Secretaries are not email servers…

E-mail is wonderful. With only a few clicks, you can send a message zipping across cyberspace. The only feelings you have to worry about are those of the recipient and with the possible exception of computers running Micro$oft software, your e-mail will almost always arrive at its destination, no matter how abusive you were to your computer. Unfortunately, this rosy communications model disappears when you walk into your department office.

At first, you may be lulled into a false sense of security by the computer sitting at the desk. No matter how comforting it may seem, do not try to interact with this computer – there will be a secretary behind it. That is right, you will have to interact face to face with a real human. Do not panic, you can handle this. All hope of consistency is not lost when we leave the computer world. Remember that lecture you gave some of your computer illiterate family members about not memorizing steps? Remember how you told them that many programs share similar functions under their GUI? This is their revenge…

Just like the GUIs that befuddled your relatives, the many faces of secretaries cover similar, though not identical, functions. As you told your relatives, “save” is almost always there, although it is sometimes in different menus, requires different inputs, and may be set to different directories by default. The key to successful and pleasant interactions with secretaries is knowing these similarities and recognizing the differences.

While this comparison of faces to GUIs may make you feel more comfortable, it is imperfect. Your average secretary is way smarter than any computer program seen outside Hollywood. Yes, including Deep Blue. Secretaries can do a far better job of gauging intent than Micro$oft Word. Did you really mean to send that form to so and so? Plant facilities can do that faster, would you like me to send it there? Of course, dealing with someone who has initiative has its drawbacks. They are not programmed to notify you of problems before they occur which is why it pays to know how to deal with the secretaries in your life.

One of the key similarities is to be polite. People generally like to be treated well. If interacting with you was a bright spot in their day, they will be inclined to return the favor when they notice some sort of problem with your paperwork. If you were a black cloud on your secretary’s day, then they may just assume that you knew best when you sent your time sheet to the janitor.

Do not make the secretary’s job any harder than it already is. If you are the cause of a load of extra work, you have just given that secretary a reason to be annoyed with you and time to brood about it. Once again, this causes people to decide that you knew best on something you had no idea about.

This does not mean that you have to go overboard and take a bottle of wine in whenever you need to get your time sheet signed. However, it is not a bad idea to be familiar with your secretary’s table of offerings, an important difference to keep in mind. If you just messed up your department secretary’s day, an apology and a bottle of the right wine or a box of dark chocolate might be just the thing. The bottom line is, if your interaction is not taking place through a GUI or on Linux, then you cannot treat it like an email. Do not try to reformat and reinstall a secretary when things go wrong. Get used to the similarities behind the face of a demographic and learn the individual differences. The relative you berated during their last tech support call will get a good laugh from pointing out that this approach applies to girls as well.

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