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0924 Getting Access to Important People

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 924 – Getting Access to Important People.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 924. I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website, and we do have a website, is ESLPod.com. Go there. Download a Learning Guide and improve your English faster than ever.

This episode is a dialogue about trying to get in touch with – or make contact with or communicate with – important people. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Camile: That is a really good idea.

Nathan: Thanks, but there’s no way I can get past all of the gatekeepers in this company to get access to the president. He’s the only one who can green-light a project like this.

Camile: Can’t you present it to your boss first?

Nathan: If I bring the idea to my immediate supervisor, she’ll either take it over or nix it.

Camile: What you need to do is to get the ear of one of his advisors and do an end run around the other managers.

Nathan: I’m not sure how I can do that. I don’t know any of the advisors in the president’s inner circle. We don’t exactly travel in the same circles, you know.

Camile: How’s your jump shot?

Nathan: Why do you ask?

Camile: My cousin works at the same gym where the company president goes to exercise. Sometimes he likes to play a game of pickup basketball, often one-on-one. If you got a call from my cousin when he’s there, you might be able to get there quickly and be in the right place at the right time.

Nathan: You mean talk business on the courts?

Camile: Sure, isn’t that how real deals get made?

Nathan: You might have an idea there.

Camile: Yes, but one piece of advice: Let him win!

[end of dialogue]

Camile begins our dialogue by saying, “That is a really good idea.” Obviously, we are coming in in the middle of a conversation that has already started between Camile and Nathan. Nathan says, “Thanks. But there’s no way I can get past all of the gatekeepers in this company to get access to the president.” Camile and Nathan are obviously talking about trying to communicate with the president of some company.

He says, “There’s no way” – it’s not possible for me – “to get past all of the gatekeepers.” A “gatekeeper” (gatekeeper) is someone who works for an important person, typically who controls access to that person, who decides who is going to get to see that person and who will not get to see that person. We usually think of presidents of companies or, certainly, presidents of countries who have people around them who work for them who control access to that person, who decide who’s going to get to talk to the president and who isn’t. That’s what a “gatekeeper” is. Nathan is worried he can’t get past the gatekeepers – that is, he can’t get around them to communicate directly with the president. He talks about getting “access to the president.” “To get access” is to be allowed to talk to or communicate with someone.

Nathan says, “The president is the only one” – the only person – “who can green-light a project like this.” The verb “to green-light” means to say yes to something. It’s a very common expression in business, to mean to approve an idea, to say yes to a project. Why “green-light?” Well, of course, in a traffic signal, the green light indicates that you can go, that you can move forward. A red light would mean that you should stop. A yellow light, at least in the United States, means that you need to be careful because the light is going to be changing to red soon. For most people, this means you need to drive really fast.

Well, Nathan says, “The president is the only one who can green-light a project like this.” Camile says, “Can’t you present it to your boss first?” That is, “Isn’t it possible for you to talk to your boss as the first step?” Nathan says, “If I bring the idea” – and we don’t know what that idea is – “to my immediate supervisor, she’ll either take it over or nix it.” Your “supervisor” is your boss – the person who tells you what to do at your job. Your “immediate supervisor” is the boss who’s just one level above you. In most companies, you may have a boss, and then someone who is their boss, and then someone even higher who’s their boss. Your “immediate supervisor” is the boss who’s closest to you, if you will – the one who is just one level above you. The idea is that that boss, that supervisor, himself has a boss or a supervisor.

Nathan says if he brings the idea he has to his immediate supervisor, “she will either take it over or nix it.” “To take something over” means to fully control something, to say, “Okay. I’m going to now do everything related to this project.” It’s sort of like stealing it, in a way, except that the person who’s taking it over may have the right to do that – may say, “Okay. Well, I’m going to say this is my idea, and I’m going to take it over. I’m going to act upon it myself.” Nathan says if he gives his idea to his immediate supervisor, “she’ll either take it over or nix it.” “To nix” (nix) means to reject, to cancel, to say no to something.

Camile says, “What you need to do is to get the ear of one of his advisors and do an end run around the other managers.” “To get the ear of someone” means to get someone to listen to you, to get someone to pay attention to you. An “advisor” (advisor) is a person who gives advice and recommendations to a more important person – a president, or a vice-president, or a boss. Your “advisors” are the people that you ask recommendations from. You ask their opinion about something that’s important to you.

“To do an end (end) run” means to go around, or to bypass, or to skip someone who normally you would have to talk to and get the approval of and, instead, go to someone at a higher level. So, instead of talking to your immediate supervisor, you go directly to the president. You go all the way around that person. You do an end run. You go around the person. That’s what Camile is recommending to Nathan, that he needs to do an end run around the other managers in order to get the ear of one of the president’s advisors.

