The most menacing machine ever invented

The phone rings, echoing throughout the dining room. “Ugh,” Paul and I say in unison. I feel myself tense up. My heart begins beating in my throat. I close my eyes and try to will the most menacing machine in my house to stop ringing.

“Do I have to get that?” Paul says before the answering machine picks up.

“I can’t talk to anyone right now,” I reply. We decide to let it go. We’ll call back later.

As an introvert, talking to anyone on the telephone is difficult. Yet, I have a landline and a cell phone. I hate them with every fiber of my being.

I make jokes about not answering the phone. People laugh. They tick the little like button on Facebook, give me some good-natured ribbing, but there is a deeper layer of truth there. Telephones terrify me.

Most jobs in the world require using a telephone as some percentage of their job. For me, the ring from a telephone an albatross around my neck.


There is an overwhelming response from within of impending doom, not so much that bad news is on the other end, but that I have to talk to whoever is on the other end. At home, all calls are screened. I can reply when I am ready and have the energy to do so. At work, the phone has to be answered.

A phone call is an intrusive event into my life. It pulls me out of whatever I am doing in the present moment. Ninety percent of the time, I am writing. The caller has jolted me out of my mindful work and wrenches my focus its incessant, irritating sound.

I am not mentally prepared for this. It really is that hard.

Introverts think about what they are going to say before they say it. So, when an unexpected call come through, a feeling of dread overwhelms the brain. For me, I don’t know who is calling or why. So how can I have possibly prepared a response, or several?

I will do whatever I can to not answer a telephone.

A telephone call tends to require small talk – how are you doing, nice weather, etc. – before anyone ever gets to the reason why the call was even placed. This can last several minutes. Know that I am on the other end looking for things to rupture my ear drums.

I rely a lot on non-verbal communication and visual cues. I take cues from a person’s body language to determine what they are thinking or feeling during a conversation. Facial expressions, hand or eye movements, and shifting balance are important cues in conversation. You cannot do that over a telephone. Without being able to read body language, I am missing a vital part of the conversation.

I grew up in a time before Caller ID, voicemail, email and texts. If you wanted to communicate with someone, you had to use the telephone. We didn’t have an answering machine until the year before I left for college. I never answered the phone in my home as a child. It wasn’t going to be for me anyway, so why should I put myself through the burden of small talk when the person called for someone else?

While it doesn’t sound quite right that I prefer texts and emails over speech, I much prefer communication in the written form. A text or an email provides me with the time to read, think of an appropriate response and reply.

Writing allows me to not be clumsy with my words or awkward in my speech and I can still convey my message. It also allows me to cut and paste, delete, and edit my response several dozen times before I send my response.

There are times, however, when you must take a deep breath, pick up the receiver, and make that call. I’m still going to spend at least ten minutes rehearsing before I do. I won’t let the most menacing machine in the house get the best of me.

For those that don’t know me well, when they inevitably start the small talk with, “How are you doing,” I will shift to, “I’m fine, thanks. What can I do for you?” If I ask them how they are doing we will fall into the “small talk” trap and I don’t want to go there.

The people who know me well text.


No need to kill them, they’re just doing their thing


Shifting the balance of power in arts and culture


  1. Rick Myers

    I particularly hate initiating telephone calls, particularly when I need to ask someone for something!

    • Irene

      I have to do that very thing right now for a story. I’ve successfully put it off for four working days so far.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén