Why I Was A Lousy Receptionist (*)

When I was 20 I was given an opportunity to break into the business world. My first job was to answer the phones. How’d I do? Looking back, I’d say pretty poorly.

Why?

  • Limited talent. I’m not good on the phone. I’ve always disliked the phone. I’ve tried learning tricks and techniques. (Some of them are really good. ‘Smile’ sounds funny, but it does work!) They work, to an extent, but I can only get so far.

    I think, and this may sound like someone just trying to rationalize his own deficiencies, but I think there’s something in me that processes cognition visually to a high degree. Without the visual cues from seeing you while you’re talking to me, I have a hard time parsing not just content but also intent and tone.

  • Frequency. Calls came in waves. Just like customers on a busy weekend at the bakery, calls would come in threes or fours or sevens. Some you could deal with in a matter of seconds. Others were delicate matters, especially when the person didn’t know exactly who they were calling for or if they were upset.

    When talent is an issue, the hardest jobs tend to be the ones that oscillate between mellow and hectic. When things get wild, the talent-poor tend to drive off the bridge.

  • Stakes were high. We managed money for high net worth individuals. It was the end of a monster bull run and it was being interupted by the Asian Contagion crisis. Investors were stressed because they felt like they’d missed the rally and they were stressed because they felt like they were over-leveraged during the pullback. Often at the same time.
  • Underconfidence. At that age I didn’t know how to marshall my forces. I did know how to bounce back from bad news, but I was still susceptible to letting one or two bad calls or a sales guy bawling me out negatively affect my day.

(*) At best I was a C- receptionist. What got me above the D level?

I cared. And I tried really, really hard to be better.

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