Inventors, are you listening? Here is my idea for what I know will be a wildly successful new product for women of all ages.
A “press the button” system for phone calls from friends.
Model it after the automated services you reach when you call any business number these days. Perhaps my friends will find it annoying at first when they call me and have to push a button before I answer – but it would be very helpful for me (for you, too?) to be able to categorize in advance what a call is about.
Here’s how I suggest setting up a “press the button” system for conversations with friends:
- Press 1 – if this will be a quick call where you just want to know the Name of the Restaurant we went to last weekend.
- Press 2 – if this will be a longer call where you want to Vent to me about a Problem with your (select one: husband, child, mother-in-law, colleague at work, other)
- Press 3 – if this will be a longer call where you want to Vent – but also Want Actual Advice from me for the problem with your (select one: husband, child, mother-in-law, colleague at work, other).
- Press 4 – for a Health problem that may require my Immediate Assistance (acknowledging my superb self-taught medical diagnostic skills).
- Press 5 – or simply stay on the line if your Beloved Dog has died. That is a problem that will always require my Immediate Assistance.
Some of my friends seem to be experiencing various life changes this fall – an illness, a troubled child, a demanding boss, a difficult spouse. But when friends call, I somehow respond to Press 2 calls with my Press 3 approach and to Press 3 calls with a Press 2 approach. This has not worked well.
Perhaps the world of friends is divided between two types – the advisors and the advisees?
I was pretty much born to give advice (just ask my younger sister) – which must be maddening to those who don’t want to hear my advice.
All those years when I was a practicing lawyer – real life people (we called them “clients”) actually paid me for my advice! So it is a hard button to switch off. Even while in the law biz, my listening skills were on the weak end of the scale. A client would call and start to explain his problem – it wasn’t that I was so psychic but after 30 plus years, you have a pretty good grasp of what is likely to come next. Often I would start with the advice part of the client call before the client had finished actually asking for the advice. It may not have won me awards for listening but it was an efficient way to do business.
So now that I am in the land of the semi-retired when a friend calls me to talk about a problem, I am still automatically primed to give advice. I’m tapping my fingers, struggling to keep silent while my friend describes the latest issue with her husband, the jerk (“he said what?”) – or her daughter, the “challenge child” (“she did what?”) – or her demeaning and difficult boss (“she asked you what?”).
The words are still coming out of my friend’s mouth but my head is already spinning into advice cycle. I like to think I offer insightful, direct, to the point advice. Why don’t you suggest a compromise to your husband? Why don’t you set more limits (or fewer limits) for your daughter? Why don’t you quit that job already?
You called me, remember, if you didn’t want to get advice, then why did you call?
Gently, ever so gently, the other day my sister (she counts as a friend even though we are related) pointed out to me that not everyone wants my advice.
Really, so why did they call me?
Again, in a soft kind voice that implies I am a very slow learner, and that she is telling me the most obvious of facts, my sister explains that maybe friends call just because they want to vent. Only to vent.
To tell me that their husband, the jerk, made a nasty remark – again. Or their “challenge child” may drop out of school – again. Or that her boss told her to work on a project that was cancelled but forgot to tell her about the cancellation part, so she spent 20 hours on it – again.
Having to press 2 for a call that will simply be a vent would help me prepare to hold my tongue, to be a better listener, to not take it personally if my friends simply want to vent and not get advice.
Some people are actually good at listening. You may know them as “therapists”. They get paid to listen. The idea is that they listen so well that you will actually come to your own conclusions, sort of a self-advice system. For instance, a good therapist will listen to you talk for 10 minutes about the fight you had with your husband (who may or may not be a jerk) and then say something really insightful like – “And how did that make you feel? or “what do you think you should say when that happens the next time?”
Of course if you understood how that made you feel or if you knew what to say the next time, you wouldn’t be seeing a therapist, now would you?
(note: I have been seeing the same therapist for a few years, going in for monthly tune-ups and she is both a good listener and advice giver so I hereby exempt her from this over-generalization.)
But our friends don’t call us because we are therapists. Friends call because they want us to listen, it is expected of us, the part of the relationship like the old kids’ toy – the paddle ball where the paddle and the ball take turns – one stretches out while the other coils in. The push and pull of friendships.
Since it looks like I am, as always, ahead of my time as to my brilliant idea of a “press the button” friendship phone call system, I plan to take my sister’s advice. Learn to listen better, Nancy! You can do this. My friends will no doubt appreciate having fewer interruptions and not hearing my always very well intended and sometimes (I think rather helpful) advice.
So next time you call me, no need to press any buttons. Of course if you tell me upfront, “Hi, I just need to vent…”, the old-fashioned pre-button system, I will get prepared to fully listen to you, I promise.