Nathan says, “I’m not sure how I can do that. I don’t know any of the advisors in the president’s inner circle.” The phrase “inner (inner) circle” refers to the closest advisors to an important person like a president. The president’s or leader’s inner circle would be the small group of men and women that he or she gets advice from – talks to in order to find out what should be done next. That’s the inner circle.

Nathan says, “We don’t exactly travel in the same circles, you know.” The expression “to travel in the same circles” uses the word “circle” again but in a different way. It means a group of people who are at the same social level who are often friends with each other or who have something in common. For example, here in Los Angeles there are some people who know a lot of movie writers, and movie directors, and movie producers. I do not travel in those same circles, meaning none of my friends or people I know are movie directors and producers. That’s actually not true. My old neighbor is a movie producer.

But anyway, the expression “to travel in the same circles” means to have the same kinds of friends or to be in the same situation where you would know these people. That’s what Nathan is saying is not the case for him. He doesn’t travel in the same circles as the inner circle, the close advisors of the president.

Camile says, “How’s your jump shot?” A “jump (jump) shot” is something you do in the game of basketball, where you jump up in the air and try to throw the ball into the round circle called the “basket.” It’s an odd question. So, Nathan says, “Why do you ask?” – “Why are you asking about how I play basketball?” Camile says, “My cousin works at the same gym” – the same gymnasium – “where the company president goes to exercise. Sometimes, he likes to play a game of pickup basketball.” A “pickup” game of anything is when you just play with the people who are there. You don’t plan it. You don’t organize your team in advance. You just go to a place where you think other people will be, for example, playing basketball, and you make a team right there. You form your own team. That would be a pickup game of basketball.

Camile says sometimes the president likes to play a pickup game of basketball, “often one-on-one.” “One-on-one” is when, in basketball, there are just two people playing – one person versus another person – and you try to get as many points as you can by throwing the ball through the basketball net. Camile says, “If you got a call from my cousin when he’s there” – in other words, if Camile’s cousin called Nathan when the president was at the gym – “you might be able to get there quickly and be in the right place at the right time. The expression “the right place at the right time” means to be at a certain place at a certain time, where you are able to do what you really want to do. It’s almost like having good luck. “To be at the right place at the right time” means to be somewhere and, even though you didn’t plan it, something good happens to you.

Nathan says, “You mean talk business on the courts?” “To talk business” means to discuss what is happening at your workplace. The “courts” here refers to the basketball court – the place where you would play the game of basketball. Camile says, “Sure. Isn’t that how real deals get made?” A “deal” is an agreement. Nathan says, “You might have an idea there,” meaning “I think that is a good idea.” Camile says, “Yes, but one piece of advice.” A “piece of advice” is a recommendation. “Let him win!” – meaning let the president win, allow the president to win. Don’t try to beat him in the game that you are playing of basketball.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Camile: That is a really good idea.

Nathan: Thanks, but there’s no way I can get past all of the gatekeepers in this company to get access to the president. He’s the only one who can green-light a project like this.

Camile: Can’t you present it to your boss first?

Nathan: If I bring the idea to my immediate supervisor, she’ll either take it over or nix it.

Camile: What you need to do is to get the ear of one of his advisors and do an end run around the other managers.

Nathan: I’m not sure how I can do that. I don’t know any of the advisors in the president’s inner circle. We don’t exactly travel in the same circles, you know.

Camile: How’s your jump shot?

Nathan: Why do you ask?

Camile: My cousin works at the same gym where the company president goes to exercise. Sometimes he likes to play a game of pickup basketball, often one-on-one. If you got a call from my cousin when he’s there, you might be able to get there quickly and be in the right place at the right time.

Nathan: You mean talk business on the courts?

Camile: Sure, isn’t that how real deals get made?

Nathan: You might have an idea there.

Camile: Yes, but one piece of advice: Let him win!

[end of dialogue]

She only green-lights the best scripts for learning English. I speak of our scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
gatekeeper – someone who controls access to a person, deciding whether or not one should be allowed to speak with a busy decision-maker or executive

* Salespeople have many methods of getting around the gatekeepers to speak with their people who may be customers.

to get access – to be allowed to interact with someone or participate in something when it is not available to everyone

* How did you get access to backstage during the concert?

to green-light – to approve; to allow something to move forward because one thinks it is a good idea

* In this family, all the children’s purchases must be green-lighted by Mom and Dad.

immediate supervisor – the person to whom one directly reports in an organization; boss; direct manager

* Please remember to ask your immediate supervisor to sign your reimbursement requests when you return from your business trips.

to take (something) over – to take full control over something from another person, usually against that person’s wishes, not allowing the other person to participate; to assume full responsibility for something

