllable again. I might do this a few times.

I was just thinking … what’s worse, a prolongation or a block? Toss up, really. They both equally suck, I think. With a prolongation you just never know … when it’s going to end. And it’s the only thing you can think about. And the listener doesn’t know when it’s going to end (although who cares what they think, right? Right!). For me at least if I prolong on one specific sound during a conversation, it’ll get prolonged every single time during that same conversation. And if it’s a word I can’t avoid, it’s even more annoying.

For the blocks, they just create confusion. There’s a flow to every conversation. Until there’s not. And then there is! And then there’s complete silence for who-knows-how-long followed by a loss of eye contact, a change of subject, and a wondering of how many hours until lunch.

For the phone, (if given the choice … ha!) I’d rather have a prolongation than a block. At least then the listener knows you’re trying to queue something up. In person, I’d prefer a block because then the person can see you’re trying to say something.

The thing about insertions to me is that, well, don’t fluent people do this, too? I don’t think I use this as a stuttering/covert tool, really. I just use it to let someone know that I’m thinking. And that something is going to come out.

I think I’m going to have to pay really close attention over the next few weeks for these things and see what I’m really doing as far as insertions.

Stuttering and Searching Part 2

I talked a few weeks back about the search for a compound here in Al Khobar.

I was thinking back through the move and wanted to go through its parts and talk about how the stuttering may have affected it. I can say that overall, I don’t think it hurt the moving process at all. Let’s go through it bit by bit:

1. Getting the call about leaving the project – I was in the States, and my boss asked me what my number was. He called around midnight. I had 30 days from then to stay on the project. No stuttering.

2. Sending out an e-mail to some folks I already talked to about another job within the company. No stuttering, of course. But the person who I was slated to talk to (interview with) wouldn’t be available for a few more weeks.

3. Interviewing for a new position. I had actually interviewed for this position previously. I may go into detail about this in a few months, but basically I got the job I wanted. It took a few more days to set up another phone call with someone else to finalize details, but that was also not stuttering related.

4. Getting my household goods packed up. No stuttering really. I sent out some e-mails to our logistics coordinator for boxes, and made some phone calls to him regarding what the movers would actually do.

5. Finding a compound. This one was a little tough. But I think the delays were not on me, they were on others. If I needed to make a phone call or send an e-mail, I did it the same moment. If I needed to see someone, I went and talked to them. Did I stutter while visiting some of the compounds? Definitely. But did it make a difference at the end of the day? No. I was actually not afraid to pick up the phone and call places. I had to, so I just sucked it up.

6. Getting the company to pay for the compound. There was a small technical/financial issue with this that I won’t get into, but I did just go see the person in HR. We talked face-to-face and were able to sort things out. I stuttered, but was also sitting calmly, so I slowly let the message out.

7. Getting my son into a school here. No delays. The schools were closed until this week anyway. I sent some e-mails, and I also phoned them to ask what the policy was. My wife also called and made a trip to the school for the testing. I made a visit to the school and talked to some people in person. I picked up the registration papers and sent them back the same day. The school was good about follow-up, so there wasn’t a need for any more phone calls.

8. Getting into the new job. I’ve been to some meetings, and I’ve been stuttering. But I’ve also been able to talk to my new colleagues without any issues about business and personal matters.

So what’s the bottom line here? Well, the important takeaway for me is that looking back on what’s a large change in my life, stuttering (although it’s been present) has not had a negative impact. I’ve acknowledged it, but I haven’t let it make decisions or cause any delays. This is a huge win, and a good confidence boost going into more meetings and introductions at work.

I also still have to meet a lot of neighbors. I haven’t really had a lot of time for that, but the weekend is coming up …

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

I suppose I’ll do a longer year-end roundup, but until then, here’s what I’m stuttering on lately. It’s based mostly on having to search around for new housing and the new job.

“Contract.” I can get through the first syllable just fine, but then that tr- gets me stuck all the time. And it’s something I’m having to say a lot over the phone — the contract for my new job, the contract for my new compound house, working with contractors.

“Villa.” I mentioned this before. They’re not called houses here, but villas. The v just doesn’t come out at all. And then there’s that l- that I’m apparently happy to drag out as well.

