Heckling at Work

January 12, 2006

Last week, I looked up from my desk as a new woman was being led through the office from area to area for the "first day new guy tour." The proper etiquette, of course, is to nod politely and say, "Welcome aboard," as if we're all happy little shipmates.

For some reason, I was possessed to boo. I didn't get too obnoxious with it. It was just a medium-volume, low-pitched booooooooo, similar to what I would do when the opponents come out on court to warm up before a basketball game.


I didn't really think about doing this to the poor woman; it just came naturally. I didn't realize that I was acting like an ass until I looked up from my keyboard and noticed others staring at me.

So I did what any egotist would: I started laughing at myself. About a minute and a half later, still laughing, I realized that I should have been apologetic. I hollered a half-hearted, "Oh, sorry about that. Welcome aboard!" which probably wasn't heard anyway, since the walking tour had continued on to other areas.

Several years ago, a company that we considered to be an important strategic partner came to demonstrate some of their software. I was one of 15 to 20 people invited to watch the demo in a large conference room. They had a sales lady at the podium performing the demo, and several of their executives in the audience.

It was a little slow. The lady was going through the motions of entering a loan application in a web browser form. It's hard to make that very exciting.

She got to a field where she was supposed to select the type of decisioning that their system would run. Since they were a new partner to us, our company's products weren't listed, so she picked one that would work for her demo. Somewhere in the name she selected was the acronym for a little-known competitor of ours.

The guy who was Chief Sales Officer at the time (a guy named Brett -- not Date Rape Dan) was not one who would have normally been characterized as stable. But he had been well behaved up to this point. But, he lost his battle for appropriate behavior when the lady picked a competitor's product.

He put his fist over his mouth, lowered his voice a fake octave below normal, and let out a loud, bellowing "SSSUUUUUUKKKKKKSSSSS."

Well, the lady at the podium didn't really understand that this was directed at her selection. In her mind, she was ten minutes into the demo, and the CSO of this strategic partner was telling her bosses that the demo sucks. And he wasn't doing it during open discussion. He just interrupted her speaking to holler it out in front of everyone.

Understandably, this blew her concentration by quite a bit. She stuttered for a half minute, and then just gave up and quit talking altogether. The room sat silent for a long 10 seconds. Then ten more. No one spoke or even laughed.

This was certainly one of the most awkward professional moments that I can remember. I remember looking down at my notepad, afraid that eye contact with my coworkers might push me into a solo fit of laughter, making things even worse.

After another half minute of complete silence, she regained her form, and continued with the demo. The little outburst was never mentioned or acknowledged in any way.

But I would pay $100 to hear what they said about it on their drive away from our building.