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Life out there by Bret Kofford: No need

June 20, 2001

There was no need to be an ass.

I was busy, certainly, with three things going at once and one person waiting for me to do something for her. Still, it was after deadline and the things I had to get done that afternoon were important but not urgent. I also had pledged just days before to be nicer on the phone after hanging up on a family member started a protracted family freeze. On top of that I make it a point to be nice to service workers, having been one myself in various capacities.

So when the woman on the telephone asked if I would do a media survey for an organization she didn't name or that I don't recall, I said, "OK, if it only takes a few minutes, because I'm busy."

"It will take only a couple minutes," she assured me.

Ten minutes later, I was still on the phone with the interviewer, who sounded like an older woman from the upper Midwest. She was bumbling through the survey, although that may be a slap in the face to all the people who bumble but manage to get things done. Her bumbling seemed to be getting us nowhere, taking us in circles. I was getting exasperated.


At one point, apparently noting my frustration, she asked if I wanted to do the interview some other time.

"No," I said. "Let's get it over with. It will be just a few minutes, right?"

"Right," she said.

Fifteen minutes later I was still answering questions.

‘‘How much longer is this going to take?" I asked. "I'm really busy and you told me it was only going to take a few minutes. How many more questions?"

"Just a couple more, I think," she said. "This is my first survey, though, so I'm not sure."

Finding out it was her first call on the job should have made me more patient, more understanding. Combine that with the fact I once had been a phone solicitor and know how draining it is to deal with difficult respondents, and it should have made me more gracious. For some reason, on this day none of that worked.

She soon asked me, "Will you tell me what is the news focus of the newspaper?"

"General news," I responded.

She then asked a couple more questions, and followed with, "Will you tell me what is the news focus of the newspaper?"

"No," I answered.

"No?" she asked.

"No," I answered.

"He said he won't answer," she said off the line to someone who may have been her supervisor and who I now figured may have been sitting with her on this, her first call. "What should I do?"

"General news," I said, interrupting the calling room conversation. "I didn't want to answer it because you already asked me that question."

"I'm sorry about that," she said genuinely. "Just a few more questions, I think."

Ten minutes later we were still on the phone. Then, just when things seemed to be moving toward a conclusion, she got confused, then flustered.

"OK, I need to ask my supervisor something. I'll be right back," she said.

Twenty or 30 seconds passed.

I hung up … and immediately regretted it.

My thoughts raced. "I was rude … I made her first call hell … She was an older woman, someone deserving of respect … I wasn't brought up that way."

I started questioning myself even more.

"Who am I, a small-town newspaper editor, a nobody, to treat someone with such disrespect? Why is my job and my time more important than hers? How could I, someone who had done similar work, someone who knows how hard it is to recover after such nasty calls, do this to her on her first try?"

Because I did not get the name of her company, I could not call her back. I hoped she would call me again so I could be more pleasant, more helpful, redeem myself in this woman's eyes. I fretted about it all afternoon, all evening, for a few days afterward. She never called back, and I don't blame her.

A week later it still sours in my gut that I could treat someone in such a manner.

I never felt bad about upbraiding the knucklehead who told me "I'm not trying to Jew you" on a deal he was offering over the phone. "What if I happened to be Jewish, idiot?" I barked and slammed down the receiver. I have been abrupt with other phone solicitors who said something stupid or wouldn't break from their hokey script, and I only felt bad about myself for a few moments.

Regarding this lady, though, I continue feeling like a jerk even now.

I don't know if I cost her her job. I don't know if she quit after having to deal with me on her first call. I don't know if, one way or another, I cost her dinner that night.

I do know this. I was an ass.

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