In general, cold calling people and asking them about compound availability. For some stupid reason, I kept on making these calls, but I never rehearsed what I was going to say. And so it was like a little train wreck every time as I laid down a bunch of words that may or may not have been in a sensical order.

After coming back from the house-hunting trip, I went to Subway to get my usual sandwich — that I don’t really have to tell them about any more because I go there so often — and I got stuck on the w- in ‘wheat.’ The “whole” came out just fine, but I didn’t expect getting stuck on “wheat” at all. Then I tried to think — do I say whole wheat to them all the time, or do I ask them for “brown” bread? Ugh.

Some temporary discomfort

Still in the process of moving. Hey, c’mon — I’m overseas. Things are … different.

For instance, I’m moving from one side of the Kingdom to another. From a small town to a larger one. In our small town, there are two compounds to choose from. In the larger one, there are more than a dozen.

My company basically gave me a list (e-mails, phone numbers) for some of the compounds. The person in HR is obviously busy getting other people settled (in or out, I guess) so he can’t call around.

My wife and kids are out of the country visiting family. So it’s not like I can get her to call. I don’t have an administrative assistant any more to make calls.

So of course the first thing I do is e-mail a bunch of them. I sent them a form letter of sorts. I waited a day.

I got some responses, and they either said yes, we have something, or no, we’re full. For the others, well, I started to make some phone calls. You can imagine how much fun this wasn’t. Not only am I speaking to someone over a not-the-clearest cell phone connection, but English isn’t their first language, and oh yeah, did I mention I stutter?

Houses aren’t houses here. They’re called “villas” on a compound. I can feel the stutter coming in on “villa” every time. So I sometimes say “house.” Which is confusing for them. And doesn’t get me any answers. I also have many other detailed questions, but most of the time the person on the other end doesn’t know or doesn’t understand.

Great … it’s only my housing situation that I’m trying to sort out.

Despite all of this, I’ve got things narrowed down and am just going to go there in the next few days to meet people in person and see what’s what. Then I can stutter in person and point and use hand signals or draw pictures or whatever (just kidding. Well, sort of.)

A little more traveling and a little more discomfort, but after this is all sorted out, then it’ll be smooth sailing for a while.

Unfocused on Stuttering

Alright, just a quick hello today — still alive, and still stuttering of course. I’ve gone across Saudi to my company’s home office to talk to some people about my next assignment. Since I know some people in the office already (from several years ago) they took me around and introduced me to others — so I didn’t have the stress of having to say my name at least.

After that, it’s a quick rundown of what I was doing and what I’m looking to be doing in the near future. And the meetings are usually really, really quick, less than a minute or two. Just a quick drive-by. Which is fine at this point. I had some longer discussions that I’m still waiting to hear the results on.

One fun stuttering bit that happened was here in the hotel. I needed an ironing board and iron. They weren’t provided in the room. But I looked through the guest handbook thingy, and it says you can call a number (housekeeping) and ask for it.

So … I have to … use a phone. To say the word … iron. And ironing board. And I have to do this. Gotta look good for the office visits!

So I took a nice deep breath and tried to think past my stutter, tried to ignore the word, tried not to think about how I was going to stutter. I thought about already saying the word, no problem, no problem, no problem.

Them: Hello, housekeeping.
Me: Ah, yes, hi, I need an iron and ironing board.

No stuttering! Success! Sweetness.

Them: What room are you in?
Me: !@#$!^%&%%!!!!

Are you kidding me?! I thought you knew this. I thought hotels had this part covered. Always. It’s a simple contract — I pick up the phone, you know it’s me. Here, apparently, not so much.

So yeah, I stuttered out the room number.

I’m still calling it a win. I mean, it would have been a win at another hotel, probably.

Summing up a Day of Stuttering

For the past three posts, I’ve outlined a hypothetical day in the life of a cover stutterer. I wanted to show how easy it can be to hide your stuttering from coworkers and friends. By “easy,” I mean doing things to minimize talking and interacting. All the mental planning to do so is certainly not easy and quite exhausting at times.

Here’s the Morning, Afternoon, and Evening.

