Being Human

Heidi DiGennaro

Heidi DiGennaro

Surviving the Headset

“Do not let the roles you play in life make you forget that you are human.”
― Roy T. Bennett

Telecommunicators are role-players. We’re trained that way, no matter the size or type of agency. The question is often asked, “How many roles does a telecommunicator play in a single day?” We’re described as:

  • “The Calm in the Storm”
  • Resource Coordinator
  • Logistics Expert
  • Communications Operator/Dispatcher
  • Calltakers
  • Situation/Incident Summarizer and Briefer
  • Media Liaison
  • Public Liaison/Public Information Officer
  • Multitasker
  • Trainer
  • Supervisor of the Day/Full-Time Supervisor/Manager
  • Records Keeper
  • CAD Operator and Translator
  • Phone Operator
  • Troubleshooter

    Where in that impressive list does it say “Human?” The list is not all-inclusive, and usually we are doing several dot points at once. For those of you with e-mail signature lines or business cards, does it say “Human Being” under your name or title? Sounds different, doesn’t it? Yet if you take a moment to think about it, you are a human being first. You’ll be a human being long after you leave this job. 

    This job can change you, jade you, and make you suspicious and/or surprised by simple kindnesses. You can function during a high-acuity event and have a mini meltdown when it’s done—in the privacy of your home because you refuse to show weakness at work. Your co-workers might give you a hard time for life or the length of your employment, so nope, not gonna show it’s getting to me. 

    Humor’s one of our more effective coping mechanisms. We can make a joke out of almost any situation. If not the situation, then something else that happens or something someone says. A sense of humor can be an essential tool.

    Don’t forget consideration. Checking on a co-worker during or after a major event can mean so much to someone. It doesn’t have to be a major event; if they are out sick for a few days or longer, sometimes one person reaching out and letting them know they’re not forgotten matters.

    Several times in my career I’ve reached out to someone on sick leave, most often on extended sick leave. It may be something as simple as a text saying, “Not necessary to reply, thinking of you.” It lets the person remember they are valued to someone. I do care so I send it; it isn’t a pro forma checklist item for me. Isn’t being valued a reason we stay in this job? When a few people who were out for a few months came back, they told me I was the only person who consistently checked on them periodically and it mattered to them. Now, I’m not perfect, and I have missed check-ins on people and beat myself up for it. The effort matters. Caring matters. 

    When there is a major event that impacts a group of people and you are a supervisor or manager, do not fall back on relying on the lowest-level supervisor/manager to check on everyone; you reach out to that person. As a higher-level supervisor or manager, you will look like you don’t care for those individuals if you don’t reach out. Do you have everyone’s cell phone number in your phone, accessible when you are not at work? 

    The point is you can’t lose sight of your humanity with all you are exposed to in this job. It is too easy to become jaded, forget about the little things, and put them off. Sometimes the little things are the biggest things that matter. Find a hobby, a way to express yourself, or outside interests. Once, a salesperson for a window company gave me his card. Instead of his job title appearing below his name, where the job title usually goes, the card read, “Human Being.” He told me he was not defined by his job title, but he defined himself. After seeing that, it reminded me to be human first.