How I Leaned to Value People Who Open the Door
“No man is an isla’nd entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”
These lines have been repeated and reused since John Donne first wrote them in the 1600s.
We keep using them because they get at the underlying idea that we’re all working together but over the decades, this idea falls in and out of fashion.
How many people do we rely on in the run of a day? If you stop to think about it you could easily count 100 individuals who contributed to your day in some important way. From your bus driver in the morning to the fellow who poured you your Nth cup of coffee today, we can see that there’s nothing we don’t do with the help of other people. Even though we clearly need these people, it gets easy to write them off because we’re paying for their service. We don’t see it as help. We forget that no man is an island.
This way of thinking tends to make us more selfish. We end up feeling entitled to services or goods because we’re paying. We have demands because we’re forking over our money and we get demanding. Even if we’re not directly paying for a service or good, we feel this entitlement and we make demands on service people. By and large, as a society, we don’t treat service people very well. We don’t think of them as people we rely on, we think of them as people in our way when it is completely the opposite.
These people are very, very valuable. We need to start treating them this way.
Changing Your Mind to Change Others
It’s hard to break out of thinking these people are expendable, but there’s a good trick to make you more effective. If these people are in your way, they’re gatekeepers. They’re standing between you and your goals and while they’re in our way, we need to convince them to let us through. We need our coffee, our rides to work, our grant applications processed, our calls returned, etc., etc. Recognizing these people as gatekeepers lets us see how valuable and powerful they are.
If the gatekeeper is benevolent, they can waive some of the requirements, or accept late applications, or even pull strings to make sure that your application goes right to the decision maker. They can jump you ahead in the queue, they can influence the decision maker to work in your favour. Gatekeepers can be your saving grace.
This might sound silly, but lets look at the example of an administrative assistant. Lets say your grant application is late and you haven’t filled in everything. This happens to all of us. There’s some requirement we miss and we’re afraid it’s going to scuttle the whole application. Your forms aren’t filled out correctly because the bank didn’t mail your letter of good standing in time. This should disqualify you from submitting within the deadline and some other person is going to get your grant money. But wait, the admin assistant tells you it’s OK, they’ll file it away for you and when you get your letter in, they’ll amend your application and see that it gets to the right place.
Remember that these people don’t have to go out of their way to help you. They can do their job to the letter and offer you no leeway whatsoever. Given how many times we mess up silly things in the run of a day, we need our gatekeepers to be kind and let us through. Because they don’t have to be kind, we need to earn it.
It Makes All the Difference
It’s also important to acknowledge that gatekeepers aren’t below the decision makers you want to access, they’re essential to the decision makers. They filter out irrelevant information, they direct information where it needs to go, and they weigh in on the information they pass up to their superiors. They’re an important part of the decision making process, and their opinions matter to the higher ups.
They can work wonders for you beyond just getting you where you need to go. Gatekeepers can act as advocates. In my personal experience, I’ve had a replacement passport granted to me in 5 hours instead of 3 days, all because a gatekeeper opened doors for me and worked hard to influence their decision makers to work on my behalf.
If you take this to heart, you’ll probably be treating gatekeepers with the kindness and respect they deserve, and you’ll probably find that it will pay off for you very well. It’s common to write off gatekeepers and to treat them poorly, and since you’ll be in the minority of people showing them the respect they need, you’ll be treated well in return.
Keep the gatekeepers happy, and they’ll hold open the door for you.