Finding myself in good company
I’ve rarely been as delighted with what I’ve read in a blog as when I saw one recently (although it was actually written last year) by Marie Brotnov entitled “Why I hate the phone (and other thoughts on business communication)” In it, the author confessed that she detests the telephone, a condition I thought was unique to me among translators. I’ve often read advice along the lines of “Phone those potential clients rather than sending an e-mail. It’ll make you stand out from the rest.” and thought to myself “That’s all very well, but I couldn’t do that.”
I’ve always hated the phone, ever since I had to be persuaded, as a child, to use it to speak to my grandparents. Growing up a little, I always preferred writing love letters than talking to girls on the telephone. What looks romantic on paper just comes across as demanding and clingy when said into a mouthpiece. I don’t know whether it’s the interaction with a disembodied voice that’s the problem for me or not having time to think, but once I get on the phone I find it difficult to remember what I wanted to say, and I sometimes ring off only to realise that a conversation that has gone everywhere except where I wanted to. Other times, I will sound brusque and mechanical in my haste to hang up as soon as possible. This hasn’t always made things easy for me, and I had to overcome my aversion during my time as a journalist, although I never came to love the phone. There wasn’t, and there still isn’t, anything that will make me procrastinate more than knowing I’ve got to make a phone call.
With my change of career to translation and the coming of e-mail and then chat programs, I thought, at least for me, the phone would become obsolete, because e-mail in particular is a better tool for the translator in so many respects. To begin with, it doesn’t interrupt your work like an annoying phone call can. You look at e-mails when you want to, and if you do too much of it when you ought to be working it’s really your own fault. Phone calls, on the other hand, are impossible to ignore and they can cut into critical time when you might have been engrossed on your work, completely breaking your concentration. Then there’s the negotiation issue. For me at least, it’s much easier to weigh up my capacity to do a job when looking at it in an e-mail rather than speaking on the phone, when I’m much more easily pressured into doing things I don’t really want to do. An e-mail gives you time to examine the job and think properly about whether it’s a good idea to accept and then, if necessary, find the words to reject it without giving offence, something which can take time and effort. It simply fits in much better with my way of doing things.
My preference for e-mail over phones was so great that I didn’t even consider getting a mobile one until the arrival of smartphones meant I could use it to check my mails and look at the Internet. And my mobile often sits in my office, alone and unloved, when I know many people feel the need to have theirs to hand at all times.
As I said earlier, until very recently I thought I was something of a freak in this respect, and it felt like such a personal thing I didn’t really want to discuss it. But then I saw Marie Brotnov’s blog (which has other posts that are well worth reading too, by the way) and the responses to it. I simply couldn’t believe all the people who were writing “I thought I was the only one who disliked the phone”. Then I noticed the names of some of those making these comments: Claire Cox and Alina Cincan, both bloggers I enjoy reading and both people who hardly come across in their writing as weird or lacking in confidence. When I reposted Marie’s blog on my Facebook page it attracted more comments along the same lines, again from people I respect as colleagues.
By coincidence, the same day I was reading a recent blog post/translation business lesson from Marta Stelmaszak: “Does your personality impact your translation career?” Now I defy any translator who looks at social media not to have heard of Marta. She’s an influential figure in marketing for freelance translators and hardly a shrinking violet. But here she was writing this: “I’m very bad at phone calls and I’d never do any cold calling unless I absolutely have to. My aversion to telephone calls used to be so big that I’d rather go and visit my relatives to pass a message on from my parents than actually make a phone call. Of course, this got better over the years, but I still can’t imagine calling strangers.”
Nor can I, Marta, nor can I. So I seem to be in good company with my phone aversion. What do you think? Are you in the same camp? Is it worth trying to fight it, or do we just have to live with it? I’d love to hear your opinion. But, if it’s all the same to you, leave a comment here, or e-mail me. I’d prefer it if you didn’t phone…