In my job as a receptionist, my standard mode of operation can be summed up in the mantra You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I have to make a lot of phone calls about things I don’t understand, and usually I can play dumb long enough that the person on the other end will give me more information than what I asked for. Or if I have to ask a court clerk for a particularly annoying favor, I always say, “I’m so sorry… I’m new.” When I’m the one answering the phone, I try to be as helpful and overeager as possible. All in all, I have an awesome phone personality.
But there have been times that no amount of sweetness on my end can soothe the irate client or defendant on the other end. Once, a woman screamed at me for a while, and then said, “You have a nice day, bitch,” before slamming down the phone. I had sat there frozen, mouth hanging open, totally silent.
I’m not a confrontational person. I rarely get in fights. I’m never rude to waitresses or customer service representatives. I think I’m oversensitive to others’ feelings, and I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt—which doesn’t always end well.
But on Tuesday, I saw a whole new side of myself emerge.
I received a call from a man who said he’d been incorrectly served notice of a lawsuit, but that that the information on it wasn’t for him. He said, “I tried to tell the process server that, but she told me it was my problem and then she drove away. I swear, if I could get my hands around her neck, I’d strangle her.” I laughed uncomfortably and then in my pleasantest voice said, “Sir, all we need you to do is write us a letter—”
“No!” he interjected. “I’m not wasting any of my time because someone else screwed up! Why should I have to write a letter?!”
Still calm, I said, “Sir, we need to have it in writing so we can file it with the court and get the correct defendant served.”
He raised his voice to a full-blown yell, repeating his story about the woman showing up at his door and the fact that he’s the wrong person. “Sir!” I said, taken aback. “I’m trying to help you!”
He kept yelling about what a “stupid bitch” the process server was, and that he shouldn’t have to waste his time to fix this.
And that’s when I snapped.
I raised my voice’s volume to match his. I clenched my fist and extended my pointer finger, jabbing the air to italicize my words.
“LISTEN,” I said. “I AM THE RECEPTIONIST AT THE LAW OFFICE. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PRIVATE PROCESS SERVER. SHE TOLD YOU THAT IT WAS NOW YOUR PROBLEM, SO I’M TELLING YOU HOW TO FIX THAT PROBLEM. YOU CAN LISTEN TO ME AND FIX THIS, OR DON’T, AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS WITH THE COURT. I DON’T CARE.”
“But I should have to do anything!” he said. “I don’t want to do what you’re telling me to do!”
“THEN I’M DONE TALKING TO YOU,” I replied. And I hung up the phone.
I don’t know who she was or where she came from, but she was calm and she was quick. She didn’t mumble or stutter. She stood up for herself. And when it was all over, she didn’t break into a cold sweat or need to repose on the couch to calm her shaking limbs and racing heart.
Instead, she googled the belligerent man and discovered that he was a former attorney who was now the president of a successful wealth management company. Maybe he can bully other people into giving him what he wants, but not this girl. Not this time.