"Eat, Pray, Love is Fine. Eat, Crunch and Work is Awful" - 08/23/21 Edition
Stephen Says Column

Dear Stephen,

The column you wrote two weeks ago about dealers being a necessary evil hit a chord with me. Honestly, my first response was that the person who wrote the letter was an obnoxious manufacturer bigshot who should be retired. I used to report to a guy like that who was completely out of touch with how difficult dealers have it. I’m a manufacturer’s sales rep for a big company, and where I work, we totally respect our dealers.
We’re at the phase on a project where the end-user and this big design firm that everyone knows is asking us to recommend three dealers to send RFPs to. Honestly, the design firm already picked the top three dealers they wanted, and that’s who I sent the documents to. A couple hours later, one of the dealer’s sales managers called me to ask some legitimate questions about the RFP. I put them on speaker phone in my private office so that I could study the RFP along with some custom drawings of the furniture, when suddenly, I realize that there is a consistent chomping and crunching sound coming out of the speaker as this woman spoke to me. So, I was a little confused and offended at first. It’s not even like she was eating a normal lunch but rather some new fad diet of only carrots or celery, or something. It sounded to me like she was chewing carrots… one after another after another. I’m not even sure how she heard me because the crunch in her ear must have been so loud. When I walked out of my office my associate even asked if someone on the phone had been chewing carrots the whole time, they were so loud she heard!
Anyways, am I crazy for being annoyed by this? To be honest I felt like this person was being so rude and disrespectful by continuously chomping while on the business call. I hate judging people or making assumptions about things I’m not 100% sure of - I’m no hater! But am I wrong for leaving with such a bad taste in my mouth? (No pun intended). To bring it back to your column, this was a dealer person – the very culprits you were referring to. I can’t help but think that the reason this person was so comfortable to eat on the phone with me was because I work at a manufacturer. I doubt they would have done that if they were talking to someone from Gensler. It’s this type of behavior between a dealer and a manufacturer that negatively impacts the relationship, in my personal opinion. So, my question is: am I crazy for finding this really disrespectful, annoying and gross? Was the dealer out of line for chewing carrots on the call?

Bugs Bunny Called

Dear Yosemite Sam,

Wow – I’ve had that same experience on the phone before! As well as sometimes, even people in the office, in-person. Personally, I think it’s awful! I’ll take it a step further and say that I don’t want to hear anyone eating! I don’t want to see them eating on a zoom call… and I especially don’t want to smell them eating in my office!! I’m not even going to respond to the fact that it happened to be a dealer salesperson who did this to you because this could happen to anyone at any time. But, you’re right, there’s an unspoken tension between dealers and manufacturer’s.

Okay now to the heart of your question that could apply to any work dynamic – you should NOT be eating on business calls. I call it phone-terrorism. Eating or drinking on a telephone call with a client or a co-worker, or even a family member, is rude and distracting. Doing it in a work situation, which this column is about, is unacceptable. If you’re trying to win someone over, on the telephone, talking while eating is not going to do it, for anyone! The worst is when someone says something like “Let me take a quick bite” Now that’s just nasty. There are other distractions on phone calls which I don’t like such as car noises (wind, trucks, traffic) or a bit of road rage (pathetically shouting at another driver) , or music or television or kids & dogs in the background. And how about email and text notifications being turned on too loud, with a steady stream of bings and bells and swooshes going off in the background… please - Enough Already! Twenty years ago when I would call on a dealer principle and they would sit behind their big desk and open their mail while I was talking, I found it rude and off-putting; now, people are just as rude, except they read emails instead of snail mail. In our new business climate, we should all be hyper aware of how we are perceived digitally and what sensory perceptions cross the digital void and which ones do not. Noise, for example, will always cross over into the phone call yet if you haven’t showered in three days, no one will really know. And if you haven’t showered in three days: go take a shower! And that goes for you too, Jake Gyllenhaal!

Chewing on carrots, or eating anything, will always diminish your interactions over the phone and then your reputation. When you’re speaking to a professional colleague, and especially a client, not being in the same room gives you no excuse to be unprofessional. You should give your full attention to the person you are speaking to, and to answer your question; yes – eating on a business call is the ultimate insult. You are, in effect, saying, “I care more about my sandwich then I care about you”.  Intentional or not. And if you’re a salesperson trying to close a deal over the phone, this is the number one way to fail and let your company down.

I’m not even going to tackle Skype/Zoom etiquette in this column because that subject’s been beaten to death lately, but the same general rules apply. This is your job – treat it like one!