Speaker of the House Paul Ryan may have not just hit the nail on the head, but flattened the sucker when he explained President Donald Trump’s political faux pax as “he’s just new to this.” I say that because politics aside, admit, you’ve been there. I know I have.
After spending 33 years as a journalist, working in fast-paced, no-nonsense newsrooms at CNN, the Associated Press and The Detroit News it was more than culture shock when I flipped to the “dark side” in 2005, joining the PR department at then, DaimlerChrysler, now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
First off, as a long-time broadcaster, I was just too damned loud for a corporate setting. Hey, I’m projecting! A kindly administrative assistant told me not only to not “project” but to maybe stop talking altogether. “We communicate by email and -+-+instant messaging here,’ she instructed me. “It’s quieter.” Heh.
Next screwup was getting up out of my seat to walk over to a colleague’s workstation to ask a question. When I appeared at his cube he shot me a look that said, “you remind me of a recent bacteria from which I’ve just been cleansed.” Soldiering on, I gamely said, “Hi. Got a minute to talk about that Dodge media program?” He answered my question with the question,”Did you send me an Outlook meeting request?” “Uh, no,” I replied. “I don’t need a meeting, I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions.” “Well, I have three minutes until my next scheduled meeting, ” he shot back. “So why don’t you send me a meeting invite to arrange some time and then I’ll answer your questions.” Using all the tact my reporting career taught me I smiled as I replied, “Are you shitting me?” He assured me he wasn’t and I returned to my workstation.
That’s where screwup number 2 began. I had sent another colleague an email earlier that day asking a question. Four or five hours went by with no answer. So I sent a follow-up, as I would have done if I was tracking down a story. Couple of hours went by. No reply. I then called the guy. No answer. Left a voice mail. No reply. This went on for another 24 hours so I got my butt up and walked over to his cube. “Hi!” I said. The guy, who was just screwing off surfing the web, jumped, turned around, smiled and returned my “Hi!” with an even bigger “HI!!” When I asked if he got my emails and messages, he said he did. When I asked why he didn’t respond, he said, “oh, no one here is in that big of a rush.”
Later that day my supervisor called me into her office with a stern look on her face. “Ed,” she barked. “Two employees have complained to me that you’ve been harassing them.” “Right,” I quickly admitted. “I walked up to one guy to ask him a couple of questions and he whined I didn’t schedule a meeting…for a conversation! The other guy didn’t respond to my emails or phone messages for two days and I needed an answer to my question.”
I was foolish to think that would acquit me and the case would be closed. Ha! My supervisor looked me in the eye and hissed, “you’re not an effin’ reporter anymore. You don’t browbeat people. You don’t hunt them down like dogs for answers. You simply wait until they’re good and ready and have time to deal with you.” She didn’t seem amused when I informed her that’s not only a rude and disrespectful attitude between co-workers but it’s totally counter-productive. In fact the conversation was closed with, “this is a corporation. That’s how you need to act in a corporate setting.”
I guess I was “just new to this.” I did eventually tone my voice down and learn to request meetings with people, but if someone didn’t answer a question the same day I posed it, I was on them like Black Flag on a roach. Sometimes, you just need to change some of “this,” to a little of you own “that.”