Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Where do you do your best thinking?  I do some of my best thinking in the shower.  Of course, I went in there today with the intent to ponder what to say to an old friend in an email and came out with an idea for this blog.  Hmmmm.  Life works in mysterious ways.  I'm still stuck on the email, but I remembered this great life lesson I got at St. Martin's Press.  I started working there right out of college and I pretty much knew nothing.  You're thinking, "Yeah right."  No, I had a degree in English but in terms of workability I was fairly useless. We were still using typewriters for the most part.  We had computers but they were NOTHING like what we have now.  There is also a very long story about the publicity department that I got hired into but that isn't the point of this blog.  Let's just say the entire department had quit but for four people and I was the first new hire so it was empty in there.  I was working for the director of the department.  First day she asks me to type a letter and I walk back to my desk and think, "Oh crap, now what?"  I had no idea how to format a letter.  That's what I mean when I say useless.  I snagged a senior publicist into helping me format the dumb thing, kept a copy in my top drawer for future reference, and somehow managed to bumble my way through.  Again, none of this is my life lesson.  Now, you're thinking, "Seriously????"  Yes.  Seriously.  That was just me being a kid.

Here is the good part.  We got calls all the time on the phone.  We fielded all of the calls from the general public as well the media calls plus internal stuff.  That is a lot of phone time.  Now, throw all of that at someone who can't format a letter but who has a good heart and really wants to help.  Sometimes very angry people call.  I can't remember the details of why this woman was angry.  What I do remember is that she was a volcano on the verge of explosion.  She was not general public.  She was inside our building.  She was an internal call.  She could press a button and be on my floor.  I didn't have the answers she wanted.  I was a peon person.  I was a nobody.  And I only understood about a quarter of what she saying because she was speaking New York on the phone very fast, and I knew that if I told her that I couldn't understand her that she might hunt me down and kill me.  I think she hung up on me, and I said a prayer of thanksgiving.  I also took a message for my boss, Claudia, and hand delivered it when she came in.  Claudia was only 5 feet tall and about 90 pounds soaking wet, and I feared this woman could crush her without even trying hard.  She was very scary.

I told Claudia about the phone call, and she told me to sit down.  She then said that she would tell me the secret to handling all irate people in the future.  She said I might want to write this down.  Indeed I did.  I pulled out my notepad and pen.  She said, "I'm listening."  I waited.  When she said nothing else, I looked up.  "That's it.  You can cushion it with other stuff if you want but that's all you really need.  All people need is to know that they are being heard.  Many times they know that you can't solve their problem.  They just need to share it.  Other times they just need someone to actually listen to them so that they can be pointed to the person who can solve their problem.  The thing is that people don't listen anymore.  You can turn a lion into a kittycat just by using those two words.  It's magic.  Try it."

She was right.  It works like a charm.  Everyone who deals with the general public will make their own lives so much easier just by saying, "I'm listening," and then doing it.  That ranting, crazy person will turn into your sweet aunt or grandma or sister.  If you find yourself turning into a raving maniac, stop talking and start thinking about who is not listening to you that you need to have listen to you.  I hate those automated machines that make you press a gadzillion numbers before you can talk to a live voice, because by the time I get to a live person I am that volcano that is ready to blow.  I know it, and I can't seem to help myself.  To top it off I get to hear the recording that my call might be recorded....egads.

There is a reason that so many people are in therapy.  We all just want to be heard.  So,  the next time you are lucky enough to be on the other end of someone else's rant you now have access to those magic words, "I'm listening."


  1. FANTASTIC post! Oh, I couldn't agree more. Most people are simply angry or upset because they don't feel validated and worry that they are not being listened to. Could you forward this post on to every male on the planet as a way to save relationships with women??

    PS I also "blog" in my head in the shower- it's the best thinking time with zero distractions. :)

  2. Great point. All any of us want is to be heard.


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