Wednesday, July 30, 2008
She made an impression on me...
|This is a true story. My first real job, fresh out of college, was at the Social Security office in Brooklyn, NY. I was a trainee and was developing my skills as an interviewer (skills that would later come in handy in my work as a writer). I was also learning how to handle people, since part of the job involved helping the public complete applications for various types of benefits.
One of the real professionals in our office was a lady named Bessie Washington. She could have been my grandmother except for the fact that she was a black lady raised in the deep South, while my grandmothers both came from Eastern Europe. Bessie had worked for the Social Security Administration for about 30 years at that point, and there was nobody better at handling touchy situations. When you’re dealing with the public, things can sometimes get touchy.
One day, a man came in and told the receptionist he wanted to apply for disability benefits. She took his name and told him to have a seat. Somehow he had it in his mind that he was going to have a physical exam and proceeded to remove his shirt. People took notice. Then he unzipped his pants. Some people started giggling and others were getting a little panicky, but nobody did anything and soon his pants were on the floor. While everyone else just let the drama unfold, Bessie stood up from her desk near the back of the room, set her hands on her hips, and marched down the aisle to the waiting area. She stopped right in front of him and said calmly, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that it’s not polite to take your clothes off in public?” Perhaps his mother had indeed taught him that, because he bowed his head, mumbled “Sorry, Ma’am” and put his clothes back on. Then Bessie touched him on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry. We’re going to help you.” There may have been applause.
You might not think this story has any relevance in a blog about women business owners. But dealing with clients, suppliers, and employees can require finesse at times. You need to maintain good working relationships with these people, and you also need to set your boundaries. I doubt you'll face a situation similar to the one that occurred that day in the Social Security office – but something will some up. It helps to have a role model. Bessie took charge, but she did it with wisdom and grace. She certainly made an impression on me.