My paid job is in politics. I work at progressive non-profit, the name of which is irrelevant. We're a small shop, so in addition to mid-level staff work type stuff (attending briefings, writing random stuff, creating our piece-meal communications plans), I am also stuck with work fit for interns (making copies, sucking up, and answering the phone). I don't know about the rest of you, but no other duty besides answering the phone instills me with more of an appreciation of perceived and expected levels of hierarchy. It's been my experience in the past year, that people who call our organization generally expect whoever answers the phone to be uninformed, intellectually inferior, and unworthy of respect. It amazes me how many people are unforgivably rude to me when I try to give them helpful information. Does nobody understand that in order to get to our Director, you first have to go through me? Would being nice to the gate-keeper to the Director perhaps give you a better chance of getting her attention? One would think so, but few of these people ever stop to consider that.
Here's a tip for any of you in the policy arena who need to network with or get information from Directors of organizations: The person who answers the phone has a hierarchy of their own in mind when giving messages to their superiors, and if you're unkind, impatient, and condescending to that person, you slip way down the ladder of importance and you may not even get an immediate call-back. I may sound like I'm on some sort of power trip, and if so, that's not my intention. But it gets to me when people who front like they're doing all sorts of good for the world are unkind to those who spend most of their work time doing all of the leg work and deflecting the shit thrown their way by those in charge. If you truly want to make the world better, why not start by being a little nicer to the voice on the other end of the line. They may just be the person holding the keys that you need to borrow.