One of the many problems with the public sector is that every single trivial action is subject to Byzantine sets of rules and procedures. For instance, to order a new part for the printer, I was required to fill out a number of complicated forms, which were then cross checked by no less than eight separate members of staff. Even answering the telephone is subject to a set of unnecessary guidelines. Last week, my boss handed to me a booklet entitled ‘The Guide to Effective Communication’, a patronising and somewhat repulsive document, offering advice to public servants on how to answer the telephone.
Leafing through the pages of the guide, I learnt that I must be ‘diverse’ in my dealings, and ‘sensitive to the differing needs of members of the public’. This is easier said than done. Some of the clients who ring my telephone have a command of the English language roughly akin to that of Manuel from Faulty Towers. Instead of being mindful of their deficiencies, they frequently get irritated and abusive when I ask them to repeat things.
Since the department was informed of its fate, things have got a little bit slack. Yesterday, the sum total of my work was to draw a couple of Mickey Mouse ears on a picture of Mao Tse Tung. I then added the caption ‘Mickey Mao’ and hung the image above my desk.
Just as I finished doing this the telephone rang ominously. I lifted the receiver. ‘Good afternoon, Nottingham Works’ I said enthusiastically, making a concerted effort to communicate more ‘effectively’. I was confronted with heavy breathing from the other end of the line.
‘I did free driving lessons with you’ came a gruff female voice that conveyed more than a slight sense of menace. ‘Sorry, can you repeat that?’ I said, having not quite heard what she had said. The breathing increased rapidly. She now sounded like an asthma victim who had been forced to climb a steep flight of stairs.
‘FOR FUCKS SAKE!!!, I…took…free…driving..lessons..with..you,’ she replied, demonstrating a lack of what the H.R department have termed ‘people skills’. I didn’t let my façade of cheeriness drop and said politely ‘ah, I see, and how is it I can help you?’. ‘I need the number for East Midlands driving school’ she said with a total absence of warmth or affection. ‘Okey Dokey, let me just look it out for you’ I replied and my boss began to sort through the driving academy file looking for the required information. After about a couple of minutes I could tell that the caller was getting slightly frustrated. She began to snort into the receiver and launched into wave after wave of abuse in my direction. ‘FFFUUUCKK!…….FUCKING HELL, WHY THE FUCK IS THIS TAKING SO LONG!!!!’ she began to scream down the line. ‘Just a moment’ I said diplomatically, ‘my colleague is just looking the number out for you, she’ll have it in just a moment’. ‘FUCK YOU!’ came the somewhat abrupt reply. It appeared that the caller was impatient as well as chronically stupid
Technically I am within my rights to put the phone down at this stage, but working such a dull job, incidents like this are like gold-dust. My boss had retrieved the number and was now reading it out to me from across the office. Unfortunately I was having trouble hearing said number because of the racket emanating from my phone. ‘WHY THE FUCK IS THIS TAKING SO LONG!!, DON’T YOU KNOW THIS IS COSTING MONEY!!!’. It sounded like the caller was on the brink of a prolaspe. I had just received the number and was about to read it to her when she finally slammed the phone down in disgust. It not often you get to deal with people who have the social skills of Attila the Hun after a twenty-four hour drinking binge.
I felt proud, I had followed the guide to effective communication to the letter and done my very best to serve the public. One must be sensitive to the differing needs and requirements of our clients, even if –as is often the case- they happen to sub-human morons.