Adventures in Call Screening

So, yesterday, producer Susannah George and I were in the screening room for our second hour show. Great topic, great guests — lots of good debate. Everything was fine until I noticed that Susannah, who was screening calls, looked like she was in the middle of a marathon. Our listeners are passionate, and when you're on the receiving end, it can be pretty tiring. Take it away, Susannah!

To all the TOTN callers who may have been frustrated between 3 and 3:40pm eastern yesterday, it was me — I was the one screening your calls. We have no way to estimate how many calls we get for a show like yesterday's second hour (Talking To Your Enemies), but I assure you, I was answering calls non-stop for the entire forty minutes. When we screen calls here at TOTN, our objective is to get a wide range of opinions and stories on the air, and yesterday, for whatever reason, most of the calls that came through were a variation of the opinion that "we should always talk to our enemies."

One caller had a particularly militant approach to keeping the lines of communication open — he called back four times to reiterate his view that we should always negotiate with our enemies. The first two times he simply stated his opinion. The third time he shouted a variation of said opinion. And the last time he called, he simply said (with a surprising degree of composure) "-expletive- you," and hung up.

This story is a perfect example of what Professor Robert Kaufman was trying to explain. If you don't understand how your enemy calculates risk, then, not only are negotiations useless, but they can also be harmful. In the case of yesterday's negotiations — if you don't know how the screener screens calls, (i.e. if we already have many of the same comments on hold) repeated calls can actually hurt your case, not to mention the relationship with the screener (I don't know for sure, but I assume that the caller used an obscenity out of frustration, and regrets it... deeply). So remember: before you engaged in the negotiation we like to call screening, pull a Nixon, not a Kennedy and read our screening guidelines.

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