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Sid’s Sense- Persistence & Phone Power: The Magic Bullets

The shortest distance between two points is a phone line.

View previous posts in this series, Sid’s Sense.

You may want to take a seat for this one.  Two stories to demonstrate the magic bullets in action.  The first will amaze you.  The second will pause the action to illustrate specific techniques you can use to make the phone one of the most useful tools in your own life.

Sid makes a person-to-person call to the Pope in Rome

*This story was circulated in 252 newspapers around the world.  The following vignette was written by Sid.

In 1984 the government of Israel invited me to Jerusalem to speak on the subject of the police and the law.  If I were to meet top Jewish officials in Israel, I said to myself, it was only fair that my Catholic wife meet the Pope.  So what did I do?  I went to my favorite instrument, the telephone, and put in a person-to-person call to the Pope in Rome.

“Who?” asked the Kansas City operator.

“The Pope in Rome,” I replied.

“This is the New York overseas operator” was the second voice I heard.

“This man wants to speak to the Pope,” said the Kansas City operator.

“Who?” asked the New York operator.

“The Pope.” I repeated my request.

“This is the Rome operator,” was the third voice.

“I have a man in the United States of America who wants to speak to the Pope.”

“Who?” asked the Rome operator.

“Yes, ma’am, “ I interrupted. “I want to speak to the Pope.”

“It’s 3 o’clock in the morning here.  The Pope is asleep.”

“What time does the Pope get up?”

“How do I know when the Pope gets up,” the Rome operator shouted.  “Nobody has ever asked me that question before.”

“I’m sorry I upset you.  Will you at least give me the Vatican’s direct number?”

She did.  At 9 a.m. Rome time, I placed a second person-to-person call.  I reach the operator after dialing the Vatican’s direct number.

“Wait just a moment,” I heard the Vatican operator say.

“This is Brother Maguire speaking,” was the next voice.

“There’s a man who wants to speak to his Excellency.”

“I’m sorry.  His Excellency doesn’t take personal calls.”

I interrupted.  “Brother Maguire, the government of Israel invited me to speak in Jerusalem and I want my Catholic wife to meet the Pope.”

“I’m sorry, we don’t allow personal calls to his Excellency.”

The operator cut me off.

But she did give me Brother Maguire’s direct dial number.

Brother Maguire was the pipeline to the Pope.  He said, “we” don’t allow personal calls to his Excellency.  Immediately I made a station call back to Brother Maguire.

“No, your wife can’t have a private audience.  His Excellency only meets with Heads of State.”

“But Bobby Kennedy met with the Pope.  He’s not the Head of State.”

“But he’s the brother of the Head of State.  Go to your Bishop for a pass to see his Excellency in St. Peter’s Square.  He’ll wave to you and your wife from the balcony.  Good-bye.

The next day I went through two secretaries and got to Cardinal John Cody in Chicago who was involved with Kansas City Jewish leaders when he was a Bishop here.  Cardinal Cody, laughing hilariously at my story, said, “Sidney, any Jew and Catholic married 30 years ought to meet his Excellency.  Call that Brother Watch-ma-call-it back in Rome and ask him if a Bishop won’t do what about a Cardinal?  My secretary will call you for references.”

And so it came to pass that Brother Maguire and I became friends and Lorraine and I had our audience with his Excellency.

Here are a couple of the Associated Press headlines:

“Pope John Paul II speaks with couple in Vatican City.  Nobody calls the Pope personally.  But for Sid, persistence paid off.  A Vatican spokesman said the Pope will never forget the man who tried that call.”

“Man hounds vatican out of love for his wife.”

A Needle in a Haystack

The above Pope story has been an inspiration to many including myself.  I could give endless examples of where I have used the phone to close deals in business, burrow through bureaucracies, or to get something I want.  This particular example of mine stands out.

