“A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker is a short story that focuses on a woman waiting for a man to call her. He told her, “I’ll call you at five, darling” (Parker, 1) but as time passes he still has not called. She begins to bargain with God by begging Him to make the man call her as well as by keeping her from calling the man (Parker, 1). The woman in this short story takes a classic lamb’s approach to asserting herself. She begs and pleads with God by attempting to make her reasoning and logic seem sound while also attempting to make God feel compassionate towards her strong desire to have the man call her as he said he would.
The lamb’s approach to assertiveness is not effective nor is it appropriate for a grown woman to use in her quest to get what she wants (Sichel, 14). Instead, Sichel suggests that the most effective form of assertiveness is the self-assertive style which does away with the threatening and whining that accompany other forms of assertiveness (14). Assertive style #1 is based on avoidance and using tactics to evoke guilt, to manipulate, to bully, to scare or to threaten (Sichel, 15). In “A Telephone Call” the woman uses the guilt tactic in order to try to get God to make the man call her immediately.
She uses phrases such as, “let him call me now” or “I won’t ask anything else of you” (Parker, 1) in order to try to get God to feel sorry for her and to guilt Him into making the man call. As the story progresses, the woman begins to take a whining approach to convincing God to prompt the man to call right away. She rambles on about why he may not have called yet but then continues to plead with God to make the telephone ring. This technique is highly ineffective in getting what one wants because whining is very annoying and is particularly irritating coming from a grown woman.
Attempting to make God do anything is a fruitless pursuit to begin with and adding pleading and begging to the mix is not an effective way to get what one wants. Assertive style #2 is concerned with narcissistic exaggeration that uses black and white statements to evoke a sense of drama into assertive statements. The lamb’s approach to assertiveness using this style depends on the use of phrases such as, “you’re never” and “it’s impossible” (Sichel, 15). The woman in “A Telephone Call” uses similar phrases in her attempt to get God to make the telephone ring.
The woman also gets quite dramatic as is evident in her ramblings about possible reasons why the man has not called yet. She begins to wonder if he does not like her as she thought he did and goes on to believe that God is angry with her which leads to the ultimate dramatic expression that she wishes the man were dead (Parker, 1). Further, her constant waffling back and forth evokes a strong sense of drama into the short story because one second she is trying to convince herself that there is a very good reason why the man has not called yet and the next second she is wishing him ill will or even death (Parker, 1).
Again, this type of assertiveness is neither effective nor mature. Phrases that use words such as “never” and “impossible” are highly dramatic because they are words that display exaggeration rather than problem solving techniques. Drama rarely leads to positive solutions but usually leads to the mind going off on tangents that never solve anything as is the case in “A Telephone Call. ” Assertive style #3 focuses on the disavowel of assertion in order to appear nice. The lamb’s approach to using this assertive style is to appear nice by using such phrases as, “don’t you think it would be good?
” (Sichel, 15). This type of questioning allows a person to get their anger out while also using a nice tone of voice in hopes that they will still get what they want. The woman in “ATelephone Call” is a master at this technique. During her pleading with God she says, “Ah, don’t let my prayer seem too little to you God” (Parker, 1). The reader is well aware of how desperate and angry the woman is becoming as the story progresses but the way she phrases this question evokes niceness without backing down on the anger. Similarly, she later asks God, “Are you punishing me God, because I’ve been bad?
” (Parker, 1). It is clear from this statement that she is getting increasingly desperate and angry while also realizing that yelling and screaming at God will get her nowhere. This technique is not effective either. God, and most humans as well, can tell the difference between a sincere assertive question and an angry rant disguised by a nice tone of voice. The woman in this story is clearly desperate but goes about stating her case to God in an immature and childish way that garners no results. Assertive style #4 deals with indirect and evasive techniques instead of strong assertive behavior.
The lamb’s approach to this style is to mask tough questions with gentle phrases such as, “do you think you might want to? ” (Sichel, 15). Once again the woman in “A Telephone Call” uses this style in order to convince God to make the telephone ring. She does not ever come right out and say something truly assertive by telling God specifically what she wants and why it is important to her. Instead, she takes on a whining and manipulative tone of voice that relies on pleading and begging to get what she wants. At one point in the story she says, “I’ll be good, God. I will try to be better, I will, if you will let me see him again.
