A couple months ago I had a moment at work where I felt unprotected. Someone called, I transferred them; the person I transferred them to placed them on hold. She had attempted to transfer them to someone else, but that person’s line was busy. She asked me to take a message. I picked up and said in the professional way I get paid to say things “Thank you for holding. May I have your call back number please?”
That’s when things went LEFT and fast. “NO! I’m not giving you a call back number so you can continue to ignore me!” I tried to explain but he just yelled then called me ignorant when I asked him to calm down. I hung up. He called back, but because there’s no Caller ID, I answered. “Good afternoon Blah-Zé-Blah Health Center” He called me stupid. I hung up. I looked up at the woman who signs my checks; the woman who asked me to get this call back number, in disbelief. She shrugged and smirked.
The phone rang again. “Answer it” she said “You don’t want to miss an important call.” she added. So I did.
Same pleasant greeting I get paid for. It’s him. Yelling. I said “The person you need is still on another line, please hold. He screams “NO, I’M NOT GONNA HOLD.” I press hold anyway. She looks at me shocked, and offers to go tell the person he needs to hang up their other line and answer this man. Before she can move the phone rings again. He’s not on hold anymore.
“Answer it” she insists. “It might be important” she adds. But I know it’s not.
That blinking red line 5 tells me it’s him again, yet still, I answer; because she signs my checks and though we don’t have caller ID, she thinks it might be important. I answer.
Same pleasant greeting that I’m paid to give. It’s him again. I was told to “SHUT UP!” Called “Incompetent” and every time I placed him on hold he would hang up and call again before I could tell the person he needed, to answer. And she continued to make me answer that phone. I had never in my life felt so unprotected! OR had I?
In that situation I grew frustrated because as an aspiring business owner, I know the key to great customer service is ensuring that my staff feels safe and valued. I was continuously verbally attacked, while my boss stood there and watched. When all we needed was Caller ID and he wouldn’t have been able to continue to verbally assault me without cause or consequence. I also would have hoped for her to grab the receiver and say “Don’t talk to my staff like that” but apparently, she was more afraid than I.
I knocked on my coworker’s door to let her know I NEEDED to take my lunch break. She took her time.
So I sat there, blood boiling, nerves rattling, in the lobby of a mental health clinic on the brink of a mental break down. I tried to compose myself and write down how that situation made me feel so I could share it along with suggested solutions (like WE NEED CALLER ID) with my supervisor.
Once I was relieved for my lunch break I sat in my car in the parking lot on the phone with my mom in tears; recounting my frustrations and the woman who made me answer got in the car parked next to me and rode away, seemingly unaffected.
I had to ask myself, of all the times people have called a phone and been nasty with me, why had this time in particular, struck a cord?
I realized that I had a history of having my sense of safety broken. I’ve shared before that witnessing my sister’s father have conversations with my mother where he had an abundance of bass in his tone, makes me despise people talking to me at certain levels.
How he and I had a physical altercation when I was 14 and my mother watched, paralyzed from the kitchen, not knowing who to defend. How she made me apologize for putting my hands on a grown man and hurting his feelings by telling him “He’s not my father” When he had in fact “Done more for me than my father ever had” And what she taught me whether she meant to or not is that it was ok for me to feel unprotected. It was acceptable for a man to talk to me with too much bass in my mother’s home and decide to strike me for disagreeing. But it was not ok for me to defend myself with my words or with my hands in her home. Because I was a child and I needed to stay in a child’s place, even if someone was attacking me; be it with words or brawn. She taught me what it felt like to be unprotected, so I had to learn to protect myself.