April 23, 2009

It's Nice to See You

Over the course of my working life, I have had many "phone and email only colleagues" -- people that I have daily, work related conversations with but for whatever reason I have never met in person. They live and work in other cities; they provide support out in the field; they take my order and ship it. There is no opportunity (or sometimes, reason) to meet face to face. But face to face is how I prefer to interact with people. I like people; I like their faces. I get pleasure out of talking with someone and watching their face erupt in a grin or grimace. I love eye contact – the real way to tell if someone is being honest with you. And it’s just nice to know what people look like.

Don’t get me wrong, email is fantastic. Sometimes when I’ve had difficult news to deliver to a customer, I preferred the written word. I could think about what I wanted to say, type it out, delete anything that might be misconstrued or seem inappropriate, double and triple check what I’ve written, and then hit send. Yes I know, this is the cowardly way but I don’t like being yelled at. And if someone is yelling at me on the phone, I find it difficult not to yell back. Call me human. Paving the way with an email allows me to be empathetic when I follow up with a phone call. “I’m sorry Mrs. Parks, but your new home warranty does not cover sending someone over to remove the deer from your back yard. Yes Mrs. Parks, I do know how much you paid for your home. No Mrs. Parks, the deer isn’t dangerous and is probably more scared of you.” But, we've all had the email from someone we think is mad at us (all in CAPS for example) when in fact they were being sarcastically witty, or they thought all caps meant they were typing something REALLY IMPORTANT! It is hard to accurately convey feelings and expressions, unless you resort to :-) or :-( or LOL, and as my friend Dan pointed out, these don’t really do the job.

The phone is sometimes the only way to do business. In my new position I am on call in the evenings to deal with work-related emergencies. The call centre is located in Winnipeg and employs a great group of people, some of whom I have developed a great working relationship with. Two of them in particular – men with voices that automatically evoke a certain image of big, beefy radio guys (you know the voice) -- I’m particularly fond of. They are witty and generous and it's always a pleasure to hear either of them on the other end. But after a year of great conversations, venting and yes, getting the job done, I felt it was time to put faces to voices.

I think most people are visual. Someone tells a story and we imagine it playing like a movie in our heads. We say things like “I see what you mean” and “I look forward to meeting you” and “I’ll see what I can do”. We speak with someone on the phone or via email and we picture what they look like. Of course this is based on nothing more than our own biases and preferences, and even if we don’t have a clear mental image of the person on the other end of the phone, we entertain certain generalities. Deep, booming voice equals big, beefy radio guy; squeaky, timid voice equals short mousey gal; British accent equals Hugh Laurie (ok, maybe that’s my personal bias). But there comes a point when we’ve just got to know, when imagination isn’t enough.

A trip to Winnipeg to meet the guys face to face was out of the question (Winnipeg in February?) – but a photo would help. I sent one at Christmas (Christmas equals hats according to my boss)...


... and waited for one in return.

The first picture they sent me...



... accurately portrayed the vision I had of them, yet I wasn’t buying the 100th Monkey theory and felt there had to be a human side to them as well. The next two photos arrived today...



...and herein lies the problem. They don’t look like what I had imagined. In fact, I couldn’t have been more off the mark. And it left me with an odd feeling. It’s like when you see what you think is a bowl of chocolate pudding in the fridge and scoop some into your mouth only to discover it’s gravy. You like gravy but weren’t expecting gravy. You were expecting chocolate. So it leaves a funny taste in your mouth. I suppose if you scoop another bit of gravy into your mouth and you are now expecting gravy, you will enjoy the taste.

So the more I look at their pictures, the more I will see them for who they really are – not the big, beefy radio guys but the witty and generous men who make me laugh and feel good … just like chocolate.



3 comments:

Dan W Johnson said...

Lianne, you really should write more--great post! I hate those Christmas hats and one time I drank a big swig of chicken stock at 3 AM when I thought it was some sort of juice...gross. Darn giant, similar juice boxes...

Dan W Johnson said...

Oh yeah...office people--weird. Not in a judgmental way, I'm just used to construction and offices freak me out...

Lianne said...

I'm was a courier for 20 years and just saw offices from the front desk -- I've been in one now for 3 years and they still freak me out too. I'm now in the Waffle Building and it's the definition of Concrete Jungle!