If you will let me telephone me. Oh, let him telephone me now” (Parker, 1). These types of statements are whiny and manipulative and do not focus on the reasons why the woman wants God’s help and reassurance. Instead, they focus on pleading with God in the hopes that He will get tired of listening to her begging and grant her request. This type of assertiveness is rarely effective because it relies on the breaking point of humans in order to get what one wants. It is similar to a child whining until his or her parents get tired of hearing it and just give in to make it stop.
Assertive style #5 deals with the issue of denial of ownership. The lamb’s approach to this style is to mask anger with words such as “never” (Sichel, 16). The woman in “A Telephone Call” uses this technique throughout the short story as she continues to bargain with God in hopes that the man will call. Towards the end of the story the woman’s begging and pleading begin to focus on God himself and the fact that he cannot possibly understand what she is going through. “You don’t know how it feels. You’re so safe, there on your throne, with the blue swirling under you.
Nothing can touch you; no one can twist your heart in his hands” (Parker, 1). Again, instead of clearly stating her reasons why she hopes God can help her, she puts the blame on God. She takes the ownership of the problem off of herself and tries to make God see that, as a human woman, she is truly suffering, which is something that she does not feel God is taking seriously enough. Instead of talking with God about what her possible role in the problem could be, she makes herself appear to be an angel while the man who does not call and the entire situation are made to appear as the evil ones.
This is not an effective assertive technique because it does not require a person to take responsibility for the problem as well as the eventual solution. Similar to the other styles, it relies on whining and begging and other childish behavior rather than adult behavior. “A Telephone Call” is a highly entertaining and amusing story. If the woman in the story had used the lion’s approach to assertiveness the story would have taken a dangerous and angry turn which would not have produced such an enjoyable story. Similarly, if the woman had taken the self-assertive approach in the story it would have turned out rather boring.
However, this is a story and the lamb’s approach to assertiveness is neither amusing nor effective in real life. If a real woman had a similar problem and strongly wished for a man to call her she may indeed turn to God for help. However, in order to effectively state her case and make her wishes known there are several suggestions and recommendations she should follow in order to ensure that she is taking the very best approach to getting what she wants and avoiding the type of drama that the woman in the story displayed. First, she must eliminate all whining and manipulation.
These tactics result in an avoidance of the true problem and makes the woman appear immature and desperate instead of assertive enough to state her case in a strong tone of voice. Second, the woman in the story would have been much more effective if she would have avoided narcissistic exaggeration and drama. These just add additional hurdles to overcome when trying to get what one wants. Instead, the woman would have been more effective if she would have told God why she thought the man should call and why it was so important to her to have him call.
It would also be effective to remember to say “please” and “thank you” while making the request. Similarly, the woman would have been more successful if she had simply stated her case without trying to sugarcoat her anger. This is rarely effective because it makes a person appear fake rather than genuine. The woman should have explicitly stated what she wanted from God and politely requested that He work with her to find a solution. At the same time, the woman was also indirect and evasive when she was trying to convince God to make the telephone ring.
Again, she would have been more successful if she would have told God specifically what she wanted Him to do in order to help her. Instead of begging and pleading, she could have simply made her request in a direct and up front manner. Finally, the woman in the story denied ownership of her role in the problem. This usually backfires because people who need help should take an active role in proposing a solution rather than denying any responsibility for the problem. The woman would have been more effective in her request if she would have told God exactly how she felt, why she felt that way and once again asked God for help.
The self-assertive approach to asking for something is the most effective because it uses mature techniques that allow a person to speak their mind and make their case in a calm and collected manner that motivates those around them to want to help rather than give in to avoid a dramatic display of childish behavior. Parker, Dorothy. “A Telephone Call. ” 20 March 2009 <http://www. classicshorts. com/stories/teleycal. html>. Sichel, Mark. “The Five Styles of Avoidance and Self-Assertion. ”
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