I make a lot of phone calls in the course of my writing workday, averaging between roughly 700-1000 calls a month.
Sometimes it seems that Creative Directors, Advertising Managers, Directors of Internal Communications, and The Editor are surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire, trip mines, and secretaries who make pit bulls sound easy to deal with.
These people show up early, work late, have way too much to accomplish in way to little time, and are generally overworked over-all; the only thing separating them from total overload is the well-trained secretary screening the multiple people wanting their attention. These ladies (they’re 99.9 % ladies) take their job very seriously and can really put me through the ringer when it comes to why I’m calling, why it’s important, and just who do I think I am anyway?
It’s easy to lose sight of what they’re doing, and why, in my frustration to push past them and deal with the person who can actually hire me and help me pay my rent. When they break into my spiel and abruptly ask me, “I’m sorry, but what is it exactly that you want?” it’s easy to become tired, snippy, and even rude. I just want to make your bosses job easier and pay my rent, okay lady?
But secretaries are people too.
They’re trying to pay their rent too, and if too many junk calls get through to their boss they have to look for a new boss because the old one fired them. They’re juggling call after call after call, while trying to take notes on said calls, and finishing up that report the boss needs typed “like, right now.” They don’t have time to listen to my long spiel…
Unless I’m polite and respectful.
It’s amazing what a little bit of courtesy will get you. Once I realized how busy these ladies were from hearing over and over, “I’msorrywouldyoupleasehold?” I immediately started asking whether I was catching them at a bad time – as soon as they picked up. And you know what? They started listening to me, and even smiling at me all the way over the telephone, despite their busy schedules and to-do list.
Once you acknowledge they’re busy, and that you value their time so much that you’re willing to put your agenda on hold and call back at a more convenient time for them, suddenly they start making room for you. They hold the keys to the vault their boss is locked into, but courtesy will get you through 75% of the time.
One lady, after I asked if she was busy, said, yes and could I call back in twenty minutes or so? I went on down my client list for twenty minutes, then called her back again and asked if she was free. We joked a bit about how crazy schedules can get, I asked to speak to her Ad Manager, and she asked me to hold. While on hold, I distinctly heard her talking to the manager.
Who’s on the phone, he said.
A writer, she replied. I think you should talk to him. He’s very polite.
If you think he’s worth it, put him on line 2, he said. And soon after I e-mailed my information and samples to him on a long shot for a company that only occasionally needs freelancers. But the point is, courtesy won me the right to speak with someone with the power to hire me.
Am I saying courtesy will always help you with all secretaries? Not at all. But it will distinctly increase your Law of Averages. It’s professional, it’s kind, and it’s human, and very few people can help responding to that.
Am I saying we should be courteous as a ploy? To somehow manipulate and control these ladies to do our writing bidding? Absolutely not! That might work on one or two secretaries, or the ladies who are too busy to pay attention to your tone, but those who are paying attention will spot a phony, oily act in five seconds on the phone with you.
Just be politely interested in making their job easier. You don’t have to reach out to them with arms of love, or gush over how you sympathize with the stress of their job. Simple, pure politeness will get you right where you need to be. And hopefully, right where you need to be has freelance project that’s just sitting there with your name on it.
Because remember, secretaries are people too.