Just a few years ago the U.S. decided you needed a passport to travel anywhere outside the country, including Mexico and the Caribbean.  Coincidentally, this was the year my father decided to take all his children and grandchildren on a family vacation to Mexico.  This was a very important trip for our family as the love of our lives, my mother, had recently passed away.  We knew well in advance that we needed passports, which my children did not have, so we applied.  We were well within the time frame for normal processing so we did not pay the $60 extra to expedite them.  Little did we know that the new law would inundate all the passport agencies in the country.  It quickly became world news that US citizens could not travel because of this unforeseen delay in passport processing.

It is now the week before our departure date and only one of my children has his passport.  I begin making calls only to hear automated messages with no option to reach a human being.  The first goal was to learn the system I was dealing with.

[Tip: You can’t reach the top if you don’t know where to find the elevator or stairs.] 

So I surfed the web and found answers.  There was not one but THREE different passport agencies that could be processing our children’s passports.  The advice on television and the web was to contact your congressman.  So that’s what I did.

“May I speak to Dennis Moore, please.”

“I’m sorry but he isn’t available.  Can I help you?  This is John.”

“John, there are 16 of us leaving more Mexico next week and I don’t have two of my children’s passports.  Can you help me?”  I pleaded.

Very calmly but obviously overwhelmed by the number of inquiries regarding passports, he replied, “I will try and find out the status.  What is your name?”

“Are you any relation to Aaron who just graduated from high school?” he said.

“As a matter of fact, I’m his mother.  How do you know Aaron?” I replied.

“I just graduated with him and I gave the speech at graduation so you might remember me,” said John.  I definitely did.

“John, do you remember the grandfather who came up to you and told you that your speech was magnificent afterwards and encouraged you to pursue your dream of law school?  Well, that was my father, the guy who will be crushed if his grandchildren can’t go to Mexico next week because of missing passports!” I exclaimed.  (He totally remembered my Dad.)

[Tip: When you spread kindness out into the world (my father complimenting him), kindness always comes back to you (he has more motivation to help us).]

So John investigates on my behalf and calls me back.

“Good news! Brianna’s passport should make it here on time.  It is in post processing and should be mailed today or tomorrow.”

“What about Chloe’s?” I ask with my fingers crossed.

“Her passport is being processed at a different location in New Orleans and they are backlogged and I can’t even get in to them by phone anymore.  I won’t give up.  I’ll keep checking.” John says trying to make me feel better.

“John, can you educate me on the process the application goes through and who is involved?”

[Tip: Keep learning the system as you work the mission] 

“Thank you so much.  I know you can do it and I can’t wait for you to call me back with good news!  I know we can make this happen.” I say with total enthusiasm.

[Tip:  Information is power.  People generally like to show what they know so by asking him to “educate” me, I am putting him on a pedestal and making him a teacher at that moment.  At the end I am setting up my expectation of the result AND making him feel as if he has already achieved it. He knows he hasn’t yet so there is more pressure on him to perform and get that result.  Even when dealing with total strangers, your choice of words can lead them to be more resourceful in order to make you happy or impress you with the outcome and feel great about themselves in the process.]

Now I knew where Chloe’s passport was in the country- New Orleans.  I knew it was already processed and in a “validation” stage which was not the final stage before mailing.  We were 3 days from departure to Mexico.  The next day (now 2 days from departure) John calls me and found out the passport was in the final stage ready to mail but uncertain as to when it would be mailed.  I think that even if it is mailed today it would likely arrive the day we are supposed to leave and our flight is in the morning.  I need it in my mailbox TOMORROW or we can’t go on the trip.

“John, can you tell them to mail it Express mail overnight today?” I begged.

“The problem is that I’m getting all this information by computer and all I can do is send message inquiries and wait for a reply.  There is no phone line in to the New Orleans office even for congressional offices,” he replies with regret.

So here is the dialog I had with myself:

[If you read my blog regularly, you know how much I believe in the power of the right questions!] 

“Does the passport exist in the United States of America?”


“It is in New Orleans and is complete.”


“Is it within the realm of possibility for me to touch this passport myself?”

