Thursday, September 17, 2009

"At My Earliest Convenience"

It really seems as if the standards of civility and good behavior we once observed are going the way of the dinosaur. From a member of Congress calling the President a liar during a live speech to the boorish and spiteful display of bad manners by Kanye West on a recent awards program, to young people loudly using foul language in public, we seem to have tossed common courtesy overboard in ways large and small.

I've groused about this often enough in my recent posts (and if you're tired of reading about it, well, there are about 300,000,000,000 other blogs out there for you to try), and it was brought home to me again recently when I ran once again into one of my major pet peeves...

Yesterday afternoon I called a clinic at my HMO (yes, I have health insurance, thank goodness) to make an appointment. The call was intercepted by the voice mail of the scheduling assistant, and her message ran like this...

"This is Deborah XXX, scheduling director for the XXX clinic. I'm either on the phone or away from my desk, but if you leave your name, phone number, medical record number, Doctor's name, and the date and time of your call, I'll get back to you at my earliest convenience."

The four words that really irk me are at my earliest convenience.

I've noticed that many people's voice mail include those four words, and I'm sure most of them are not really aware of what they're saying. I believe they're trying to say something like, as soon as I can, but instead they're saying at my earliest convenience. The message they're conveying, deliberately or not, is that my call isn't important enough to return quickly...it can wait until it's convenient for them to return. Perhaps, oh, sometime in November. Or never. Is never okay for you?

Am I making too much of this? I don't think so. Our home voice mail message asks people (in English and German) to leave a message and we'll get back to them as soon as we can. When I leave a message on someone's answering machine, I may ask the other person to call back as soon as possible or at your earliest convenience...which is a polite way of asking for a return call. If, however, their recorded announcement promises to call me back at their earliest convenience, the implied message is a little different.

I think it reflects two things: careless use of language, and a subconscious belief that it's all about me.

It's a little thing, but it's sad, and it leads to the sort of behavior we're seeing all around us. Standards of language - written and spoken - and personal behavior are in decline. We owe each other more, but we've come to expect less.

Have a good day. Demand better behavior, particularly from those you elect to serve you.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

11 comments:

Gilahi said...

I tend to drop it into the "careless use of language" category. You are correct in that if you are the caller, asking someone to contact you "at their earliest convenience" is a polite way of asking for a call back without demanding that you impinge on their time. People have heard that and reversed it without even considering what it means. These are the same people that say "I could care less", which means they do care, when what they mean is "I couldn't care less", which means that it's the least important thing to them. People don't think.

John said...

At least they're being polite in their bad manners.

Blog Stalker said...

I never thought about this before but think I will find myself being less careless from now on!

Have a great day!

Amanda said...

I think people really do mean 'as soon as I can' but maybe they, wrongly, think that 'at my earliest convenience' sounds more business like. Maybe?

Mike said...

I was surprised she didn't ask for your SS#, mother maiden name, security clearance, shirt size, shoe size, if you're wearing clean underwear ...... You did put on clean underwear today didn't you?

Wv: muthedi - a dog named Hedi.

Jay said...

Which of course brings me to another pet peeve. The clueless functional illiterates that are being hired into customer service jobs. "My earliest convenience?" Sounds like she's saying "Whenever the heck I feel like it."

Jean-Luc Picard said...

In other words, "when I feel like it."

Leslie David said...

I stil like it when my message said,¨You´ve reached the residence of Leslie and Max David, I´m unable to take your call and I can not convince Max to pick up. Please leave your name and number and I´ll return your call as soon as possible.¨ Best message I ever got was from the Arthur Murray studio--they were having a showcase and wanted to give us tickets because they thought Max and I would really benefit from this. I didn´t have the heart to tell them that Max was my cat.

Bilbo said...

Gilahi - my point exactly!

John - you are, of course, correct...in a sort of Talmudic way.

Stalker - welcome back! Long time, no hear!

Amanda - you are probably right, but it still reflects poor understanding of the language.

Mike - I ain't sayin...

Jay - nothing wrong with YOUR ability to translate!

Jean-Luc - yep!

Leslie - remind me to tell you of the message I used to have on our machine before the lady I briefly worked for suggested I change it...

Anonymous said...

I work at a pretty high level in business to business transactions and had NEVER heard this before until this week, and have now heard it twice in one week! People obviously think this sounds professional and are maybe trying to change it up from the usual "as soon as possible", but of course what they're really saying, in a business setting, is quite rude! I was disappointed to hear this on the outbound message of someone I had thought was pretty sharp. It changed my opinion of her.

Anonymous said...

I agree! I ran into an "at our earliest convenience" when I tried to make an appointment yesterday and it's not the first time. They must think they sound professional when they really sound rude and self-centered.