Without question, my undergrad degree served me well. You can’t go to a college that intense without coming out with some level of working knowledge. (The place: Wheaton College, and no, not the place Billy Graham went, but one of the then-called, so-called Seven Sisters, located in Massachusetts.)
Since then, I’ve grown my career space by taking seminars. Curiously, some of the most learning-filled seminars were the ones least likely to pan out that way…at least at the time I enrolled.
I fell on some “chance” learning the year I signed up for a seminar on Assertiveness Training. In the ‘70s, assertiveness training was all the rush, nearly as much as John Grey’s “Dress for Success” in book format and seminars too. Randy advertised his assertiveness training as a means to control situations that weren’t going right basically because one lacked the hutzpha to speak up and defend one’s position.
That would be me as a cub reporter. The cotton-headed editor would make a point 4 out of 5 mornings to turn to me and ask, “Where’s Bonnie?” Bonnie was the next youngest reporter in the room, a keep-to-herself kind of gal who had a mysterious existence that kept her out late and, like domino theory, got her to work late each morning. But to her credit, she never missed a story or a deadline, staying well after quittin’ time to log in her copy.
The problem for me was that the minute I would hear Harriet the editor start to ask the question of Bonnie’s whereabouts, my stomach would tighten and I’d immediately feel guilty for her tardiness. I’d start dialing the rotary phone (no cell phones in these dark ages) and dial repeatedly if I wasn’t getting an answer, just to be sure that Bonnie hadn’t overslept. Geez, I’d mutter under my breath, why is she asking me…like I know…Bonnie, pick up the phone, please. Please.
In Randy’s course, I learned to envision the situation: early morning, no one in the newsroom talking much, bleary-eyed and focused on their coffee and the deadlines ahead. I learned to anticipate the editor’s inquiry and respond with an appropriate answer that was as straightforward as it comes, and as appropriate to: “Gee, Harriett, I don’t know where Bonnie is, but if you’d like, I can call her.”
The first day back on the job after the seminar, it wasn’t 10 minutes past 8 before Harriet asked where Bonnie was. I breathed in deep and as politely as I could repeated what I’d practiced in the car all weekend, “Gee, Harriet, I don’t know where Bonnie is, but if you’d like, I can call her.”
Harriet studied me for a few seconds and then nodded her head as if it had never occurred to her that I wouldn’t know Bonnie’s whereabouts. “I can call her,” Harriet stated plaintively. There, it was that easy. I was off the hook. Harriet got the point. Bonnie was still late. But I had no dog in the fight.
The best take-away I got from Randy’s course was that simple exercise in setting boundaries-worth every nickel of the then-pricy $45 seminar fee. It was, after all, 34 years ago.
If you’re interested in learning multiple tactics to get an editor’s attention and get your story into print, sign up now for the Sept. 20. Promise, we’ll give you more than even one smart answer you can take home with you! Sign-up here.