The Audience Is Watching

“Sir, I need to ask you to take the conversation outside...” The audience applauds...and...End scene.

That was the end of a show that I didn’t realize I had purchased tickets for when I picked the restaurant. While eating dinner recently, a businessman who had been on the phone for a while suddenly got louder and louder. Over the course of a minute or so, he berated the person on the other end of the call until the restaurant manager finally interrupted him. This was met by applause from the other diners.

As a maintenance technician, the method that I use to communicate with the office--whether it is a radio or phone--is an important tool. In many cases, such as the example above, this communication occurs in public. It is easy to forget that there is often a larger audience beyond the person on the other end of the conversation.

Following are communication tips to avoid a theatrical situation similar to the one above:

1. Be polite. If someone answers a question or responds to a statement, say thank you. In addition to being appreciative, it lets the person who provided the information over the radio/phone know that you received it.

2. Un-plug. Before going into a resident’s apartment, remove the Bluetooth “borg headset” from your ear. While it's convenient in a car for hands-free talking, any conversation with a resident will be perceived as a distraction from whatever is going on in your ear. If you’re not on the phone, why have it on while performing service? Put it in a pocket or case, and pull it out only if needed.

3. Re-evaluate your priorities. The person in front of you is more important than the one on the phone/radio--until they aren’t.

      • When you’re in a conversation, don’t look at your phone for no reason--it’s disrespectful.
      • If a resident is speaking and the phone rings, our residents understand that we are often responding to emergencies and will understand a short distraction. Remember to respect the person in front of you though. Make them feel important by answering the phone or radio and asking the person on the line to “stand by” for a moment, then finish the original conversation. If an emergency happens, it’s a good idea to cover this in a property meeting so everyone is on the same page. I’ve been at properties that have a code for the radio. Something along the lines of: “Code Stat at apartment 13-B” would mean all maintenance get to 13-B quickly. If a resident hears the code of urgency on the radio, they may understand your quick exit in the middle of a repair. Just make sure it’s safe to leave (no exposed wiring) and that you return. Properties that use cell phones or push-to-talk technologies may have other means of raising a “Fire, flood or blood” type alarm.

4. Check your tone... ring tone, that is. Perhaps “I’m Just a Gigolo” or “Red Solo Cup” is not an appropriate ring tone for business (I’ve heard both as ringers in class). What would a resident think if you are working inside a breaker panel and your phone states that you are a “Belieber” when the office calls? The song “Handy” by Weird Al Yankovic may be the only exception... (Or maybe not.)

5. Listen. Really listen! When someone is speaking, don’t listen to reply, but rather instead listen to understand. Remember, we each have two ears and one mouth. This fact speaks to the ratio that we should be using when communicating.

Communication happens all the time. Where maintenance is involved, we need to ensure that even when we answer the phone or talk on the radio, everyone is shown courtesy and competence--even those we aren’t directly speaking to. If we don’t keep this in mind, instead of applause for a job well done, we may be asked to leave.