Hold That Thought

rottenecard_30479444_bjg8xkxtmpI recently called the doctor’s office and was greeted by a receptionist who seemed less than enthusiastic about helping me. She rattled off her barely comprehensible, customary greeting, which ended with “How can I help you”, but hardly sounded like she wanted to help. Before I could complete my request, she abruptly interrupted me to

tell me that “the person who handles that isn’t here until Tuesday, m’am”. That would not be for another four days. Really? I thought.

Dumbfounded and utterly dismayed by this potential impasse, my mind constructed an image of this woman-girl on the other end of the phone, who offered absolutely no additional insight. I imagined her filing her nails (or twirling one end of her hair as she examined them, if by chance she was wearing a headset), head fully cocked to one side, squeezing the receiver between it and her shoulder, eyes rolling at the top of her head, as she mentally filed me under “Not My Problem” and counted the minutes until she would be rid of me.

“What did you say your name was?” I asked.

“Um…Toi”, she replied.

“Oh, I see. Is there any one else in the office that might be able to help me…Toi?”

“Um…just hold on.”

“Sure”, I replied, prepping myself for what might be a while. Meanwhile, I seethed on the inside. Toi’s indifference made me skeptical about whether she was being truthful. Nonetheless, I was prepared to wait.

Admittedly, I am rather intolerant of the glowing lack of critical thinking or problem solving that seems to characterize “customer service” today, but I have become more patient as I’ve grown older. Not long before now, I would go off when the likes of Miss Toi missed what I thought was the mark. I felt that many like her not only lacked the professionalism and courtesy that I came to expect from a front-line person or gatekeeper, but that they seemed bothered by any requests that required thinking or doing more than just entering my name into an appointment calendar.

Today however, I became remarkably aware of the silence – the hold to which Toi subjected me; it was as if Spirit was giving me an opportunity to recalibrate my response, to be more empathetic even. Rather than warm up for the moment when she’d return to the phone and give her a piece of my mind, this eternal hold allowed me to step back and figure out how I could reframe my attitude to not only get what I wanted, but communicate to Toi that it wasn’t about me, per se, or even her, but that it was important that everyone who called the doctor’s office be treated with a certain level of professionalism and courtesy.

“Acknowledge her”, said the Universe.

“Call her by name, then acknowledge her”, Universe repeated.

Still on hold. This recalibration exercise was taking longer than I thought.

What else could I do as I remained on hold? Surely, I could have tidied my surroundings a bit. Better yet, I could just be still while letting that patience thing take hold so I could more diplomatically manage the dialogue between Toi and me when and if she returned.

After about three minutes and no hold music, a woman returned to the phone. She didn’t sound like Toi. What happened to Toi, I wondered; I’m ready to practice this patience thing.

“This is Pam, the office manager, how can I help you?”

Great! That is who I needed to talk to in the first place, although…”the person who handles that isn’t here until…Tuesday”. Had the weekend come and gone while I was on hold? There was no upside in throwing Toi under the bus at this point.

The lesson was for me, and not Toi…but what was it?



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16 thoughts on “Hold That Thought

  1. I have this lesson on my list to learn, I haven’t learned it yet. This lesson of patience and kindness to those who should be but are not helping us when we call. My empathy is thin.


  2. You’re better than me. I’ve gotten worse rather than better at containing my frustration with these things. But maybe with your reminder, I’ll give it a little more effort. 🙂


  3. Sigh. I really hate that too, when you need to ask for assistance and can seemingly only talk to a person who doesn’t care and probably has very little power anyway (which, I always think, is perhaps why they don’t care). I’m glad you got to talk to the person you needed to reach, though. Sometimes I think these gatekeepers get beaten into indifference by having to talk to so many other indifferent brick walls of humanity, or by having impatient/incompetent people yell at them a lot (this is what I hear happens a lot in customer service). Not that kindness and patience will always accomplish something, but it can’t hurt, right? And maybe sometimes it can open doors.


    1. Hi Lisa! It is always nice to hear from you. 🙂

      Absolutely, a little bit goes a long way! I believe that we do, indeed, have the power to affect the outcomes – one exchange at a time. Trying to keep this foremost in mind when I encounter these situations without prejudging or assuming can sometimes be a challenge, so I’m thankful for the moments when I’m reminded of how I can be part of the solution. 🙂


      1. Yes! Maybe those “hold” pauses are a good chance to take deep breaths and think of the other person as someone to treat with compassion, as you did. 🙂


  4. Ah, I’m hyperventilating just reading this! LOL. I have definetly come across this when calling places. So right, it’s bad enough in any customer service. But a hospital? The receptionist should understand that the caller might be very stressed out.

    How great you chose to be empathetic instead of angry. It might not have made the situation better, but it can keep our blood pressure down and is probably better for our health to put it into perspective! What a good lesson.

    My boyfriend on the road used to play this game with cars — for example if someone was tailgating us. We’d joke, maybe the driver’s wife is having a baby and the ambulance got a flat tire. To my surprise, Click and Clack on a show recommended this technique one day! It’s a fun way to deflect the person’s rudeness.

    Lovely post, SE. You have a way of writing these ideas in a very elegent manner. Cheers.


    1. Thanks Amelie! That road game sounds like a great idea for calming our nerves. Looks like someone likes NPR as much as I do. 🙂

      I think that the precise purpose of our interactions and exchanges is to be aware enough to learn the lessons that are being whispered. Now don’t get me wrong, I do occasionally feel the need to administer a good tongue-lashing, but I’m learning more and more that so many folk are just going through stuff, and many times what may come off as detachment or inadequate service is merely their own preoccupation with their own attempts to solve their more basic, immediate needs. It often isn’t about us at all.

      Thanks for sharing.


  5. Oh, that’s a frustratingly hard lesson to learn. Our society these days is too much in a rush to take time to be helpful. Look at it this way: Be greatful you weren’t subjected to Muzak while on hold. The person who invented that did this world the worst disservice of them all.


    1. Indeed, Monica! In retrospect, the absence of music made it much easier to be still and reflective about the lesson that the Universe was trying to teach me in that moment.


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