Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Conversations without a filter

Note: This column appears in the 9/2 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/3 issue of the Peoria Times

At a job I had a very long time ago, there was a woman who possessed no internal mechanism that informed her which pieces of information were relevant to which people. As a result, she would have phone conversations, with customers, where she would say things like, “I’m sorry sir, I have to go in a few minutes. We’re having cake in the conference room for Julie.”

This is an extreme example –- this woman lacked many more internal mechanisms –- but I have always, personally, enjoyed gathering information from others that does not pertain to the given situation. Especially if it is revealed to me in the form of an excuse as to why my needs cannot be met.

Case in point. My wife and I have both called, on our own, on separate occasions, a person who is supposed to be assisting us in closing an important matter. When I initially spoke with her, she eased my concerns about the delays in this matter by informing me that her company was dealing with budget cuts, and that they were “bogged down,” and that she, specifically, was “bogged down” because they did not hire anyone to help her. This made me feel…better?

During subsequent phone calls she repeated this schpiel, as if she were reading it off a piece of paper. My wife sort of flipped out. So I had to call this woman again and explain to her, calmly, that this was not my problem. Rather, it was her problem. She was required to assist me despite these factors, and my awareness of these factors was not relevant. The time that she had used to make excuses could have been put to better use in getting the job done. She understood my point, and assured me that this matter would be taken care, although it might take a while, because nobody was there to help her.

Not that customers are off the hook in this matter. Just last week, at my present job, I received a phone call that required me to undertake a simple task, and which I accomplished in like three seconds. The result of this efficiency was me listening to a 10-minute long story that involved specific details about the unfortunate deaths of people I do not know. Not that I’m an insensitive person, but I do not like being put in this situation because I do not what to say. In this instance, I said, “Wow…sheesh, uh…that’s a…that’ll be ten dollars.”

Now, I’m all for trying to relate to people on a personal level, even in professional situations. But these are not occasions for excuses, nor, I think, should they ever get too personal. A general rule would be, if you are immersed in a business or service transaction, and you find yourself using phrases like, “my boss doesn’t care,” or “it takes me 55 minutes to get here,“ or “and that’s how my nephew contracted lupus,” then you have probably stepped over that fine line.

Find that internal mechanism. It’s right next to your schpiel.

*Update! Had a phone conversation today at work in which I was informed this during the normal course of conversation, and I quote: "I got food poisoning and then my car caught on fire."

1 comment:

Judy said...

This is a true story-Dad and I went to dinner the other night and when he asked the waitress what they had on tap she proceeded to tell him "Oh, we have so-and-so; we're trying to get rid of it!" Needless to say, he ordered something else and I was glad her boss wasn't standing behind her-I actually admired her honesty!