At work, a great deal of my time is spent on the phone. I talk to clients, to vendors, to the other folks who work here. When I’m not on the phone, I’m on my email scheduling blocks of time for other people to talk on the phone. Often, the person on the other end of my fervent plea for availability is another person like me; not the person with whom the call will actually take place, but their assistant. We are the gatekeepers. We man the phones and the emails and the calendars for others. We are a buffer between the inefficiency a busy executive fears and cannot afford. We filter out what is not worth their time and let through what we deem appropriate based on a very deep, almost intimate knowledge of those we work for. In a world of rampant communication flooding in through ever increasing means, Gatekeepers hold the nonsense at bay and preserve an atmosphere of order and organization amidst the tweets and pokes and cold calls of our ever changing business culture.
Every Gatekeeper is aware of this power. And, as often is the case with power, there are those who abuse it. You see, there’s a code, an unspoken but highly respected code of conduct for all Gatekeeper to Gatekeeper—G2G—interactions. We are cordial, empathetic and accommodating. We are to the point. We don’t sugarcoat. If we know there is not a snowball’s chance in Hawaii that our exec would even spare 5 seconds in an empty elevator with your exec, we say so. But we say so in a way that sounds more like, “It’s nothing personal, honey. You know how the boys are.” If we happen to interact often, we form little bonds and relax formalities, sending smileys and LOLs in our emails and using our casual “girl talk” on voice mail messages.
Just the other day, I got a G2G call on my cell in the middle of lunch. In our world, a cell phone call is only warranted in an dire emergency. We know full well that we are not top level VPs with our phones becoming organically fused to our palms, holding conference calls in the bathroom or over Valentine’s Day brunch. We know that away from our desks means on our own precious personal time and therefore off limits. But, it was Sheila and we go way back. She reminds me a lot of me ten years ago; energetic, driven, persistent, always following up on emails with a phone call no less than two hours later. Crisp and professional, she apologized for calling my cell then explained the urgent matter. After a few seconds, the crisis was handled, she apologized again and the call was over. That is G2G communication at its finest.
Unfortunately, for every Sheila, there is a Gatekeeper who does not keep the code, who is burnt out after too many years in the press with a tyrant of a boss or who is somewhat confused about her role and has blurred the line between support person and Queen Bitch of the Office. Rather than acting as the wise, careful extension of her boss, she thinks she is the boss. My last run in with this kind of renegade Gatekeeper started in December with the attempted scheduling of a meeting at her office which is actually right downtown. Not travel required, no huge advance needed. My boss would go there and meet for a couple of hours with her CEO and CFO. Sounds simple enough. Or so it would have been for say, Sheila. But this woman, Gail, has sat on this thing for two months. I am still, as of today, scheduling this meeting. We have confirmed no less than three dates, all of which she canceled the day before. She does not return my phone calls and the one time I was able to catch her at her desk to ask why she had not responded to my last email with a new set of good dates for yet another rescheduling, she asked me to send her an email to follow up because she about to step away! Last week, she sent me a note that read: Since you have not responded to my email about the 22nd, we need to look at a date in March. I could have burst into flames. Instead, I replied; Gail, please see the attached reply wherein I confirmed the 22nd for both [my guys], and hurriedly hit send before I said something she would probably make sure that I lived to regret.
My boss has asked me repeatedly about the status of the scheduling and seems to understand the trouble I’m having. He even went as far as to contact Gail’s boss to say that he’s been trying to confirm but keeps “hitting road blocks” to which her boss replied that he would try to move things along. That confirms to me that its 100% Gail sitting over there in that office power tripping, holding up progress, likely costing us both money in the long run. I have since sent two unanswered emails and left a voice mail. Still nothing.
I’m about to file this one away and go on with my life but the blatant disrespect for the code makes me bristle. How dare she? Our jobs are tedious and stressful. The responsibilities placed on us are heavy burdens that we are expected to carry with charm and enthusiasm daily. She knows this. To add to that weight is a slap in the face and a disgrace to those of us who actually take the role seriously. But, what I don’t think Gail realizes is that I have her office address and I’ve gotten friendly with their receptionist after so many attempts to track her down. So, with every unreturned message, every ignored email, every meeting cancellation, I’ve inched ever closer to picking up the phone and ordering her that “Hot Southern Nights” gift basket chock full of edible panties, flavored massage oil and Anal-Ease to be hand delivered by a well-built gentleman wearing nothing but Speedos and a bow-tie with specific instructions not to give it directly to her, but to place it on the break room table bearing a tag prominently displaying the message “For Gail, when the wife’s away, the mice will play!”