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Don’t Fear The Keeper

For years people were taught how to “get around the gatekeeper” and “get to the decision maker”, neglecting to notice who the real decision maker in this scenario is, and how they can often be your greatest ally if you treat them with professionalism and respect

Don't Fear The Keeper Clifden Consulting

Over the last couple of blogs I’ve talked at length about the right and wrong times to use the phone (and if you can’t be bothered going back through them, the short version is more sparingly than people tend to think, but with precision when you do).  But I didn’t talk too much about how to use the phone.

You’re probably thinking, ‘surely you just pick it up and start speaking into it, right?’  After all, it’s a technique that’s served us well for 170-odd years.  But given that cold calling doesn’t tend to be too high up on most people’s list of fun ways to spend a day, the temptation has often been to either Carpe Diem at the expense of preparation to get it over with, or to go the other way and disappear into a fog of analysis/paralysis.   Part of the reason for this, and the cause for the originator’s anxiety, is the question of how they’re going to ‘handle’ the people often referred to as ‘Gatekeepers’.

Personally, I thoroughly dislike the term. I find it patronising but also psychologically unhelpful. It sets up the concept of a PA or receptionist as the fearsome guardian to our supposed prized target, the ‘decision maker’. We in the world of corporate are taught to circumnavigate them – come in at 8am to avoid the beginning of their work day (minions work shorter hours, right?), bulldoze our way past them, second guess them, manipulate them.


Not only is this a view as archaic as the idea of originator as salesman in a windowless bunker, hammering through a hundred calls a day armed only with a landline and the Yellow Pages (ask your parents, kids!), it’s also just bad business.

For a start, if this is still your strategy, they’re wise to it and are probably better at countering it than you are at deploying it. So why do it?

Rather than view someone on the end of the phone as an obstacle to overcome in some kind of bullish power play, why not actually engage with them? Chances are – strap yourselves in for this shocker – they might actually work with you and not ‘against’ you.

I regularly ask PAs and receptionists if they’d mind following up my correspondence on my behalf, and provided it’s framed in the right way they are usually happy to help. That is, after all, their job. Occasionally you might encounter someone who says something to the effect of, ‘I’m sure if they were interested they’d have come back to you’, in which case a calm and friendly request to confirm receipt is almost always something they are happy to help with.

Talking to other professionals as if they are human encourages them to respond in kind. When we’re able to get over our hierarchical egos we understand no one is more valuable than another.

You’ve not lost any control, you’ve just been honest. And by asking someone the question, ‘how can you help me discover x or y?’, you’re minimising the chances of ‘no’ in response. Given it concerns a decision they’ll likely not make themselves it puts a bit more onus on them to find the actual answer rather than to merely fob you off. A far more positive outcome than might be expected, gained from working with someone rather than against someone.

It’s almost as if talking to other professionals (and we all are!) as if they are human encourages them to respond in kind. Who’d have thought it, eh? When we are able to get over our hierarchical egos we understand no one is more valuable than another. Incidentally, that also applies when communicating ‘up’, but that’s probably a separate subject for discussion.

Ultimately, it’s just common sense. Why would working against someone, as the ‘gatekeeper’ relationship is so often pitted, fare better than working with someone, using placable and honest communication? It’s an illogical fallacy.

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