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Claire Norman | 01.07.2013

For Claire Norman, one situation above all others fills her with the most dread: the telephone. Here she explains why.

Claire NormanIn an ideal world, I’d insist on living my life using the telephone as little as possible. Some people are scared of spiders, others of clowns, heights, maybe even the unexplainable success of Justin Bieber. Me? I am scared of telephone calls.

I despise making phone calls and will do everything I possibly can to avoid them; although answering the phone I find is not as bad. Despite this, I doubt there’ll ever be a time when it will be the job of medical receptionists to telepathically know when I wish to book an appointment, and hence ring me!

I’d love to be like my family, my friends and everyone else I know who can pick up the phone, tap a few numbers and speak to someone via that life-changing piece of technology, without feeling the slightest bit of dread or panic.

For me, the dread of using the phone is linked to the thought that if I stammer, the person I’m talking to has no idea whether or not I am still there. The usual response I get is, “Hello?...Hello? HELLO?” Because on the phone I only ever block (as opposed to repeating or prolonging sounds), no sound comes out of my mouth. Subsequently, this leads me to panic and therefore stammer more and for longer. So, in these instances I would rather speak to the person face-to-face.

I always try to hide my stammer. Whether it’s pretending to think, pretending to have forgotten what I wanted to say, or frantically trying to find other words in our beautiful language that I can substitute to...either way, trying to hide my stammer is incredibly tiring. In some scenarios it is even more tiring than stammering itself! But it is what I am used to doing. All of this caused by a piece of modern technology designed to make communication easier! I guess when Nokia came up with their slogan 'Connecting People' they didn't consider those with speech impediments!

Having to use the phone at work

I remember my parents asking me as a teenager what I wanted to do as a career, and I’d reply, “I want a job where I don't have to use the phone.” I would say it in a jovial way, but beneath the words I completely meant it. Unfortunately, there’ll be many occasions in life - especially in the workplace - where I will have no choice but to use the phone. I used to work in a clothes shop and whenever the phone rang I tried my best to avoid being the person to answer it. I would quickly bury myself neck-deep in a task in the desperate hope that someone else would go instead. Whenever I have to contact someone, I do whatever I can to contact them via email or text - even if it’s rather urgent. If there is absolutely no other option but to talk to someone over the phone - such as making an appointment - I put it off for as long as possible.

So, when I have to make that dreaded call, what do I do? I write down everything I want to say. Every single thing, in the hope that if I read my written words I won’t stammer. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If it does go well, it never ends that way. Why? Because there are two words I always stammer on, without fail: ‘Claire’ and ‘Norman’. Why do I stammer on my OWN name?! No matter what situation I’m in, I am never able to say it – which gives the impression that I have either forgotten it, or that I am many sandwiches short of a picnic!
As much as I would like my life to be telephone-free, it would be an unhealthy way to live. The thought of having to use a phone regularly, once I find a job after graduation, does frighten me. However, I will just have to take every scenario as it comes and treat them individually. Everyone has a voice, so we must use it – some people just find it much harder than others.

BSA’s telephone tips

Making calls

  • Write down opening lines and key points to get across.
  • Phone a friend/family member beforehand to reduce anxiety. Make a list of calls and work your way up to the hardest.
  • Say the numbers slowly when dialling to give you breathing space.
  • Have alternative first words in mind in case you don’t get through to who you were expecting.
  • Disclosing your stammer can reduce anxiety.
  • Concentrate on what you want to say rather than thinking about blocking.
  • Watch yourself in a mirror to see where any tension lies.
  • If it goes well, gain confidence by making other calls - strike while the iron is hot.
  • -Don’t keep putting it off - it’ll become more stressful.

Receiving calls

  • Don’t rush to the phone. Let it ring a few times and take a breath.
  • Have first words ready.
  • If within earshot of others, concentrate solely on the call.
  • If using a technique, looking at a sticker in a handy place can remind you to use it.

From Speaking Out Summer 2013, p13