This is a bit of a quick lunchtime rant, so I apologise if it lacks finesse (it does).
I just phoned a PR chap. It was the second time we’d spoken, ever. I won’t go into why, but suffice to say that some requests he’s made over the past week have doubled the workload involved in a particular task, and it’s been passed to me to sort out. The phonecall today was to make sure he was on track for the deadline I set yesterday. In short, he’s on the back foot, I’ve been efficient and more than decent, and now we need to wrap it up.
But then he did a thing.
It went a bit like this:
Me: “Hi, it’s Cathy, we spoke yesterday.”
Him: “Oh hi, yes, thanks for sending that through, I’m going to look through it at lunchtime and get it back to you early afternoon.”
Me: “Super. Because I’m working elsewhere for the rest of the week, so I do need to see it off today.”
Him: “Yep, definitely.”
[So up until now, I'm in charge.]
Me: “Great, speak to you later.”
Him: “Thanks honey.” [phone down]
And with those two magical words, he’s put himself back in charge.
Thanks honey? Sorry, did I just bake you a FUCKING MUFFIN? Do you know me? Did I pick you up a pint of milk, or compliment your hair? I did not. I phoned you to remind you that I need you to do a certain thing, by a certain time.
But the thing that amazed me was the incredible potency of those two small words. By sneaking them in just before the phone hit the cradle, he changed the power balance of the whole conversation. Ending on a “thanks honey” transformed both our roles: with the “thanks”, he implies that I’ve just done something he asked me to do, and with the “honey”, he makes it personal and affectionate. Suddenly, I’m doing him some kind of menial personal favour and he’s letting me. In fact, he’s patronising me.
I’ve heard other people, particularly women, complaining about endearments before. I understand that they can be annoying, but they’ve not bothered me personally. If the greengrocer calls me “luv”, no problem. If a love interest calls me something sweet, I might even like it. And my friends and I call one another all kinds of sickly things. In a professional context, however, it’s clearly inappropriate.
But until half an hour ago, I’d never realised how much you could elevate your position, albeit temporarily and cosmetically, with just one or two strategically placed words.
On a completely unrelated subject, I’m really looking forward to receiving that copy.
This post, which I dashed off in all of 10 minutes, has attracted more attention than any of the ones I’ve spent hours poring over, and now I wish I’d put a little more consideration into writing it.
As seems to happen whenever anyone mentions the gender word (and I didn’t even, look!), I’ve had quite a few “calm down dear” responses. Also, my having mentioned a greengrocer has earned me suggestions of class snobbery.
So, three things that I perhaps should have included or done differently:
- Shockingly, this was not the first time I have ever been addressed as “honey”, “luv”, “babes” etc. It is, however, the first time I’ve written about it. To those who feel I took unnecessary offence, when in fact the poor man concerned was just being friendly, or perhaps confusing me with his lovely wife, you’ll just have to trust me on this one. Or not, as you wish. The conversation was nothing if not a power struggle – an editor and a PR manager thrashing out how a document should look, each with their own agenda? Come on. To slip that “thanks honey” in so smoothly half a second before I hung up was genius, and we both knew it.
- As for class snobbery, I was probably unwise to write “greengrocer” there. If, like Cher, I could turn back time, maybe I’d replace that bit with “if a person, regardless of job title, gender or indeed colour, in an informal situation that involves no conflict or power struggle, calls me ‘luv’, no problem”. Okay? It was an example, hunnies. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to charge some proles down with my horse, before they steal all the potatoes again.
- If you’re someone who already calls me honey, you can keep calling me honey. I’m not going home and sticking pins in an effigy of you, don’t worry.