I have come into a wealth of time. My nanny hours have been cut but hours in the day have not. To fill my days with activity and fill my soul with pride, I’ve been volunteering with the Obama campaign. When you are the occasional volunteer you are put in charge of cold-calling potential voters which combines my two least favorite things: phone calls and strangers.
Successful conversations between myself and strangers hinge on multiple variables. The environment has to be casual, open to witty banter and by no means confrontational. The interaction also has to be face to face. Not because eye contact is key; eye contact is terrifying, but because my hand gestures work as visual aides. For me. I like to think that my moving arms distract people from my uncomfortableness. It sounds like I have social anxiety. I don’t. But I think we can all agree that talking to strangers about anything is terrifying.
So obviously phone calls rule out all of my preferred variables. I hate cold calling; it’s never been my thing. When I was younger, my dad, in an effort to either mold me into an independent woman or sway me to stop spending his money on clothes from Land’s End, would force me to call in when I wanted to order something from a catalogue. That’s my first real memory of hating phone conversations. But thanks to modern technology, the internet made having to talk to those nosy and pesky Land’s End employees a thing of the past! That was until now. Until I sacrificed my own personal comfort and happiness to cold-call for Obama.
Of course I encountered the classic phone quandaries; ear sweat, unintentional interruptions and awkwardly long silences, I was expecting that. But what I was not expecting was the glimpse I got into these people’s personal lives. You can tell a lot about a person from even the most short and basic conversation. It does help that I have a real knack for understanding someone based on their tone and general vibe.
For example, I knew the man skeptically and urgently answering questions was hiding a criminal past. If “none of your business” isn’t the answer of a felon on the run then I don’t know what is.
I recognized the trembling voice, barely able to hold back tears while explaining the woman I was trying to reach had moved to Arizona, clearly belonged to a heartbroken man recently left at the altar.
The young man who happily ran through the entire survey with me only to have his friend jump on the line at the end, and scream “JK we love Romney!” beginning a loud and confusing exchange between the two of them of “Obama!”, “No, Romney!” “Gobama!” “Romney, Ryan!” was clearly drunk in the afternoon and having the time of his life.
Honestly, knowing more about these people made our conversations much easier. It humanized them. Of course, none of this information was actually verbalized and I had to use my active imagination to fill in the gaps around the bones of story their tones of voice and, to be generous, basic answers gave me. Is it possible that the felon was actually just a private man who doesn’t believe his voting tendencies are anyone’s business? Sure. Will I entertain the idea that the heartbroken man was not trembling with loneliness but was actually just out of breath? Maybe. Could the young drunk have been… no, he was definitely drunk and definitely having the time of his life.
As we all know, all of my (none of my) posts have a deep-seeded life lesson and this life lesson is calling strangers is much more manageable when you manipulate their lives into a tangled web of emotions for your enjoyment. I just wish I had learned this trick for the people working the phone lines Land’s End.