Tag Archives: professional

When Conference Calls Go Wrong…

21 Jun

If that headline means nothing to you, then you clearly don’t work in business. Or are still in high school. Because otherwise, you know: conference calls are recipes for disaster.

I mean, even a routine weekend call with my parents holding separate extensions in their home usually has at least one snag. (Namely, my dad deciding to take that moment to untwist the cord, which makes a crackling noise, prompting my mom to yell, “John! What the hell are you doing?”)

So take many people, put them on a shared line for 60 minutes and see what happens.

First, there is always THAT PERSON. You know the one. The person who – no matter how long s/he has worked at the company and how many calls s/he has been on – forgets the cardinal rule: Never Put The Call On Hold.

When pushing the HOLD button, that person sends a complex message, kind of like:

  • I’m the most important person on this call, so just cool your heels until I’m back.
  • I don’t know how technology works.
  • Sorry, I have REAL work to do, suckers.

Personally, I believe companies should have some forum where public shaming can occur in the wake of an incident like this. I mean, I’m not advocating disciplining or firing someone. No. But if peers could trash talk him/her for 24 hours without consequence, where a photo could be uploaded for a Dumbass Caption Contest?  Probably pretty effective at putting an end to that behavior.

I will go on record and admit: I have been that person. And I was publicly shamed. And it didn’t happen again. Which might be why I support that method.

You know who else there is? The person who doesn’t know how to mute his line. And who also happens to be related to Darth Vader. Or big on crank calls. Because without fail, there is always one person who breathes into the phone like it’s an oxygen mask, who makes people believe the call will be interrupted at any moment with the words, “Luke. I am your father.”

And if you’ve never heard that guy on your call? Sorry: it’s YOU. Find your mute button.

And yet, I can’t be too hard on him. Because I’ve also had issues with my mute button. I once ran to the bathroom when I thought I was both a) muted and b) on hold. Turns out neither was true. Fortunately, I’m good with improv so I think I successfully played it off as if I were washing dishes. Or owned a horse.

If you’re still not understanding what I’m talking about, watch this as a primer:

So today I was on a series of calls. On one call, to help people understand how excited her team was about something, my friend used a phrase like, “They lept up and squeaked like dolphins.” I appreciated the unique simile – it’s not every day I have to step back and think about what something might’ve looked like. So much better than a meaningless corporate cliché.

About that time in the background you could hear another person exiting their car, given away by the tell-tale beep signaling keys in the ignition. “What is that noise?” one of my colleagues asked.

“Sonar,” I told her. “Someone is approaching the office.”

On another call – one I was leading – I got all wound up and started pulling vocabulary words like I was playing Scrabble. Only in editing the recording did I realize I’d used the word “penultimate” incorrectly. Turns out, it doesn’t mean “the most amazingly awesome thing ever.” In Other Disappointing News, it means: next to last.

As in, that is the penultimate time I ever use that word.

And now for the part I really wish I were making up…

I was on another call today – a smaller call, with only about ten people in attendance. We were working out all aspects of a large program that is set to launch on Monday, so it was a pretty tense call. We were mapping out timelines, confirming action plans, working out worst-case scenarios.

As we wrapped up the call, a lot hung in the balance. Based on how each person leaving that call performed their piece – and any technical bugs they encountered – we would reach a “go” or “no-go” decision the next day. After recapping commitments, I thanked everyone and went to close the call by saying, “I’ll be waiting for your updates with bated breath.”

Except I got a little tongue-tied.

And instead, I closed the call by telling everyone, “I’ll be waiting for your updates with bated breasts.”

Speaking of mental images…

I can’t make this up people. There is actually a website that sells boob hooks.

I’m developing an interview-ready Rorschach…

27 Apr

Observation: Sometimes, when it’s not a true disability, it’s actually funny when people can’t see or hear well.

Case in point – my new team was in training for two days in Chicago. My boss pulled out her iPad to share some photos with us. The first photo was of her dog, lying on a doggie bed. One person she showed it to said, “That’s adorable. And it’s so classical looking because it’s in black and white.”

Um. The thing is, the photo wasn’t in black and white. Nothing about it lacked color, from any angle. I’m pretty sure I wrinkled my brow trying to squint my eyes and see it in every possible way, and I could see my boss, shifting the iPad in every direction to see if it appeared even sepia when blurred. It did not.

We both silently shrugged it off, until the next picture popped up, featuring a dog on a different (red) doggie bed with paw prints all over it. “So cute!” the woman exclaimed. “It looks like a ladybug!”

Again with the record scratch. A ladybug?!?

I’m open to creative interpretations – trust me, I LIKE to find animal faces in wood paneling knots – but I just wasn’t seeing this. Then, thirty seconds later she exclaimed, “Oh! There’s a dog there!”

WHAT??? What did you think she was showing us, a pillow?

I’ll cut her some slack – she’s new, she was tired, and she was viewing it on an iPad held at an odd angle across a table. But it still made me giggle.

Given all the psychological evaluations employers perform now to ensure they’re not hiring a freak, it occurred to me that we could patent our own test, using random photos and an iPad. “What do you see here?” I imagine us asking.

Then we present the following image:

And in my mind, the ad promoting this new app I’ve developed sounds like a cross between a Mastercard and an Apple commercial.

Want to find out if your new co-worker is a whack-job?

There’s an app for that.

Confirming she finds butt-humor as funny as you do?

Priceless.

Business advice, free of charge.

9 Feb

I recently got into a discussion with a friend about titles. Not house titles or book titles, but professional titles. As in, what does your business card say?

My friend was bemoaning the fact that her company uses titles that make sense internally, but don’t in any way correlate to the outside world. Namely, to their customers.

“I’m pretty high up in my organization,” she told me, “but my title says manager so whenever I’m negotiating with a client, their response is generally, ‘let me talk to your boss.'”

I can relate. I work for a company that doesn’t place a lot of importance in a person’s title, so we all roll with what we’re handed. For the most part it works, except that I generally am negotiating with Vice Presidents. Little do they know that in my world, everyone is empowered to help them, and “manager” means it’s generally within my jurisdiction to stop the buck.

Anyway. Back to my friend. She asked if I thought she was making a mountain out of a molehill, or if it was a legitimate beef.

My response?

First, I think it’s fine to have TWO titles. To internally have a title that conveys your function and speaks to the progressiveness of the organization, if you work for a flat organization. But when it comes to the outside world? Hell no. You need to speak the same language and translate your competency into terms your clients can understand.

You ask for respect in how you present yourself, and a title is part of that. Poor titles mean you spend a decent part of every first conversation trying to establish your credibility and defend your position. It’s a waste of time.

As I told my friend: “You wouldn’t expect to be treated with respect if you went to the doctor, pointed to your crotch and say ‘my hoohoo is broken,’ would you?”

No? Exactly.

Use words fit within your clients’ vocabulary. Otherwise, brace to have many lame hoohoo conversations.

You’ve been warned.