Knowing the Full Story

Our meeting was at 2.30pm. Literally seconds before I was going to go over she called, and told me that she had to postpone. “I have one more quote to do,” she told me in a harried voice, “give me thirty minutes.” This meeting had gone off to a bad start, I thought. This was to be our second meeting in two weeks.

Our previous meeting hadn’t gone that well, either. There was the initial difficulty in trying to set up the meeting in the first place (there never was a “good” time). Then during the meeting itself, we spent thirty minutes discussing how a certain process could be carried out, only for it to end with feelings of resignation on both sides that it just couldn’t be done. We finally decided to try finding out how other people did it (i.e. our North American counterparts) and simply follow what they did — no use reinventing the wheel, right? Unfortunately, a week later, we found that the wheel hadn’t actually been invented, and what we were trying to do had been just as impossible to them as it had been to us.

Still, there was a possibility that it was simply that they, the North Americans, just hadn’t tried very hard at all; and so I was tasked with setting up another meeting with her to finalise the (im)possibility of the process. After another round of e-mail tennis and slightly curt phone calls, a meeting time and date was finally settled.

Relieved that we had finally settled on this, I informed my boss, only to for him to tell me that he wasn’t going to be able to attend as he would be on leave that day. I was hoping that he’d ask me to arrange for another date as having your boss around more or less ensures things go smoothly, but  at the same time hoping he’d not, as it was a pain arranging a mutually acceptable date and time. In the end, he asked if I thought I could handle it, and I, not knowing any other answer, simply said, “Yes.” And that was that.

When 2.59 rolled along, I made my way to her desk. Upon arriving, she looked at me, smiled a little sheepishly, and told me, “I’m not ready yet. You want to just sit down here or wait for me at your desk? I need another twenty minutes.” I tried my best to give her a subtle look of displeasure, one that didn’t show outright peevishness but that let her know I wasn’t entirely happy. I told her I’d be back later.

I decided that I’d wait for her call. Twenty minutes turned into thirty, then forty. Filled with regret as to my decision to go ahead with the meeting, I was just about to call her up to remind her about our meeting when she called. “Tell you what,” she said, “I think you just come over and we’ll have this meeting. If you wait for me to finish this meeting will never happen!” I laughed politely with her, and told her I’d be over in a minute.

As relieved as I was that this meeting was finally going to commence, I was by now more than a little upset. All this waiting for her to finish made me feel as if she didn’t value my time; and I had doubts as to whether or not she would have done this if my boss had been here. Was she really that busy in the first place? Being new at the job, I knew I would have little bargaining power or any influence to speak of. All I could do was hope she’d treat me with some respect, which she didn’t appear to be doing.

When I got to her desk, she was on the phone. For about another ten minutes or so, I was made to wait while she handled some work that apparently required her immediate attention. As I observed her (and those around her), I felt transported to a whole different world.

In my part of the office, it was relatively quiet and relaxed. Apart from the typical sales talk from the Export sales department, voices were seldom heard. And though e-mails were a fairly common occurrence, you never had so many that you’d wonder to yourself if you’d ever finish reading them all. In her part of the office, however, voices seemed to be booming around everywhere. Her e-mail inbox was filled with unread messages, and new ones appeared to be coming in quite frequently; and every time she wanted to entertain me her phone would ring or a colleague would consult her on some matter; the other cubicles around her, too, were filled with similar activity. It was simply not something I experienced in my part of the office.

This experience opened my eyes to how different work-life could be even within the same company. I understood now why her e-mails were so delayed, and why it was so difficult for her to find time for meetings. At the end of the meeting, from which I almost managed to invent the wheel, thanks to her help, I felt I had wronged her. Now every time I feel peeved with someone, I remind myself that I don’t know the full story, and if I did I might well do what they do, too.

It reminded me of how as a driver, I wonder all the why cyclists chose to cycle on roads (do they not realise how difficult it is to overtake them with so many other cars around? Why not go on the pavement?), and how as a cyclist I wonder all the time why cars drive so close by me (is it that difficult to just overtake me on another lane? I have every right to this road as you!)

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