An epic communications fail from the distant past offers a continuing object lesson.
Many years ago, my then-boss Jack and I stepped into his office, shut the door, and put the phone on speaker for a client call. Jack dialed the number. We had a few questions for Mr. Jaxx. (Not his real name.)
Mr. Jaxx dolled out contracts to consultants for a large institutional lender. Neither Jack nor I had ever laid eyes on Mr. Jaxx, but he was a good client and we had a reasonably good rapport.
On the fifth ring, Mr. Jaxx’s voicemail picked up. “Hello, This is Bill Jaxx with Big Institutional Lender. Please leave a message.” Jack left the message, gave him my extension, picked up the handset, and placed it back in the cradle. Call finished.
I made a crack about Mr. Jaxx sounding like a “big ol’ boy.” Jack, mockingly, in his best big ol’ boy imitation, bellowed, “Hello! This is Bill Jaxx.”
We both laughed.
I slipped out the door and strolled through the work room, back to my office. Jack headed out to a lunch appointment. I sat down in my office chair, not even thinking about the call. When …
Screaming from Jack’s desk came that irritating (and in this case, sickening) repetitive honk of the “off the hook tone.”
I jumped from my desk, sprinted through the office, grabbed the phone, and seated the handset back in its cradle. Then … I waited, nauseous, for Mr. Jaxx’s return call.
Maybe it didn’t record our mockery. Maybe I could call his secretary and ask her to delete the message. Maybe I could shoot myself before he called back. Maybe …
The phone rang to my extension at 3:00 PM. Mr. Jaxx was professional—he answered my questions courteously—and I thought … maybe … just maybe … he hadn’t borne witness to our idiocy. We were about to end the call when Mr. Jaxx said, “By the way, I’m not that big a boy.”
My heart seized. I apologized profusely. He, graciously, said “No harm, no foul.”
We never got any more business from Big Institutional Lender.
As professional investigators, we should know this better than most: Someone’s always listening.
It happens in email, texts, letters, and … yes … phone calls. The misstep. The hasty reply while you’re still annoyed. The “I was trying to be cute email.” (Always a bad idea.)
We could sidestep most of our idiotic blunders with just a hint of thoughtfulness: What if someone could hear me right now? Would I still say this?
I share this story for two reasons. First: transparency. We all make silly mistakes. Sometimes they’re outright stupid. Sometimes they’re unintentional flubs. Second, I’ll tell one on myself if it might help you avoid the same fate.