“Crazy thought but it’s not on the moon.  It is sitting somewhere in New Orleans.  I could fly there by tomorrow and touch the passport if I could find out where it was and I could get inside the building.”

“Ok, how can you find out where it is in New Orleans and if you can touch it?”

“I’d have to call.  But I don’t have a phone number.  They won’t even give congressmen the phone number.  Is there a phone number?  Of course there’s a phone number!  Every place has a phone number, especially a government office.”

“I have to get the phone number.”

[Tip: Ask yourself questions like “Is it possible?”  Don’t think about being realistic.  Don’t think about cost or effort.  Instead ask yourself, “If this were to work out perfectly, what would have to happen?”]

My cell rings.  John calls back happy as a camper.

“Chloe’s passport is going out in the mail today!” exclaims John.

“That’s great news, John, and thank you.  But our flight leaves before the mail comes.  Can you have them overnight it?”  I say knowing it isn’t likely.

“I don’t believe that’s possible because they won’t be able to find hers specifically and there is extra cost involved.  They wouldn’t even get my message in time anyway,” says John.

“Thanks, John.  You’ve been awesome and a huge help!” We hang up.

[Tip: I sense now that John has exhausted his resources.  He has no inside track to expedite the delivery of the passport.  I need to take both reigns now.  I adapt my focus to the current circumstances.  I need help from someone other than John now.  I need to focus on delivery of the passport which is not necessarily controlled by the passport agency.]

Back to the dialog with myself.

“To get this close and not get the passport in time– I can’t let this happen.  Failure is not an option.  There HAS to be a way to get that passport here tomorrow!

“If it was to get here tomorrow, what would have to happen?”

“Someone would have to find Chloe’s passport amongst probably thousands and then take it to the post office to Express mail it and somehow get the post office to agree to charge my credit card by phone. Hmmm.”

“Wait a second.  The mail carrier will pick up at the New Orleans facility and the mail will be sorted at a local post office.  The post office!  Aha!”

[Tip:  This self dialog starts at complete success and works backward- a great technique you’ll hear me talk about often.  It gets my brain to think of possibilities no matter how outrageous. It stimulates other ideas.] 

I resume my previous dialog with myself about needing a phone number for the New Orleans passport facility but now I’m focused on a New Orleans post office.  I go to the USPS website and search locations in New Orleans.  Every phone number listed is the same 800 number for all locations across the U.S.  So I start there and make the call.

“Hi.  I’m calling long distance from Kansas City.  To whom am I speaking?”

“My name is Marge.”

“Marge, may I please have the direct number for one of your locations in New Orleans?” I ask.

“What do you need ma’am?” Marge replied.

“I need to speak with a manager in a post office there.  It is very important, Marge.” I say with urgency.

“We don’t have direct customer service numbers for the branches.  I can help you.” she replies.

“We know they must have a phone number.  If it was a dire emergency, there would have to be some way to contact them directly, right?” I say.

“The only other numbers we have are for employees but those are not for customers,” Marge says anticipating my next question.

“That’s perfect and exactly what I need, Marge.  I need to speak with an employee there.  You’re great, Marge.  Thank you.  What is the number for one of your biggest branches there, Marge?”  Marge gave me one phone number.

[Tip:  The phrase “long distance” is not quite as powerful now with cell phones but I still use the term because it implies urgency and that the call is important enough to incur an expense.  ALWAYS ask for name and use it throughout the conversation.  It adds a personal touch and accountability.  I use the pronoun “we” intentionally.  By using “we” I put the two of us on the same side of the problem–and two heads finding the solution. The very mention of a “dire emergency” makes her think outside of her normal script. I purposely ignored the comment that the employee phone numbers weren’t for customers.  She found what I wanted- a phone number.  I’m going to focus on my elated response to her victory making it almost awkward for her to NOT give me the phone number.]

I call the number and have a similar phone interaction with Bill.  I ask Bill what location picks up from the passport facility and what is the employee phone number.  Without hesitation, he gives it to me.