Let’s review some of the actions from the entire day. Most of it was probably pretty obvious. For those of you who stutter or are covert, you can laugh and nod along. For your friends and family, I hope they see how sneaky we are really being. And what might seem like a “quiet” person may in fact be a covert person who stutters…

After about an hour, his buddy comes by and asks about going downstairs to the cafe for some coffee. They both go down, and when his buddy orders, he follows up with “the same.”

The nice thing about having a work buddy is familiarity. For me at least it’s easier to talk to them, and I don’t stutter as much. But then again, the pressure is also on in speaking situations to not stutter in front of them … even though they probably already know. The interesting thing about a drink order is that after a while, you’ll justify to others why you like it so much — even though several months ago you didn’t want it in the first place. It’s all you could pronounce. Small stores are also nice because you can just collect your snacks and drinks and put them on the counter, quietly giving cash or a card.

Back at his desk, he pulls out the power bill. Thankfully he sees that there’s a Web site on there.

Yeah, it’s 2014, and this is certainly possible. But not necessarily for every utility company. In the past, depending on the fee or problem, I would just let it go instead of calling to correct it. This is of course is annoying because on just about every personal finance page they talk about calling your credit cards and asking for reduced interest rates. Or calling your cable company to ask about a different package to save money.

Before going to the staff meeting, he prints out the spreadsheet that his boss will review during the meeting.

For me being prepared and comfortable with a situation reduces the stuttering possibility. I’ll know what I’m talking about. I can say, and hold up a piece of paper, yes, it’s been done. The other good thing about being organized is being able to bail out a coworker who isn’t.

He’s got a dentist appointment on Wednesday afternoon. But he’ll just send an e-mail to his boss who should be cool about this.

Yeah, because saying a “d” word during a staff meeting would have been pleasant …it’s also easier to e-mail a reason, date and time than say it.

“Can we talk about this?” The other person responds, “Eh, well, I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes, so …”

I don’t do this that often, but there’s the cousin of this action — checking a calendar, finding someone busy, and then calling them to leave a voicemail. (painful in and of itself, but maybe you just hang up and then they’ll see your number.) The evasive maneuvre above is high risk, high reward, though. The person could easily just have said, “yeah, let’s talk. I was going to go to a meeting, but they cancelled it.”

Our PWS offers up the fast food place, “I ate healthy over the weekend,” but his buddy turns it down, “I didn’t.” Ok, well then how about no. 4 — we can get sandwiches there, and it shouldn’t take too long.

Ah lunch. A special kind of social pain. Again, this is a high risk, high reward tactic. Ordering fast food is also pretty nerve wracking. So his buddy could have agreed to it. But remembering what they did last week (maybe a lot of fast food) and maybe a text or two from the weekend about his buddy’s activities, he figured it was worth a shot. The restaurants were definitely not a viable option — having to talk to people — unnecessarily. And option 4 — I’m looking at you, Wawa and Sheetz, with your glorious touch-screen sandwich-making awesomeness.

Our PWS dials the number. As it’s ringing, he swings his chair towards the side of his cubicle and begins going through some folders.

The other option of course is to let the person who you called pick up, and then not say anything. And just look at the other person in the room like, “um, if you want to start talking right now, that’d be super helpful …” The best part is they’ll often say into the phone who they are as well as who you are! One less time of having to say your own name!

Our PWS whips out his iPhone and pulls up the pizza place’s web site. He puts in an order and hits submit.

Our PWS could have pre-empted this by asking on the invite call — should I stop by somewhere and get anything? Or, can you order pizza/sandwich for me? I’ll admit that no, there aren’t too many pizza-ordering apps out there. And maybe the local place doesn’t have an app after all. What our PWS would do in this case is maybe search around online for coupons to the local pizza place (but not call). Then when the buddy comes back from his errand and asks what’s wrong, say, oh, nothing, just looking for a coupon. Or do you have any? No? Then push it onto the buddy to call because it’s his place and he knows his own phone number and address …

Our PWS quickly gets up from the couch and walks to the kitchen to talk.

He’s being polite! He doesn’t want to interrupt the tv-viewing experience of his buddy.

They do this off and on for the second half of the game.

By doing this, he’s staying connected to his family without the added stress of the telephone. And it’s become such a regular thing, that his family doesn’t make a big deal out of it.

