My phone rang at work one afternoon ages ago. I heard a very frustrated voice on the other end of the line. I knew that he was pretty much at his breaking point when I heard him sigh heavily after I asked him how I could help. I braced myself. I pulled the phone closer to me as I pivoted my chair away from my cubicle entrance. It was going to be “one of those” phone calls, I could already tell. I have the most amazing intuition and insight, but it didn’t take a psychic to sense that he was frustrated. It was clearly obvious. After he finished explaining his weeks of maze running with no cheese for a reward, I thought a moment before I replied. I only asked him one question; how much vacation time did he have? He was completely stunned, and didn’t know how to answer me. He finally said “Vacation?” He didn’t understand where I was going. I wasn’t about to delay him any further, so I responded simply “After everything that you’ve been through you should hand in your request and take the rest of the week off, you’ve earned it”! He laughed.
That phone call resulted in a meeting. I met my contact in the lobby, where I was asked to take off my shoes. That’s how we roll in D.C.! The metal detectors didn’t bother me, nor did the check of the contents of my purse and laptop bag. It was the rather unfortunate yet “Beth appropriate” act of me tripping over my own feet while trying to put my shoes back on that I found annoying. I just looked at him and said “I still can’t figure out why I didn’t make it to New York Fashion week! I think I had a shot at that runway!” He laughed so hard it echoed and that made us both laugh. At least I had gotten the “embarrassing awkward moment” out of the way, or so I hoped.
When we finally got upstairs I was greeted by not one, not two, heck not even five, but by twelve male members of staff. That was something that I was not expecting at all. I also wasn’t expecting to see so many faces filled with anger, frustration, and indifference. Frankly I wanted to bolt, and fast. I knew I would never get away. Knowing my luck, I’d probably trip over a chair, break my leg and have to sit there embarrassed while someone called 9-1-1. When my contact finally introduced me I took a deep breath, leaned over and scrawled in my notebook without saying a word. I ripped out the page and held it up for everyone to see. There was dead silence in the room. I looked each man in the eye and said “My boss knows where I am. If I’m not back by four, can someone take this and call my mom and tell her where to find my body?” Everyone laughed, and we had a fantastic meeting.
It doesn’t matter where you work or what you do. It’s important to remember that the key to solving any problem is how you handle the people that are dealing with the problem. We had the information to fix the situation, we just didn’t know it at the time of that initial phone call. We had to communicate openly and honestly. Trust me, it doesn’t get more honest than listening to a group of twelve men talk. I actually learned a lot that day. Sometimes all it takes is patience, understanding, empathy, and the willingness to fix things. It also doesn’t hurt to throw in sarcasm, social awkwardness, and brutal honesty. But then again, maybe that’s just me.