I was sweating bullets. “We normally only hire native French speakers for these positions,” the manager sneered. My first call in my summer telemarketing job had been less than stellar. I was calling in French to business execs in France, Belgium and Quebec. The young manager was not much older than me and was eager to throw his weight around. I could tell that he was going to be trouble.
I muttered something and kept calling. The next conversation was not better. “Not interested.” This was going to be rough. Had I made a mistake taking this job? Was my French not up to par? Had this been too much of a risk? Was I just setting myself up for massive humiliation? There was no way to know yet so I stayed on the phone, hoping against hope that the “next call” would be better. It rarely was.
It got worse
My direct supervisor was not much of a creative soul and simply opted for old school pressure. “Show me the leads (“yes” responses) Bjorn! I need better than this!” He kept at it day in, day out. I was heating up for a shouting match. Finally I took him into a conference room. “You better lay off, your pressure isn’t working!” I told him. Luckily, the comment seemed to help more than it hurt. He gave me more space.
Pushing Aside Disbelief
“The people that get leads are the ones that believe they will…” I overheard another floor manager, (one that I liked) say to another caller. I wasn’t sure how much it would help but I decided to try this approach and believe that I would rake in leads. I physically stood up and walked around during calls. I got weird looks. I ignored the fact that the entire remainder of the French team were native French speakers. I pushed, and pushed and pushed. It was a risky, aggressive approach because it drew a lot of attention and would be hilarious to others if it failed. The French team started joking about my approach and the overly casual French I was using to “close” and get leads. I kept going.
As I pushed aside the fear of failure and stopped thinking about the absurd risks involved in trying to sell in a foreign language, the results started coming in. First it was one or two leads here and there. Then they came in more steadily. Somehow my non-native French turned out to be a plus because the execs thought I was more of a technical expert calling from the US and not just another telemarketer. Every time a lead came in, I would come over and tell my supervisor. The leads would go up on a white board in a tally format. I kept calling, the tally marks kept going up. Toward the 2-month mark I was outselling the rest of the French team combined. I won telemarketer of the month and finished the summer off on a high.
Risks, it turned out, were a lot less scary if you plunged into them. I try to think back to that summer when I face big challenges. I remind myself to push fear aside and take action.