So there you go. Day after day, week after week … and so on. Pretty soon you can avoid having to talk to people without too much effort.

Avoid avoiding

Back to talking about the NSA Annual Conference.

I’m only up to Day 3 — July Fourth from our nation’s capital.

The day started off with You Make the Difference: Avoid Avoiding.

I managed to only write down a few things. The first is, “the environment of strangers has a lot of negative connotations.”

And of course this is why we avoid speaking or even trying to speak. Better to just shut it all down than to be embarassed (again). I do this kind of thing all the time. Why mingle at a wedding when I can just hang out with the few people I know at my table? Why linger at a company function after dinner when it’s just easier to eat and leave? Why try to navigate the drive through and having to speak through a speaker when I can just go inside and point to what I want?

“What have we done to avoid avoiding?”

This is about challenging ourselves to not be as covert, and to be out there with our speaking. We don’t have to be afraid all the time. Sure, sometimes we get a negative reaction, but the percetages are really, really low. It’s just that those instances really stick in our minds. We need to remember the positive and forget the negatives.

One thing she mentioned was stuttering on our voicemail message. So there, you got a call from a stranger, and they heard your stutter. They know you stutter. What are you afraid of now? That they’ll make a comment about it? Ok, so? Then what? Can you move on to talking about work or whatever? Isn’t a few seconds of discomfort better than hours or days of avoidance and having to resort to other means of communication?

(Quick aside — here in the Kingdom, I actually don’t have voicemail. Not on my cell phone, and not on my work phone. At work it just shows a log of missed calls. So if you see that someone called, then you just call back. Same for the mobile — or they could just text me. Does this mean that I may stutter on my voicemail when I get back to the States? Well … maybe.)

One note I wrote down to myself during this workshop was “Avoiding — now I have children.”

This means, quite simply, that we need to be able to speak for our children. Full stop, no excuses. You take your two-year-old to the doctor, and they’re sick, and they’ve been coughing or sneezing and whatever else, so all of that needs to be told to the doctor. What are you going to do, write it all down? Then what happens when the doctor asks you what they’ve been eating or where they’ve been playing? Didn’t think of that, did you? And you have to make sure to give exact answers. This is your kid’s health!

I think in broader terms maybe this is what’s really pushing me to lose the covert and be more overt. My kids. They can’t speak for themselves all the time. They can’t see that something’s not fair. I need to be able to stand up for them. I need to be able to ask about after-school programs, or where to get academic help, or what they’ve been up to in class when it comes to a parent-teacher conference.

As I’ve said many times before though, I’m not perfect, and I didn’t just go to the conference and come back with some sort of fearless streak. I came back with way more confidence and a different attitude, sure, but it still has to be executed on a daily basis. And some days are better than others.

Programming note … I think I may just go to a M-F publishing schedule. It seems most of the readers are visiting during the traditional work week anyway. I think I’m trying to do too much without considering the time it’s all going to take. Better to ease back a little and publish slightly less but with better quality and consistency.

Stuttering satellite renewal

Ok, so please allow me to ease back into the blogging after the week off. I’ll start with a quick stuttering story that just happened. Then this week I’ll continue with workshop reviews from the NSA Annual Conference.

Here in the Kingdom, we’ve got a satellite dish. I bought the service for this dish from a small shop that someone had recommended. I went in, said I wanted the same package, and the guy came the same evening to climb up onto the roof and install everything. I paid for the receiver, installation and subscription. I get hundreds of channels, but most are in Arabic or other languages. So I’ve “favorited” it down to about 30 that we use regularly.

Anyway.

After seven months, the subscription ran out. So what to do? It’s not like I have an online account or something.

I went back to the store. They said to bring in the receiver, and they’ll update it. Easy.

I went just yesterday with the box. Eh … where’s the remote? It’s at home. Well, we need the remote to program it.

Oh, right.

He suggested that I pay, he give me the code, then I call him once I got home. Then he could talk me through it.

I didn’t think much of the stuttering aspect at this point. I just wanted my channels back! (The Vuelta is starting soon, you know).

I got home and called. He then asked me what I saw when I hit Menu.

Ugh.

