“HE IS NOT IN THE OFFICE AT THIS TIME.”
Wall installation of architectural concept models at Poon Design
A funny thing happened. True story at my new job, decades ago.
Extra loudly rang the phone that memorable early morning. The receptionist was away from her desk. Looking around the office, everyone was either in a meeting or on the phone. Enthusiastically and for the first time, I picked up the phone. I declared, “Joe Smith Architects,” in my most professional voice. (Not the real name of the firm).
The woman at the other end of the line commanded in an irritated fashion, “I want to speak with Joe Smith.” I thought that because I wasn’t professional enough, she was exasperated.
But it was much worse.
Very early in my career, I learned the importance of phone etiquette in the office. I learned discretion.
One of my first architecture jobs was at this small studio of Joe Smith and his handful of employees. If the phone rang and the assistant was away from her desk, anyone of us would pick up the phone. Young and eager that morning, I jumped right in, contributing however I could.
To that annoyed voice, I responded diligently, “Joe Smith is not here.”
Irately, she shrieked, “WHERE THE F_CK IS JOE!”
I replied, no longer professionally, just sheepishly and confused, “Umm, Joe is not here. He is on a business trip out of the country.”
Immediately, she hung up, and the dial tone was threatening and ominous.
Everyone in the office turned towards me, noticing my angst and puzzlement. When I explained what little I could, my fellow architects said without missing a beat, “You will be fired WITHIN 24 HOURS!”
I learned, not by gossip but by fact, that the woman was Joe Smith’s wife. She was unaware of a business trip for her husband, and definitely unaware of the country absence. I learned that Joe Smith was with his mistress currently traveling on a European frolic.
The following day, the wife hired a detective, tracked down Joe and the mistress, and dragged the couple stateside to confront the fate of a wife scorned.
Joe’s back story was common knowledge in the office. The staff warned: I should always respond to questions about the boss’ whereabouts with, “He is not in the office at this time.”
This advice is still used today, at the office and in life: don’t over reach, and sometimes, just keep your mouth shut.
Epilogue: When my boss Joe Smith returned to the office, he never brought up the incident. He did not fire me. He was too embarrassed, and did not want to worsen a situation that was already bizarre and perplexing.