Phone Interviews

I spend a fair amount of time on the phone, interviewing people for the articles I'm writing. I've learned to almost enjoy this process. I am not a phone person and it would never, ever occur to me to call a friend just to "see what's up." Even if Blair and I are apart due to one of us traveling, we'll do a 5-minute "Hey, I got to the hotel okay" call and then won't speak for the next week or two that we're out of town. (He's not a phone talker, either). But interview phone calls have a purpose and are usually under 30 minutes each, so I deal with them.

My first phone interview was years ago with a breeder of Black & Tan Coonhounds for a  breed profile I wrote for Dog & Kennel. I was so nervous beforehand. I was afraid the woman would be able to tell I'd never interviewed anyone before, afraid I wouldn't ask the right questions, wouldn't get the answers I needed, etc. It's funny, as conducting interviews for breed profiles are so second nature now, I don't even need to prepare beforehand.

 But I was supposed to have an interview yesterday with an animal behaviorist and I did prepare for it. I'm writing a humor article for an animal newsletter that comes out of a large research university.  The editor wants a few expert opinions sprinkled in about why animals bring humor to our lives and why that's good for us. So, fine. I e-mailed this behaviorist and we set a time yesterday afternoon to talk.

I called at the time, and he wasn't there. I called back 15 minutes later, still not there (he'd warned me he might be late). I left a message and he called me back about 40 minutes later.  I thanked him for calling and asked my standard, "Is this a good time for you?" pre-interview question.

And he went off. Politely, but still with a lot of tension and nerves behind his voice. He told me it was not a good time and he knew when he set the appointment with me it wouldn't be.  His graduate students needed his attention, his family was sick, he had to travel, plus he's already given interviews to so and so for this magazine and on and on.  I tried to interject once or twice that it wasn't crucial I get the interview that day but he talked over me.  Finally he admitted he didn't want to do the interview, didn't have time.  

I'm fine with that. People have lives and there's always other people I can find to talk to. But after he gave me this litany of reasons why he couldn't do it and that he didn't want to do it, he sighed, sounding exasperated and said, "I suppose I could squeeze out an hour next Tuesday if I absolutely had to--" I cut him off and insisted I would be fine and able to locate another source.  He hesitated a bit and then thanked me and we hung up.

The whole conversation was just very odd. People have such a hard time saying no. It's clear he never should have agreed to the interview in the first place as he's already loaded to the max. But what amazed me was that after he spent the time covering with me why he couldn't do it, and I agreed, he backtracked and was going to find time to fit me in. Even though I could tell he would have been ticked if I'd taken him up on it. 

But most people are happy to be interviewed and what I've found is they are usually much more nervous than me. They want to make sure they sound good and give solid information. So part of my job as an interviewer is to get them to relax, which relaxes me in the process.

But I still don't like the phone...