There were nine things on there to read. Over the phone. Not too bad, though. Menu, Settings, File … I was stuttering here and there, dragging out the words. Now, this guy isn’t a native English speaker, the cell phone connection might not have been the best, and he’s trying to figure out what I’m saying and what he can remember. He asks me to hit OK on one of them. Now what do I see? More reading! Aaack. More pushing the words out as hard as I can. By this time my kids were asleep, but my wife was sitting on the couch checking e-mail. I know she wasn’t judging me, but this was still annoying.

The guy couldn’t quite figure it out because “the software is new.” So … can I come in the next day and bring the remote? Sure. I did that today, and we’re back watching the dish.

In some ways being in Saudi is a little easier — I mean, at home, this would have been a “customer service” call maybe, and I’d have been moved around as people struggled to understand. At least here I can just take it into a store and sort it out quickly.

Stuttering Reader E-mail

I got an e-mail the other day from a reader. Here’s the crux of it:

“I just now got off the phone leaving a message with a beautiful girl I met online. I must have re-recorded the message 20 times.”

Ah yes, the phone. I’ve talked about how much I dislike it before.

One nerve-wracking experience is getting a new job and a new phone — and then having to set up voice mail for it. For whatever reason even though I’m in my office by myself recording the message, I still stutter out my name. So I have to do it over and over again. Then there’s the rest of the message. I focus so much on getting my name out that I forget about the rest of it and end up bumbling through that, too. You’d think I’d just write something down and slowly read it.

I’ve also enjoyed getting a new cell phone and then opening the box when someone else is in the room (or in my office). So then you check out your shiny new thing — and somehow the realization that you need to set up your voicemail comes up. “Eh, well, I can do that later.” Why don’t you just do it now? “Um …”

The phone system that the reader mentions above is much better than before, of course. Before you had one shot to leave a message — and had to sometimes face the indignity of getting cut off (while you’re trying to stutter out your name) by the time limit. I always wondered what those sounded like when people heard them …

If you have a comment or story about stuttering, please do send it along!

Mushrooms and Olives

When I was in my teens, the family would order pizza about once every week or two. I don’t know if my parents wanted to save money or what, but we’d order the pizza, wait about ten minutes, then go pick it up ourselves. We never had it delivered.

Invariably this led to my dad assigning the task to me. I haven’t asked, so I don’t know — but maybe he gave this phone call assignment to me so I could build up some confidence (but we never talked about my stuttering, so …) It didn’t work. It was always something I dreaded. (although I suppose the pizza sort of made up for it.)

So, it’d go down like this. We’d decide that yes, this evening there shall be pizza. Then we’d decide on one of two places. Then whether or not we could find coupons for one of the places. That was always worse because the coupons would allow us to get pizza with toppings and not just plain. Most of the time we’d agree on mushrooms and olives. Mushrooms with that wonderful, drag-it-out-til-next-week ‘m’ sound and olives with an ‘o’ that may or may not come out at all. Fantastic.

First thing I’d do is take the cordless phone and walk into the dining room where my parents or brother couldn’t see me. I hate talking on the phone when others are watching me. I’d stay standing and move to the window and look outside. Maybe this would distract me? Was I far enough away that nobody would hear me?

I’d call them up. They’d always pick up after a ring or two, and this was always a surprise to me. So then my speech would be thrown off. How was I supposed to start this again? Oh, right, with a hello. Then, “I need to order a pizza.” They’d ask my name. What I did early on was try to say my last name which is often as tough to utter as my first. But then I got smarter and just spelled it out. When they’d say it, I’d repeat it a split second later (for some reason this is easy). A little confidence was built up at this point. Unfortunately, it was never enough.

What has always messed me up is having the other person dictate the pace of the conversation. And the feeling that yes, I should also be in a hurry, and I should know this information without hesitation. Whatdoyouneed? “I need two large, one with mushrooms, and one with olives.” Oh, that m on mushrooms. Every time. Then they’d throw in whether it’s green olives or black. What? Black! But then to say that as well. Things would just jam up completely on the b. They’d always ask again. I’d squeak out a reply. During this entire conversation, I’m also trying not to talk too loud, and while I usually don’t wave my arms or anything while talking, I might do it a little when nobody’s watching. Because of the pizzeria’s hurried interrogation, I’m not even thinking about breathing. I’m just dreading the questions. I’m dreading having to say that I have a coupon before they hang up on me. Oh, did I mention they ask for the phone number, too? Don’t they have caller ID? C’mon, people.

