Friday, July 22, 2011

How To Deal With Jerks On The Job

Happy Friday, Edsters! Are you humming Katy Perry’s Friday-themed jam, or are you still stuck on Rebecca Black?

A few days ago at work, one of the editors asked me to do her the favor of tracking down a DVD of a documentary that premiered recently on a local channel. That sounded easy enough, and I set to work looking up PR contacts, making phone calls, sending emails, the usual. For some reason, the network didn’t have a copy of the DVD, so they put me in touch with the producer, who wound up taking a real attitude with me. In a condescending voice, he told me, “Well, I would need to know more about why your editor wants that tape. I mean, I produced it. As much as I appreciate good press, I would want to know what it’s for.”

I replied, “Okay, sir, I know you may not understand how internationally-acclaimed magazines work, so let me break it down for you: when an editor says jump, I jump, and if you care at all about your craft, you jump with me, and that aside, this is like a three-inch jump, more of a hop really, and I’m sure that it wouldn’t kill you to slap a postage stamp on a DVD case and ship it right over, so would you please just be compliant so I can tell my editor I’ve gotten this done before my lunch break?”

I’m kidding, obviously. I didn’t say that. However, he wound up speaking to me so rudely that I may as well have (and wish I had).

More on that in a minute. I proceeded to politely promise him that I’d ask my editor why she wanted the tape and get back to him. It turned out that she was just interested in seeing the film (but, if it was showing on any other major networks soon, she added that we would be happy to promote it), which removed the pressure of operating under an ASAP deadline. When I explained all this to the producer, he said that he’d lent a couple of tapes out, but that he’d probably get one back within a week, and that he’d send it over then. I thanked him and told him I’d check in with him on Thursday.

Sounds good, right? But then, Thursday rolled around.

On Thursday, I called him once, left a message on his voicemail, and sent him an email checking in on the status of the tapes. Within the hour, I was sitting meekly at my cubicle with my ear pressed to the phone getting screamed at for doing my job. Here’s the gist of it:

“Listen up. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know who your boss is. I have never heard of The Mag before. I am the producer of this film. It is not my job to distribute copies to people who could get it from other places. I have cancer. I don’t want to send a copy to your office, but I’m going to, but I don’t want to hear from you any more, got it? No more phone calls, no more emails. Just leave me alone!"

Oh. Oh, wow. Okay. I think I stammered something along the lines of, “I understand, goodbye,” and dropped the receiver as though I’d just realized I’d been pressing a giant worm to my ear instead. I wasn’t upset or mad, exactly – I know a lot of people aren’t crazy about journalists, and obviously, this guy was just behaving like a jerk. Mostly, I was worried he would renege on his word and that we wouldn’t receive the tape from him.

With that concern in mind, I explained the situation to my manager, who then had me tell the editor what went down (which was a little embarrassing in and of itself – I didn’t want to walk into her office whining, “THIS SCARY MAN WAS MEAN TO ME!”). This editor is one of my favorites at the paper – she’s so practical and brilliant, and her stories are all so hard-hitting. Anyway, she called the producer a word I wouldn’t use around my grandma, and thus, in a blog post, so I’m just going to substitute the word “puppy” and let you use your imagination.

My editor’s advice for dealing with puppies: “Well, he was a puppy. Some people are just puppies. You’re going to talk to puppies. And now that you’ve talked to a puppy, the next time you pick up the phone and there’s a puppy on the other line, you’re going to be like, ‘Oh, he’s a puppy.’ Don’t worry about it.”

Sounds reasonable to me. I’m lucky to have a pretty stable temper, so people speaking rudely to me almost never incites me to speak rudely back to them; I’m glad I was able to stay calm and professional. I agree with my editor – I think the best thing to do is mentally acknowledge that someone is a jerk and remind yourself that you’re above behaving unprofessionally, even if the man shrieking at you on the other end of the line isn’t.

Have you ever had to deal with a “puppy” while you’re on the clock? What are some of your tips for staying calm?

I recommend yoga. Namaste,
Features Intern

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