Tips for Canvassers and Peddlers

We’ve all experienced this situation. You’re lounging comfortably in your easy chair watching some inane show on the television and generally relaxing. The door bell rings. Your first thought is to ignore it but you realize that your curtains are open so your caller knows you are home. So you groan, struggle to your feet, stumble to the door and open it, hoping it’s something important like the local constabulary enforcing an evaculation order you were not previously aware of. Alas, before you is a generic person wearing a badge of some kind and carrying some sort of clipboard. As soon as you open the door, he launches into his spiel.This situation happens regularly enough in most towns and cities that I would be surprised to hear of anyone living in such a setting that has not experienced this. It is far more annoying than the telephone ringing, something you actually can ignore and the caller has no idea why you did so. Even if you can pretend not to be home when someone comes to the door, there is a much greater likelihood that the person at the door is there for a good reason (like the suggested evacuation situation).

Here’s the thing. Most of us feel the need to be polite to unwanted interlopers at our doors. After all, they haven’t done anything to us, really, have they? The canvassers and peddlers who do this for a living deserve some consideration, right? After all, shouldn’t you be nice to everyone because you want people to be nice to you?

My contention is that this view is about as wrongheaded as they come. Let’s consider another situation. Two people are sitting at a table in a conference room discussing something and poring over a document sitting on the table between them. The door to the conference room is closed. You knock on the door to get their attention and one of them opens the door. You immediately begin by asking them to participate in a survey or ask if they wish to buy a box of chocolates to support your daughter’s chess club. In other words, you interrupted two people who were likely doing something important in a closed conference room for a completely inane reason. It may well be that they are simply studying the latest article by their favourite humorist, but you have no way of knowing that when you knock on the door. By any definition of the word, that is rude.

Now think about it. The canvasser or peddler at your door is doing exactly the same thing. He has no idea what you are doing when he rings your doorbell. He is intentionally interrupting you in whatever task you are about. This is by any definition rude.

Let me be clear. I am not advocating that you should be an unrepentant ass for the sake of doing so just because someone rings your doorbell. What I’m saying is that the person ringing your doorbell does not have any particular right to your most angelic behaviour. Rudeness is defensible, but threats of violence, or even violence itself, are not unless it becomes necessary to defend yourself. That means no brandishing shotguns, baseball bats, or fists. Closing the door in someone’s face is fine. Breaking their foot if it happens to be in the way of the door is definitely defensible if you have not invited the person in.

Let’s pretend you are the one going door to door. Taking as read that you have already been rude by interrupting your chosen mark (and I use the term “mark” intentionally), here are a few things to keep in mind as you go door to door.

Do not repeat. Keep track of places where you have been rebuffed strongly. Make a note if you are told not to come back again. If you work as part of a team of canvassers, share those notes. Absolutely nothing pisses off a potential mark more than bothering him multiple times! It’s also not worth your time to bother the same people repeatedly. Depending on the specific circumstances, it might even legally constitute harassment, which is something you definitely don’t want – it’s bad for your organization’s reputation and also potentially yours.

Do not overstay your welcome. This is the most important point to remember. As soon as it becomes clear that you are not welcome, leave. Do not argue that the survey will only take a minute. Do not argue that the neighbours all did it. Do not argue period. Just leave. Overstaying your welcome makes the next canvasser’s job that much harder because you have re-enforced whatever poor opinion the mark has of your profession. It is important to note that this may well mean leaving immediately without even starting your spiel.

Do not be pushy. By this, I mean don’t attempt to push your way inside. Do not block the door with your foot or any other part of your body. Do not act threatening in any way. If your mark is already predisposed to violence, these are all sure ways to push him over the edge and obtain yourself an injury. Remember, if you have not been invited in, putting your foot in the door way to keep it from being closed in your face is trespassing at best and forced entry at worst. If your mark is slamming the door, do not expect him to even notice your foot in its path! Remember, if you are trying to force your way in, you deserve every bit of bodily harm you receive as a result of your mark’s efforts to keep you out.

Do not argue. No matter what provocation you receive, do not argue. Period. There is never any percentage in arguing with your mark. You will likely not achieve your goal and if you do, you will not have a pleasant experience.

Do not take offense. Remember. You are interrupting someone’s day. If they are rude, it may be because you woke them up, or because they’re having a bad day, or because they don’t like your face, or because they’re just an asshole. It doesn’t matter. If you can’t handle rudeness, leave (and change your occupation). It is worth noting that rudeness doesn’t necessarily mean you have overstayed your welcome. Your spiel may still moderate the situation if it’s something interesting to your mark but be especially observant.

Be polite. Yes, you need to be polite under all circumstances. Remember, you are the invader and you want something. You are not there by invitation. Be as polite as you possibly can without being obsequious (which will just piss most people off more).  Also, remember you’ve already committed one faux pas by simply ringing your mark’s doorbell.