* Adele has too much work to do, so she has asked her co-workers to take over some of her projects.

to nix – to cancel, reject, or deny something so that it cannot proceed; to end a project

* Kevin wanted to buy a motorcycle, but his wife nixed the idea.

to get the ear of – to get someone’s attention so that he or she listens to what one is saying

* Sometimes large protests are the only way to get the ear of elected representatives.

advisor – someone who provides advice, guidance, and counsel to another person; someone who shares opinions and suggestions with a decision-maker

* The president is seeking a new advisor on economic policy.



to do an end-run – to bypass someone; to avoid someone or something that is normally required in a process

* Is there any way to do an end-run around the security measures to get to the secret files?

inner circle – a group of the closest advisors and/or friends who have direct access to an individual and influence over his or her decisions

* Lyle is very secretive around people who aren’t members of his inner circle.

to travel in the same circles – to have the same friends and participate in the same social and professional activities

* We used to travel in the same circles in college, but we have grown apart over the past few years.

jump shot – the act of throwing a basketball when one’s body is at the highest point of one’s jump into the air

* The crowd cheered when they saw saw Jordan’s jump shot.

pick-up – an informal, spontaneous game, not scheduled in advance and not organized by a team or league

* Do you have time for a pick-up game of soccer before your class?

one-on-one – involving only two people directly interacting with each other, without the participation of others

* When was the last time you and your wife had a one-on-one conversation without the kids in the room?

the right place at the right time – a time and place when everything works out well and one gets what one wants, mostly due to chance and luck

* Sometimes it seems like getting a job is just a matter of being at the right place at the right time.

to talk business – to discuss what is happening at work, especially away from the office

* In family-owned businesses, sometimes it’s hard for family members to stop talking business even when they get together for family events like birthday parties.

court – the flat, rectangular surface where a basketball, tennis, and other sports games are played

* How many hours do you spend on the tennis court each week?

Comprehension Questions
1. Who are the gatekeepers?
a) The security guards who control access to the buildings.
b) The people who schedule meetings for the president.
c) The people who decide who should be hired.

2. According to Nathan, what might his supervisor do if she hears his idea?
a) She might sell it to their competitors.
b) She might prevent it from being implemented.
c) She might tell the president it’s a stupid idea.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to get the ear of

The phrase “to get the ear of,” in this podcast, means to get someone’s attention so that he or she listens to what one is saying: “Now that you have the ear of the CEO, you’d better say something interesting.” The phrase “in one ear and out the other” describes what happens when someone hears something, but does not pay attention to it and quickly forgets it: “The teacher is frustrated, because it seems like her lessons go in one ear and out other the other.” The phrase “to keep (one’s) ears open” means to listen attentively to see if one can hear some useful information or discover an opportunity: “Please keep your ears open and let me know if you hear about any new job opportunities.”

court

In this podcast, the word “court” means the flat, rectangular surface where a basketball, tennis, or other sports game is played: “Number 16 is the best player on the court.” The phrase “the ball is in (one’s) court” means for something to be one’s responsibility, or for one to need to take the next action: “We’ve done everything we can, and now the ball is in his court.” A “court” is also the place where a legal trial is held: “Mariah has to go to court to testify as a witness in the murder trial.” Finally, a “food court” is the area in a shopping center where there are many inexpensive fast food restaurants with a common seating area: “Let’s meet at the food court for lunch and then see a movie together.”

Culture Note
The President’s Inner Circle

The President of the United States has the power to “appoint” (name someone to fill a position) members of the “Cabinet,” who lead executive departments. The Cabinet members traditionally serve as some of the President’s closes and most “trusted” (believed; relied upon) advisors. But not all Cabinet members have equal access to the President.

In general, the President has an inner circle of Cabinet members whose advice is “adhered to” (followed) more closely and “carries more weight” (has more power or importance; is more influential). This inner circle usually “comprises” (is made up of) the “Secretary of State” (responsible for “foreign’ (international) affairs), the “Secretary of the Treasury” (concerned with finance, money, and the economy), the “Secretary of Defense” (responsible for the military), and the “Attorney General” (responsible for providing legal advice). Together, these four department “heads” (leaders) are referred to as “The Big 4.” These are the most influential Cabinet members.

The four members of the president’s inner circle also “correspond to” (are tied or related to) the four “original” (from the beginning) departments of the federal government. In other words, these were the four departments that existed under the country’s first president, George Washington.

Some people are “concerned over” (worried about) the amount of influence that the members of the inner circle can have over the President’s decisions, since Cabinet members are not elected by the general public. They argue that their appointment without “representation” (having been elected) gives them “undue” (inappropriate and excessive) power in the “federal” (national) government.

Comprehension Answers
1 - b

2 - c