[Tip:  Success breeds success.  Bill figured if I had his branch’s employee number then it must be ok to give me the other branch’s.  I knew to ask for the employee number based on my previous knowledge learned that day.]

I reach David at the branch.  I purposely talk very fast and urgently and as though I know the guy.

[Tip:  Urgency is contagious.]

“David, I’m so glad to reach you!  I’m a mother from Kansas, ready to fly on a plane overnight and spend a ton of money just to somehow retrieve my daughter’s passport by tomorrow so we won’t disappoint my 80 year old father who is flying his whole family to Mexico after my mother passed away.  David, without your help, I’m going to disappoint my father who has worked so hard to make this trip happen for his family.  The passport is about to be in your hands as it is completed and ready to be mailed.  But I won’t get it in time unless it is overnighted to me.  Do you understand the situation, David?  Are you a miracle worker, David?”

David immediately starts researching who the carrier is that picks up from the facility.  I learn there is a minimal tracking method for passports once they are picked up by the postal worker.  He doesn’t find Chloe’s name but says that maybe she’ll be in the next batch.  He said he’d keep his eye out and took down my phone number.  David calls me back a couple of hours later and said Chloe’s passport had left the facility.

“David, you’re amazing!  Can you retrieve it when it gets to your branch?” I say in a hyper tone.

“I don’t know.  These come in huge bags and all I know is hers is in one of the bags.  Someone would have to dig through the bags and look at the labels.  We don’t really do that.” says David.

“David, we’ve gone this far.  Come on, I can’t get this close to a miracle and not make it happen.  Would you be willing to try?” said with a hopeful voice.

“I’ll see if I can have someone take a look.  I’ll call you if we find it,” said David.

[Tip:  Who doesn’t want to be part of a miracle?]

David calls me back.  He found the passport himself.  He places it in an Express envelope, re-labels it, and takes my payment.  I ask for the name of the Postmaster and address so that I can write a letter commending him (leaving out details that could get him in trouble).

Extremely relieved, I’m still not home free.  I call my local post office, ask for the Postmaster, explain the situation and what I did, and ask if she will take personal responsibility to hold the Express mail envelope for me and call me when she has it.  I get her laughing and personally invested in the storyline.  She agrees.

The day before our departure, at 10:00am, I arrive at the post office to retrieve Chloe’s passport.  I am greeted by the Postmaster and everyone at the counter knows the story.  We all share high fives and a few laughs.

[Tip:  It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.  Maintain your persistence and don’t let up until mission is accomplished.  Predict everything that could go wrong and take steps to prevent it.]

Needless to say, the 16 of us had a “passport party” in Mexico and Chloe jumped out of the cake! (not really but wish I would have thought of that!).

Upon our return home, I flip on the news and the first headline story is “The U.S. government has decided to postpone the mandatory requirement of passports for travel between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean due to the inability to keep up with the high demand.”

I picked my jaw off the floor and started writing my thank you notes.

[sneak peek message=”Stay tuned for Part V of Sid’s Sense, Let’s Make a Deal: The Empowered Negotiator.“]

"Your only real power is persuasion." Sidney

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  1. Donna #

    Loved seeing the photos to the family vignettes. A tone of voice for urgency and ending the statement with a personal name certainly draws desire to please. However, there is a fine line between that and patronization. You not only learned the art from your Dad but from one who had mastered it.

    April 26, 2012
  2. fitskitz

    You are absolutely right, Donna. Excellent point. The person at the other end of the line must sense your sincerity so they don’t feel you are talking down to him/her. You want the person on the other end of the line to feel like he is doing a good deed helping you solve the problem. Thanks for your comment!

    April 27, 2012
  3. Judith Truitt #

    I love being reminded about the power of “friendly” persuasion! Thanks to you Susan for bringing these memorable and so very important story lessons to so many! I can’t help but read them over and over and pass them along to so many in my life. Thanks for being you…a female clone of Sidney! With so much love for you…

    May 9, 2012

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