Comedian Pete Holmes has a hilarious bit about how he loves to mess with telemarketers and cold callers and how one time that backfired epically. You can view it here.
While I love that bit unabashedly, I cringe thinking about it because a fairly substantial portion of my job involves calling or emailing people I don’t know to ask them to do something they probably weren’t going to do already. That’s an imposition from out of nowhere that, if you’re not expecting it, can feel like a total violation. And being the one doing the imposing and the near-violating certainly enhances one’s empathy for those who make their living doing it.
I don’t fancy myself a bad guy, yet watching someone’s face drop when I approach them out of the blue or hearing their voice deflate when I introduce myself over the phone certainly makes me feel for a moment like one. I immediately put myself in their shoes because I personally hate when someone broaches me uninitiated.
Which is why I think everyone should be mandated to work for at least a week doing cold calls of some sort. Semi-related, I also think everyone should be required to work retail, to work in food service, to do fundraising for nonprofit work, and to do factory work for a time. If everyone experienced the unique horrors of each of these sectors of employment, we’d all be better off and more well-rounded people.
However, if I could choose only one, I’d choose the cold calling one. Why? Because our empathy would go through the roof. My very first cold calling job, I was 18 years old, and I offered free housepainting estimates door-to-door. I lasted in this job for an excruciating one-and-a-half hours. At that age, I couldn’t handle the withering glares people gave me as they saw me trudge up my front walk with my little clipboard and backpack. They knew I was peddling some shit, and buuuuuhhhhhh I’m going to have to make awkward small talk with you, aren’t I? please just go away and let me enjoy my Saturday what did I do to deserve this? is what I heard in my head.
Despite flaming out of that job at light speed, I’ll never forget it because I immediately became nicer to everyone. We all have jobs, and some jobs suck. I have no desire to make anyone’s already difficult day even worse with rudeness, saltiness, or otherwise unpleasantness. I’m not sure I would have arrived at that place had I not put myself on the other side of the equation at such an early age.
And while I make cold calls much easier now – to media I want to cover my client, to coalitions I solicit for their support on an issue, to passersby on the street to appear in a video project I hope sees the light of day very soon – I still tense up and dread that first one at least a little bit.
As much as you tell yourself you don’t care about rejection, you do. It always stings a little, and when someone is notably rude, you always carry some of it with you. It’s impossible not to. That’s why unless someone gives me a super unignorable reason, I tend to go out of my way to be polite to those who are just doing their jobs. I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of surprising vitriol, having done basically nothing to earn it.
That’s not to say I’m a pushover and sign every petition, buy every service, or participate in every survey. Far from it. But I’m cordial, I’m polite, and I’m respectful to the reality that some jobs require some imposition. It’s easy to say no and not be a complete dick about it. Trust me, the people accosting you expect it.
But what we could all do without is the needless hostility. So the next time someone cold calls your house or stops you on the 16th Street Mall, save your Pete Holmes routine, and just be polite.
And if that seems unreasonable, sign up for a campaign you believe in and make some calls to people you’ve never met. You might change your mind.