Beware premature exasparation on the phone

Business telephone calls, by and large, fall into two categories: the “premature exasperation” or the “post cordial glow”.

“Premature exasperation” occurs when a phone call makes your blood boil before any significant conversation has taken place.

Several telephone interviews to a job advert I placed in Farmers Weekly have had this effect. I was left speechless by the very direct approach of some of my telephone interviewees.

“How much are you paying?” being their first sentence and “how many days off do I get?” their second.

This sense of entitlement is a tad too direct for my palate. Whatever happened to “hello Mr or Mrs Blah, my name is Bloggs and I am enquiring about the job you have advertised?”

Social media may be blamed for the demise of the handwritten letter, but it shouldn’t be the death knell of common courtesy.

The “post cordial glow” occurs when a conversation lifts one’s spirits due to helpful nature of the person on the other end of the phone. I recently felt this “glow” following a number of conversations with Natural England.

Wisely or otherwise, I decided that I would try and complete my Higher Level Scheme application on my own, albeit with a little hand-holding from our local Countryside Management Service.

It is quite a protracted process, but one that would have been much more laborious but for the assistance of Natural England.

Natural England has felt the full brunt of government cuts in the past year: 30% of budgets and a similar percentage of personnel will be shed by 2014.

Many of the people that I have got to know within Natural England over the years have spent their last months in a state of flux not knowing where their fate may lie. But their commitment and conscientious approach to helping farmers deliver environmental stewardship has not diminished.

All too often I hear of Natural England being blamed for administrative errors that obviously hail from other corridors of Whitehall. They are endeavouring to deliver results notwithstanding the current cuts and farmers fail to give them the credence they deserve.

In addition to these cuts, a recent EU audit has demanded that NE change their method of paying for agri-environmental schemes. This edict from Brussels will have far-reaching cashflow implications for some farmers. For example, if you start an HLS agreement this July (2011), you will not receive your first payment for 16 months (ie, by December 2012.)

We should not underestimate the role that Natural England plays in helping farmers. Personally, I have benefited from their seminars and farm walks, help with Open Farm Sunday and, just last week when the online HLS e-forms stuttered, there was a Natural England employee answering the phone to help and not the usual, “if you wish to become short tempered and put on hold for hours press option-1” as experienced with most help desks.

So when your RPA payment is delayed or HLS monies are deferred, don’t phone up Natural England to complain just because you know that they will answer the phone. They are not to blame. And, if you are applying for a job, take a leaf out of Natural England’s book – be cordial. You will always catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Ian Pigott is 40 and farms 700ha in Hertfordshire. The farm is a LEAF demonstration unit, with 130ha of organic arable. Ian is also the founder of Open Farm Sunday.

Read more columns by Ian and Farmers Weekly’s team of Opinion writers.

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