Today, while at work, I had occasion to remember the strangest and most frustrating telephone conversation I’ve ever had with a coworker. (Yet, anyway. Given time, I’m sure this can and will be surpassed.)
It happened a few summers ago. Along with another coworker (one who is neither crazy nor rude, and actually quite the opposite of both), I’ve mentored several college students in summer research projects. It’s a very pleasant and rewarding experience. But it can be a lot of work, even before the students arrive and the resarch begins. Many hoops must be jumped before a student can get up and running. These hoops involve (but are by no means restricted to) establishing a workspace for the student; getting a workstation configured for the student; and ensuring the student is up-to-date on all required training. That last point can take half a day or more, depending on circumstances. If things don’t go well, it can be a week or more before a student is able to begin his or her summer research.
So, because of that, my co-mentor and I have made it a point to attempt to be as efficient as possible when it comes to arranging things for our students. Which means that I once made the baffling mistake of calling the “training help desk,” which is supposed to field simple questions about the training program. Because this took place several years ago, I obviously don’t remember the entire dialogue verbatim. But I do remember the progression of the conversation quite clearly, and I do remember certain statements because I wrote them down.
May lightning strike me dead if this isn’t an honest rendering of the ensuing conversation. It’s not a transcript, but it’s a good-faith effort to convey the sense of the interaction. It’s also an honest rendering of the tone of the conversation, on both sides.
Me: Hello. I’m mentoring a student this summer, and I’m wondering about the most efficient way for him to complete his training. He arrived today, but his computer workstation won’t be ready for another couple of days. Does the training office provide a place where he could use a terminal to log in to fulfill his training?
Training “Help” Desk Person: It’s obvious you’ve never taken any training before.
(I swear to God this is verbatim. This was the very first thing out of her mouth.
Note that at any given time, since I took my job here years ago, I’ve been enrolled in several training plans which amount to well over a dozen different training “courses” that must be renewed anually. Meaning I’ve taken and re-taken over a hundred courses, and possibly closer to 200.
Needless to say, at this very early point in the conversation I am already perplexed. For two reasons. One, I don’t understand the conclusion, which appears to be a non sequitur. Two, the “help” desk person has automatically adopted an unnecessarily aggressive and confrontational tone, to what I thought was a simple and polite question.)
Training “Help” Desk Person: Admit it. You’ve never taken training before and now you’re asking me about it.
(Yeah. She actually said, “Admit it.” Now I’m really perplexed. My mood is rapidly going downhill, but I’m still far more perplexed than angry. At this point I’m mentally backtracking, trying to figure out why my question was deeply offensive, absymally stupid, or both.)
Me: Uh… I’m a staff member. I’ve been here for a number of years. I’ve taken plenty of training.
Training “Help” Desk Person: Then how could you possibly think it’s possible to take training without a computer?
Me: Ah. Ok. I think I see the problem. We might have had a miscommunication. I didn’t mean to ask if there was a way for my student to complete the training without doing so online. I apologize for the confusion…
(I’m a fairly polite person most of the time. Not always.)
…I was just asking whether there are dedicated computer terminals available for people whose workstations aren’t yet up and running, so that they may fulfill their training requirements while waiting for their personal terminals to be installed and OK’d by computer support. That would enable my student to begin his summer research a little sooner, you see.
Training “Help” Desk Person: Everybody has to take the training online. No exceptions.
Me: Yes, I understand that, and I’m not disputing it. I’m asking about locations where such online training may be conducted. My problem, you see, is that my student will not have a functioning workstation for several days.
Training “Help” Desk Person: We’re the training office. We don’t do computer installations. You need to call computer support.
Me: Yes, I understand that. I’m not calling to ask for computer support. I have already been in contact with my division’s computer support people with regard to setting up my student’s workstation. I’m calling about–
Training “Help” Desk Person: Then why are you calling us?
(Yes. She really did interrupt me. And now I’m getting tired of being polite.)
Me: Could you please listen to my question? Please listen to the question I’m actually asking, and not the question you seem to think I’m asking. Okay? Can you do that?
Training “Help” Desk Person: *sulky silence*
Me: Now. Is there a location where new hires, who don’t yet have their own personal workstations, may complete their required online training?
Training “Help” Desk Person: I’ve already told you that it’s not possible to complete the training without a computer!
Me: Yet again, that’s not what I’m asking. Let me put it another way. Has the training office made computer terminals available for new hires who need to complete their training?
Training “Help” Desk Person: We are not computer support! I’ve already told you–
(At this point I hear a faint “click” on the line.)
Training “Help” Desk Manager: Mary, can I be of help here?
(Mary disappears from the line, never to be heard from again. I hope, deep in my shriveled raisin of a heart, that she was eaten by a Grue. Or that she died of rabies. I’m good either way.)
Me: Yes. I have a question about training for new hires.
Training “Help” Desk Manager: Okay. I’m listening.
Me: Is there a location here where new hires, who don’t yet have their own personal workstations, may log on to complete their required online training?
Training “Help” Desk Manager: Yes. There are a couple of such terminals available in the research library.
Me: ….Well, that was simple, wasn’t it?
Training “Help” Desk Manager: Yes.
Me: Your employee didn’t seem to think so.
Training “Help” Desk Manager: Well, we get a lot of questions when the students arrive each summer.
Me: Yes, I’m sure you do. But it’s much easier to answer a question if you actually listen to it first. As you did just now. So thank you for actually listening to my question. Your employee doesn’t appear to understand that concept.
Training “Help” Desk Manager: She’s had a long day.
Me: Yes, and thanks to your employee, I’ve had a much longer one, because my blood pressure was spiking. But I can see I’m not getting an apology for what was clearly rude and unprofessional behavior. So how about instead you tell me your name and the name of your line manager? I think this incident should be documented.
Training “Help” Desk Manger: *click*
Me: ….grrraaaaraggghhhhhhhhAAAAAGGGGGGHGHHHHH HULK SMASH