Finally, over. Sweating a little. Did I order the right thing? Probably. It’s over. I stay in the dining room for a little while. Finally take a deep breath. Then walk back and announce it’s over. Maybe go to the bathroom. Why am I afraid of my family? They never say anything about it.

After a few minutes, we’d leave to go get the pizza. I’d be sent in to the pizzeria and then have to say my name again to get our order …

You talk to them

Just writing these posts made me think of several tidbits that have a lot of room for exploration. For example, expound more on leaving messages (and how in my current job we don’t even have answering machines) as well as calling people on cell phones. There’s also cold calling people when I’m on my cell phone (since my desk phone only dials local). But, patience, dear reader. We’ll get to all this eventually.

One of the more stressful things that occasionally pops up is having to cold-call someone while there’s a visitor in my office. So not only do I have someone in the office who’s expecting an easy dial-up and let’s-sort-this-out-right-now, but also another party on the phone who is wondering what’s going on.

The natural tactic, of course, is to avoid this as much as possible. Can I maybe e-mail them? Can I get back to you on this later? Maybe we can go see them? Don’t worry, I’ll call them later. Maybe they’re at lunch right now? I think I saw them just go into a meeting. He won’t know, let me think of who to call. Later, later, later.

But that doesn’t always work. What I’m usually hoping happens is that there’s an awkward pause as the phone connects. Then I look at my visitor like, well, you wanted to talk to them, right? So maybe they jump in and start the introduction and ask the question. But sometimes I have to do it myself, and then the stuttering introduction gets underway.

It’s a three-part bit of misery — first, having to say my name, second, having to introduce my visitor, third, having to actually explain why I called. The third is usually lousy because of numbers 1 and 2 — I don’t have time to formulate any kind of coherent question or narrative. So I just babble on, avoiding words and dragging things out. The best approach is to defer the questions to the visitor and interject as needed.

The only good that comes out of it is that after I’ve cold-called someone, subsequent calls aren’t as hard. I wonder if this is because they remember my stutter — they might not recognize a voice, but they’re probably not talking to a lot of people who stutter on a daily basis.

Hey, what’s up

Calling someone I know is the easiest thing ever because I never have to say my name. If I’ve called enough, they actually recognize my voice. This does wonders for the rest of the conversation. I can actually focus on what I want to say instead of how I’m going to say it. Since I’ve been in my current job long enough, I don’t even have to introduce myself on the conference calls anymore either. They know who I am!

In other intimidating phone situations (yesterday’s post) I’m always thinking about the stutter. For calling people who I know, it’s the last thing on my mind.

Our phone system here at work has your name on the caller ID. So if I call any of my own guys, they know it’s me. I usually start the call with saying their name in an overly happy tone which helps ease my voice and relaxes me.

Before moving overseas, I had to pick up the office phone and say the company name followed by my name … or not, sometimes. Many times I could roll out my name without too much issue as long as it blended in with the company’s name. If not, then the caller had to figure out if it’s me. They’d ask — and I’d say yes. No intro necessary! (and from the previous post — this is why having to leave a message on the answering machine was horrible — but if done right, wasn’t too bad because then they’d have to call back).

This is not to say that I don’t still stutter on the phone with friends. Oh, I do. But since I’m way more relaxed and can take my time, I remember to breathe. I remember to think things through and move forward confidently. It’s even easy to call someone I know on the phone when a stranger is in my office.

A slight twist to the situation is calling someone who is more senior than me in the company — but I know them. I’m a little bit intimidated, and may have to introduce myself since we don’t talk often. Those are very often stressful situations. If I have to call them on my cell phone, I’ll actually get up from my desk and stand. I’ll take a few deep breaths before dialing, and try to pay attention to my breathing. Hopefully they have me on their phone and don’t have to ask who it is. But sometimes not.

