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Telemarketers and Me, or learning to hang up

6 December 2016

When I was in Jacksonville, FL, I did not have a problem being polite to telemarketers. I said, “I’m sorry. I just can’t do this right now.” They said, “Okay. Have a good day.” And then they went away and left me alone. I never had repeat calls or any reason to be impolite on the phone.

I had a serious problem with even the idea of hanging up on any phone call for any reason. I did not have a problem with setting the phone down and wandering off for a while—I did that to ex-boyfriends who called to continue the fight we had broken up about—but I did have a problem with actually hanging up.

When I moved to Provo, UT, I started getting calls from telemarketers who would not take a polite “no” for an answer. I once spent half an hour on the phone with someone who wanted me to get a newspaper subscription. I did not want a subscription (because they tend to pile up), and I told the caller why as part of my polite refusal. The caller continued to try to sell the subscription. I told him that I was never going to get a subscription, so he should accept that and let me go. He came up with other reasons why I should get a subscription.

I let him keep talking. I changed the subject to pets and weather, but I was not going to change my mind about the subscription. I told him that I hated to waste his time. I told him that I remembered when I was a telemarketer (in Jax, FL, for a very short time) we were told to make as many calls in as short a time as possible. If we got a no, then we were to politely end the call and try someone else. I suggested that he should try that method. He said he was sure that he could get me to change my mind. I told him he could go ahead and try.

We were on the phone for a remarkably long time. I remember that I was able to stretch the cord into the kitchen to get dinner for the kids while he continued to tell me about why I wanted a subscription. I continued to listen politely for a while and then change the subject when I saw an opening. I regularly reminded him that I had already told him no.

I don’t remember how long this went on, but it was at least 45 minutes. I remember being shocked that he had not gotten yelled at by his boss. I did finally get him to agree to hang up.

I spoke with many telemarketers in Provo this way. This was my first experience with telemarketers who would not take a polite refusal for an answer. I was amused at first because I thought it was just a few determined go-getters, but after a while, I realized that this was their culture. They could not believe that someone could keep saying no, so they just kept asking until they got a yes. They were counting on polite people giving in because it was the polite thing to do. This was a very annoying realization. I had special needs children to raise, and I had things to do. I was getting tired of spending half an hour or more on the phone with strangers who were trying to exploit the rules of a polite society.

I still could not hang up on them, though. I could say no in a thousand different polite ways, but I could not hang up on a phone call.

I remember one particularly entertaining conversation that I had with a telemarketer shortly after I had been working with one of my autistic children on her carrier phrases. I had told the caller, “No, thank you. I don’t need [one of those].” and she kept selling. So, I told her, “Okay. I said, ‘No, thank you.’ Now, what do you say?” She went to selling again, so I repeated myself, “No. I said, ‘No thank you.’ Now, what do you say? You say, ‘Okay. Thank you for your time. Have a good night.’” She continued trying to sell me on her product, so I said it again, as if I were talking to a child much slower-witted than any of my special needs kids, “No. I said, ‘No thank you.’ Now, you say, ‘Okay. Thank you for your time. Have a good night.’ Go ahead. You can do it.” This went on for a short time, but, as I kindly explained to her, I have two autistic children, so I can repeat things for a very, very long time and never lose my temper.

She eventually gave me the proper response, to which I encouragingly replied, “That was very good! I knew you could do it! Good night now!” And she hung up.

I used that one a few times. It was fun every single time.

I did eventually learn to hang up on telemarketers. I really had to. I wasn’t in Florida anymore, and the telemarketers I was encountering in the West (and later in the Midwest) were just determined to force people to be rude to them. I started out very politely explaining that I was going to hang up now, and I was very sorry. Eventually, I could just hang up without explanation as soon as they did not respond properly to my polite refusal.

Once I learned to hang up on telemarketers, I was able to hang up on other people, too. I hung up on my sister when she started saying racist words about the President in 2009. I hung up on my ex-husband in 2011 when he started calling me names on the phone or when he otherwise tried to bully me into giving him his way. I can also now hang up on businesses or bureaucrats who refuse to move past their, “but that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality. I hung up on a dentist’s receptionist just the other day because she would not commit to assuring me that her dentist was a kind person who would not scream at the office workers or make the patients cry. In fact, she got pretty snippy about it. She seemed to think that if I wanted to know what kind of a person the dentist is, I should just show up on appointment day and see for myself. So, I hung up on her.

I was paralyzed for a very long time by my inability to hang up on people. I couldn’t do it. I went to great lengths to avoid it.

Now I may be mad with power.

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