I’m always amazed by how differently people handle telephone calls.
For instance my father’s telephone voice is so far from his actual voice that you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were calling 1950 when you hear his answering machine. Somewhere back in time at the BBC I imagine there’s a wartime broadcast with his name on it still waiting to be voiced by his received pronunciation, of which I think he is justifiably proud.
My father doesn’t just pronounce words on calls with people he doesn’t know, he plants a Union Jack in them and claims them for the British Empire.
Other people in contrast approach communication with the battle lines already drawn and their pronunciation is truncated and sharp.
I worked briefly with a heavy metal obsessed Dutch guy in the Netherlands, notable for being the only person I have met who grew cannabis in an upside down Storm Trooper helmet on his kitchen windowsill. For such a nice guy he was strangely direct when we spoke on the phone, until he realised who you were.
‘Met Hans.’ he always barked in a curt voice when I called him on the phone (the literal translation I believe is ‘With Hans’) until he realised who I was and then his tone changed to ‘Heeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyy Davvvvvveeeee’, presumably as the contents of the Star Wars prop kicked in.
At the other end of the scale was a mild mannered Scot that I met while working at BT in Bristol. He was the epitome of placid calm on the phone from beginning to end. His soft Glaswegian accent melodically lulled the inbound callers into sale after sale of BT Internet packages.
His voice when I sat next to him was the equivalent of a Celtic poet, dripping like honey on a warm day onto a soft crust of bread covered with melting butter, fresh from the oven.
Until the phone went down.
‘Ach ye f**king c**t I hope ye f**king choke to f**king death on yer own c**k’ he would scream (or words to that general effect), often before punching his heavy CRT monitor clean off the stand onto a neighbour’s desk, throwing down his headphones and storming off for a cigarette.
Strangely his tenure of employment was limited and he didn’t sit next to me for long.
In contrast to my tartan colleague I genuinely liked speaking to people and being ‘nice’ on the phone – often having really pleasant calls with people i’d never met.
I still firmly believe that if you’re friendly with others then often very little harm will come to you, and it brings out the best in other people too.
However, if I’m honest sometimes being nice is also a pre-emptive defence mechanism designed to disarm people and stop assaults before they’re deployed.
I noticed today that when the lady from the drug and alcohol clinic called me to set up an appointment I was in full on ‘jaunty Dave’ mode. I answered her questions like I was on a radio broadcast, not wanting to sound unsure or unhappy.
Sure I was willing to come in on X day at X time! Yes – that would be GREAT! I’m REALLY looking forward to meeting you!
I’m positive she sounded confused – almost as much as me when I ended the call. Who had she just spoken to?
Why had I done that? Was it for me, the people around me or was it for her?
It wasn’t really what I felt. I felt embarrased and vulnerable – and as always I had reacted by playing the capable, disarmingly friendly guy.
I resolved to leave my phone voice at home for the meeting when it eventually arrived and try as much as possible to take down my barriers, whatever they may be.
No jauntiness, no stormtroopers, no flags being planted, and no monitors being punched.