Conference Calls

When I first got an office a few years ago, I was pretty stoked. Now, finally, I could be annoyed at my speech alone while on the phone instead of wondering what the person in the next cubicle thought. Since the job had more responsibilities, I inevitably had to participate in more conference calls.

This is when I found out something that was really and truly messed up about my speech.

Here’s what I’d do.

I’d dial into the call and have to say my name. Obviously this was painful. But I’d try to dial in a minute early so that I’d be the first person on. That way I was only stuttering in front of the host. Once I got past that, I’d put the phone on mute and wait for others to join. I found that when the phone was on mute, I could say my name easily without stuttering. I then turned off the mute. I could feel the tension and the stutter, and knew I wouldn’t be able to say my name. Mute back on. Easily say my name. Mute off, potential stutter for sure. This was crazy.

The easiest calls were ones where I was just a participant. Then I’d just have to sit and listen and occasionally contribute something that I had prepared and was confident to speak on. The worst are the ones where I’m the host. Then as people join, I have to go through a roll call … and end up stuttering on a few names. What made that even worse was if someone was in the room with me … ugh. Maybe they could just do the roll call? No? Fine.

Another pain with conference calls are going to a meeting room with a bunch of participants and having someone join over the phone. Then they ask to go around the room for introductions. Not only do I have to say my name without stuttering (never happens) but loudly enough so the person on the phone hears it. Then while I’m stuttering out my name, the person on the phone is confused about the delay and possible dropped signal. So of course they ask to repeat. And of course that never turns out well. Because then there’s this awkward silence as I try to regroup and then go through the motions again.

Inevitably I’ll also be on calls where people don’t recognize my voice. So even if I introduce myself at the beginning, they’ll forget. Then when I start talking, they’ll ask who I am. An ambush introduction. These are the worst since everybody sees this as such as easy question — so give me a quick answer. Simply, who are you?

Cold calling strangers

Ah, the phone. How I hate you so. Since I can fill a week of posts just on the phone, I will. And again, these are just the basics — there’s plenty of nuance to this that I’ll get to as the months roll by.

I’d say about 99% of the time I stutter on saying my name, so I know it’s coming. There’s little I can do about it, so instead I slowly freak out.

Today I’ll start with the simplest pain — me, alone in my office, and I need to call someone who I’ve never called before.

Thankfully I’ve gotten to the point where I have an office where I can close the door. So that usually happens first. I suppose I could lock it just so nobody barges in. Then I start thinking — can I just e-mail this person instead? Do I have to call them right now, at this very moment? Can I get one of my guys to call them? If they’ve got a calendar that’s available, I might consider trying to call them when I know they’ll be in a meeting. That way they’ll have to call me, and I don’t really have to introduce myself. Or maybe I’ll call them during lunch. And actually, do I have to say my name at all? Can’t I just ask for something and then maybe at the end we can figure out how to say my name? I mean, really, how long can I put this off for?

Unfortunately, if I’m cold-calling someone, it’s probably urgent. So I suck it up and … the line is ringing. I’m silently hoping they don’t pick up so I don’t have to say anything. I’m definitely not leaving a message. (there’s one thing about leaving a long message and getting cut off, there’s a whole other level of frustration when I’m stuttering out six words and get cut off).

So the phone is ringing, and they pick up. Now, what I should have done (that I always, always, always) forget to do — is maybe write some sort of script and just barrel through it. But no. So since I’m panicking a bit, I introduce myself by way of my company. And maybe I don’t even say my name — just what I want. That way they are at least hooked. If I open with a stutter and my name, they might start talking and asking who this is, and can you repeat yourself and what do you want, and I can’t understand and … and … of course all of those interruptions really throw things off because now instead of just stuttering out my name, I’m in a bigger hurry. So I try to shut down that attempt and answer some questions, but the breathing is by now all messed up, and seriously, are they still asking and interrupting, can’t they just shut up for a second?

Anyway.

I get through it. Somehow. Sweating at my desk, stuck with tunnel vision, not remembering any sort of technique. Ok. Then it’s on to whatever is next — why was I calling again? At this time, I’m pretty defeated. I recognize the trauma, so I finally take a breath. I finally relax my shoulders. I finally think. I called because … they are waiting, but at least it’s my turn, and I start out slowly.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: