The You Dirty Rat Letter

More than once I’ve told people I had much more fun when I was a disc jockey than when I was the general manager of several radio stations. Play the records, say stuff, go out on promotions, give away prizes. Yeah, that’s more fun than going to board meetings and making up budgets and handling disputes among staff members. It didn’t happen often, because we had terrific people working at the stations, but sometimes, something would flare up and trigger a “you dirty rat letter.”Dirty Rat Letter

From time to time someone would come to my office, angrily flip a sheet of paper on my desk, and say something like, “Look at this note I got from so-and-so. He’s being a jerk again.” Typically, the message was about something non life-threatening and easily resolved. Sometimes not. In any event, I always encouraged an alternative to the “you dirty rat” method. It was pretty simple.

I’d say, “When you have an issue, go ahead; write the “you dirty rat” message. Let it all out. Put all your anger into that page. Then, fold it and put it away; desk drawer is a good place. Then wait until the next morning, take it out and read it, as if someone had sent it to you. Then, tear it up.”

I would tell them to go talk to the person. Face to face. The two-way conversation will resolve the issue faster and better than a one way “dirty rat” shot up side the head. But, how does this work in today’s world where most communication is by email or text?

Easy, just write the “you dirty rat” letter as a draft, but not within the email or texting program, where it could be sent by accidentally clicking on one wrong key or, worse yet, go out to the wrong person. Yikes!

Compose the letter in an offline program, like Word or Notepad, and save it in a confidential folder where nobody else will see it. The next morning, open it up, read it. . .and deleted it. Then go talk to the person.  If you can’t get up the nerve to do that, then the matter must not have been so important after all, and you have to let it go. Just let it go.

1 response to The You Dirty Rat Letter

  1. BV, you were one of the most wise and even-handed managers I ever worked for. I recall clearly “going around you” one time early in my tenure in Madison, with a multi-page “memo” to WRW. Of course, he appropriately gave it to you to deal with. You could have tossed my butt right out the front door for what I did – something I should really have known better than to do – but you sat me down and patiently explained to me how the sort of thing I did was counterproductive. Talk about “lesson learned” – in spades.

    Another time, years later, you had to referee a dispute about talent billing for some account which RHL had me doing daily ad-libs during the morning show. Apparently the account had cancelled, but I wasn’t told, and I continued to do the daily ad-libs for nearly three months. Nobody caught the discrepancy between my time cards and the actual status of the accounts. One day, apparently by accident, RHL heard me doing the ad, and the unravelling began. It involved more than $3,000 which I had already been paid. A certain bookkeeper was convinced I was lying, cheating, and stealing and wanted me not only fired but prosecuted for fraud.

    You intervened, called a meeting with me, GSG (my supervisor at the time), RHL, and the bookkeeper. You proceeded to calmly and methodically pick the situation apart, listening to “testimony” from all parties. You concluded (correctly, I might add) that it was an honest mistake. I was doing the ad-libs every morning, dutifully keeping track of it and recording it on my time cards, that there was no evidence that I had ever been told the sponsor had cancelled (which RHL confirmed), so there was no real wrong-doing. RHL had forgotten to tell me the account had cancelled. I agreed to pay the money back.

    After the bookkeeper grudgingly went back upstairs to her office, and the others dispersed, you asked to speak with me for a moment. You said something along the lines of “three thousand bucks is a lot of dough; would you like me to work out a payment plan with you, to take a certain amount from each paycheck, so you don’t have to come up with the entire amount on such short notice?” I had the money in savings and told you I’d bring in a check the next morning (which I did), and thanked you for your level-headedness and generosity in offering a “payment plan”.

    Thank you, again, after all these years, for being the kind of manager many aspire to be, but never really achieve.

    Liked by 1 person

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