Saturday, November 13, 2004

How not to do business on the telephone

Like many jobs in this world, mine requires a certain amount of negotiation skills. I negotiate all day with people in my own company, and then I negotiate with people outside of it, who may not like what my company is doing. In those cases I often have to make lots of telephone calls where I either try to gently smooth things over, or more actively work on keeping the shit from hitting the fan. Or, if the fan has been hit, damage limitation.

This can, in its own way, be entertaining, and I do enjoy it. But I sometimes have trouble with doing business on the phone with people I don't know. To sum it up in a single sentence, I don't give good business phone.

Part of it is that I can usually tell when whoever I am talking to seems to be distracted. While I am trying to wrap my mouth around a complicated explanation, I can practically hear them doing other things- rustling their papers, drinking coffee, checking their e-mail, feeling up their secretary.

This disconcerts me. I find talking shop about complicated matters on the phone a little disconcerting at the best of times. I want to scream "FOCUS here, people, FOCUS!" And my tangled verbiage becomes even more tangled as I try to make my point.

Then the person at the other end lapses into a kind of unnerving silence, reduced to curt Uh-huhs, and Mmm-mmms. Or maybe I have just stunned them into submission with my use of big words in context.

Things are usually a little better if whoever it is phones me. Then it tends to be at a time when they are ready to talk, when their mind is clear and focused on the matter at hand. I try, whenever I am phoned unexpectedly, to give my full attention to the speaker. This is probably easier for me, considering I don't even have a secretary to feel up.

Yesterday,"Mrs Brown" phoned me. Heretofore, I've been dealing with Mrs Brown only in a very indirect sense about something. "Mrs Smith", the other person whom I had been dealing with up til now, was not good at returning my phone calls, and so I sometimes had to leave messages with Mrs Brown as an alternative, pleading for someone with a pulse to phone me.

The conversation went something like this:

"Hello, is that Ms Mare? It's Mrs Brown here from XYZ Ltd. I'm picking up this matter from my colleague, Mrs Smith."

"Oh, yes, hello," I said, "I gathered Mrs Smith was not around, since she hasn't gotten back to me, and I've left 10 messages. Because it's quite urgent I speak with her, or with someone, at XYZ Ltd."

"That's fine. You can talk to me."

"Good. Now, about this issue of...."

Cue interruption from Mrs Brown.

"She's on holiday, actually, with her husband. Mrs Smith, I mean. For two weeks. They go to America every year at this time."

"How nice. Now, as I was saying..."

"It's really quite hard to manage when she's away. I mean, so many things pile up. My goodness, we've been rushed off our feet here."

"Oh," I said. "Is this a good time to speak about this?"

"Yes, yes, yes, fine, really fine," said Mrs Brown, tittering nervously.

"OK, so about the..."

"It's just the last time she went to America, she came back pregnant! Which meant I had to cover her maternity leave, obviously. The baby is so cute though. She used to bring her in. What an angel! It was good when things got back to normal finally. But you can see, we've all been wondering if it's going to happen again! I mean, her coming back from America pregnant."

Cue Mrs Brown braying with insane laughter down the telephone.

I treated her to some unnerving silence, and a couple of curt Uh-huhs.


At 4:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I didn't know the universe's perverse sense of humor, I'd say it was a set-up, but I know for a fact, that this is the kind of stuff no one can make up. That kind of crap happens to me all the time. I swear, I could be someplace where pregnancy and babies are last thing you'd expect and there it will be -- a mention or some kind of reminder of what I'll never have.

It sucks. I hate talking on the phone, never was my forte. I communicate much better in writing.

Sorry about this. Hope you have a good weekend.


At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re-reading my comment, I didn't mean to imply that you would set us up with a story, more that someone was setting you up because they know you're going through this. Sorry I wasn't clearer. Now what was that I was saying about writing being more my forte? Got to run now and find something to take this foot out of my mouth ;)


At 5:58 PM, Blogger Soper said...

First off, despite the number of times I have told your blog to remember me, it will not. Does this mean something? Have you told it to never, under any uncertain terms, recognize me as a person with whom you wish to speak? Do you hate me THAT much, Mare?

Secondly, OF COURSE Ms. Brown got pregnant, she RELAXED and WENT ON VACATION. I'm surprised Ms. Smith didn't mention that, as well.

At 8:47 PM, Blogger lobster girl said...

Cripey, is nothing sacred?! Must even the business call with unknown and uninteresting people turn into a big infertility slap? Ugh. Sorry Mare.

At 10:18 PM, Blogger Menita said...

Oh. My. God.

At 1:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a client complain to me how hard it was to go ANYWHERE, or do ANYTHING with her newborn baby.

I looked at her blankly and changed the subject. It's always something.

Take care,



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