One good thing that I learnt from my Mum was how assertively to tell sales callers that, “We don’t do business on the phone.” The first time I said that, I was about five, and the caller laughed a lot! It was probably the emerging actress in me and my attempt at a grown up voice that caused the laughter. Now, however, I find that sales callers don’t laugh so much. I don’t, usually, even give them time to get their spiel out, so they’re not too happy about that. I am polite though, and always wish them a nice day 😉
On one occasion a sales caller that had previously spoken to my husband phoned again and spoke to me. I dealt with it quickly, and the lady paused for a moment, “Last time we phoned, we spoke to a man. Could we speak to him again, please?” I informed her that she couldn’t and the conversation ended. I had the reputation for being the direct one, while Lemuel would take longer to get around to saying no. This afternoon, however, while I was dealing with a sales call on my mobile, Lemuel dealt very efficiently with another one on the landline. They both ended very quickly and Lemuel later told me that he’d used the phrase that I started using in childhood. I’m sure I still put on my Mum’s voice when dealing with sales calls, even if I’m speaking in Spanish!
Experience is what teaches us how to deal with difficult conversations, whether it’s someone on the phone or face to face. Sometimes, in a similar way to sales callers, there are people who persist in a line of conversation that we don’t want to continue. In the beginning such conversations, particularly when they’re insensitive, take us by surprise, and we don’t know how to respond. Insensitive comments about singleness and lack of children are two examples where people can be particularly persistent. “When is this situation going to change?” they may ask. “Why hasn’t it happened yet? What are you waiting for?” I’m not quite sure what response is wanted. It’s as if the speaker feels the need to sell marriage or children, without even considering that the listener may well have bought into their arguments many years ago. The listener may be in floods of tears inside and wanting to tell the person to “shut up!” but somehow they have to find an appropriate response.
As a single, my response became, “Until you see a ring on this finger, don’t ask me that.” In a similar way with lack of children, for a long time I responded “That’s in God’s hands.” To be honest, it felt like the more spiritual way of telling someone to “shut up!” 😉 There’s no answer to such a question. The only answer is my pain. I had such a conversation this week. No, it’s not anyone who will be reading this blog, so stop worrying! I won’t “out” you if you put your foot in it sometime 😉 The questioning was the worst kind because it was focussed on my aging body clock and didn’t I think it was about time I had children. Some conversations are the hardest to deal with precisely because they put together all the most painful thoughts that already go around in your head, or they blame you or accuse you. They may taunt you, make assumptions, trample on your emotions or seem oblivious to your obvious pain and discomfort.
Don’t let the Sales Callers run the Conversation
Facing a life circumstance that is not as we would have chosen it to be, already feels out of control. What makes such questions particularly difficult is that, like the sales callers on commission, they often come when you’re least expecting them. Your mind is on other things, and you’re not prepared for having a conversation that you don’t want, or for being assertive enough to stop it. That’s where the practice comes in. It’s about taking back the control. A Sales caller phones your house. It’s your phone. They’re all prepared with their spiel, but you’re allowed to stop them. You’re allowed to say, “No! I’m not going there.” It’s the same in life. Although these conversations can take place anywhere, if it’s about your life, you’re allowed to stop it. You’re allowed to say, “No! I’m not going there.” You’re allowed to take control of the conversation. You are never obliged to share what you don’t want to. If all else fails, walk away, or if that’s a problem, think of another plan B. But if we’re going to survive these tough times, then we have to survive these conversations. We have to take control when someone enters into our life with unwanted questions, advice or comments. We have to be sure of our authority to choose what we share and with whom. We don’t have to be rude, but we do need to be assertive. No-one has the automatic right to your personal information or your reasons for life circumstances or changes. It’s not a right to ask those questions. It should not be considered the social norm to expect answers. Often those who are in the midst of the challenge don’t have all the answers, so why should anyone else expect to have them? If you don’t want to share, then don’t.
Role-play: Rehearsing for LIfe
There are always going to be insensitive comments and questions. I wish that weren’t true, but we’re all human and we’re not always sensitive. We cannot change others, although we can educate them. That’s one of the benefits of opening up about some of our struggles; it allows people to reconsider. But, even if we educate and share deep from our heart, the comments will still sometimes be there. We don’t have to like them. We don’t have to accept them. We are empowered when we have a clear plan of action for how we will deal with them though. The first time, we may be taken by surprise, after that we know that such a comment is possible and so we can prepare. Role-play can be a great way to practise responding to such situations. I know, I’m a dramatherapist, I would say that! I’m not preaching anything that I don’t practise though. There have been times when Lemuel and I have done role-play. You can be pretty sure that a good sales person has done role-play practice. An inquisitive person probably has lots of practice too. So, take the time to learn how to be more assertive. The good thing with rehearsing for the real thing, is that you can say the things you felt like saying in the moment, but didn’t think of quickly enough. You can express what you wanted to say just because you need to say it. You don’t have to hurt anybody, and it gives you time to consider the response you feel most comfortable with. Then you’re ready to prepare for the next time. The alternative would be to burst into tears. Get me at the wrong time of the month, and that’s a definite possibility too 😉 It’s also a fairly effective way of getting the point across! For the most part, however, I’ll try to hold on to that assertive voice that I learnt from my Mum and say, “I don’t respond to such questions!”