Be prepared to be disappointed. Remember that no matter how important you think your purpose is, it means nothing to your mark unless you convince them otherwise. And, realistically, you probably won’t. Many will hear you out, either out of genuine curiosity or to simply waste your time, and then send you packing. Remember, arguing is unlikely to help and getting rude certainly won’t.

Know your product. Make sure you know your product cold. Be prepared to answer any question that may come up. If you aren’t selling anything, make sure you know the purpose of your visit. Know why you are conducting a survey or going door to door. Be prepared for hard questions.

Be honest. This is particularly important for politicians and the like. If you are ever caught out in an inconsistency or an outright lie, be graceful about it. Accept that you’ve been caught and either bow out or admit it and continue.

Show respect. I’m not talking about obsequiousness here. Simply recognize you are interfering with your mark’s life and minimize the disruption you cause. Make sure you get to the point immediately rather than trying to strike up a conversation and build comaraderie. Do not assume you know better than your mark what he needs. Even if you do know better, do not wave that in his face. Avoid coming across as arrogant or otherwise disrespectful. If you realize you have committed some sort of cultural faux pas, apologise and if that does not help, leave. In fact, this particular item generally sums up all the rest but it needs to be listed separately because it seems that this trait is all too often missing even in the presence of most of the others.

Now let me describe a few encounters I’ve had over the years. These are ones that stick out in my mind. In the interest of full disclosure, I tend to be an asshole when I’m tired or otherwise agitated.

One time, I had a combination canvasser and peddler ring my door bell. I answered and the fellow at the door identified himself as representing whoever he was representing and started his spiel about some sort of survey or other related to energy. I was operating on about two hours of sleep in nearly three days at this point. I said, in what I intended to be an exasperated tone, “Please leave.” Now that can’t be much clearer regardless of the tone of voice, can it? The gentleman immediately took offense and demanded to know what he had done and generally proceeded to argue about why I should answer his questions. In other words, he overstayed his welcome, argued, and took offense. Now I should mention that one of the reasons I reacted the way I did is that over the course of the past couple of years I have had no less than a dozen people trying to do “energy surveys” or convince me to switch natural gas providers, all purporting to represent the same company.

On another occasion, I had a representative of Telus at my door. He was trying to sell me on their Optic TV thingie. Now I’m happy with my service from their chief competitor, Shaw. I was relatively polite with this fellow because he was actually generally polite himself. I was still annoyed that he was the door, of course. I let him tell me what he was about, and his spiel was mercifully short. I then said, “We are happy with Shaw.” That should have been a clue that I was not interesting in his goods, but I can see how that signal would not be as clear as I hoped. He did demonstrate that he knew his product. However, after a couple more exchanges, I did state clearly that we would not consider switching. Period. At this point, he commited the sin of arguing and was very reluctant to leave. I suspect he had been getting very little traction along the way in the neighbourhood and was probably well under his quota, but still, strenuous arguing in the face of “we’re not going to switch” was nothing more than a waste of his time. I stayed with the argument specifically to see how far he would go and to waste his time.

One other instance I recall was when my local MLA was seeking re-election. Now I absolutely despise most politicians. (There are a few exceptions. Hello Mr. Nenshi and Mr. Stevenson.) However, I try not to let that cloud my judgement when meeting one for the first time. I had no particular reason to dislike this particular politician so when she knocked on my door, I talked to her. Unsurprisingly, she was peddling the party line which was a load of so much excrement. It went something like “We eliminated the budget deficit. Our budget is balanced. There’s an operational surplus.” When you actually looked at the numbers, however, you find that, sure, the operational budget had a surplus. But when you added in the capital budget (“capital” is one time items like building a bridge, “operational” is ongoing expenses like maintaining a bridge), there was a billion plus dollar deficit. By definition, that is not balanced. I called her on it. She insisted that it was balanced. I grilled her hard on that one and she never did come up with a satisfactory explanation, or even admit that, yes, there really is a deficit. There were a few other points in the disucssion that I don’t recall now because they were not so much controversial. I did make a point of voting in that election so I could vote for someone else so at least part of her goal was achieved: getting people out to vote.

To be fair, I have had quite a few canvassers over the years that did not get my dander up. In all cases, they had a reason for going door to door. In one case, it was a petition to pave the alley. In aother, it was a “are you aware of this development application in the next block”. These are cases where there really isn’t a better option. Also, in these cases, the canvasser was polite, to the point, had their information together, and did not take up any more of my time than necessary for their purpose. In other words, they respected my time and my intelligence.

In general, there would be a lot less hate for door to door canvassing and peddling if those doing it recognized that interrupting people for their own purpose is generally rude and adjusted their behaviour accordingly. The number of canvassers and peddlers who seem to think that they are entitled to your time simply because they bothered to ring your doorbell and grace your step with their presence is depressing.  Perhaps if they were the rare exception instead of endemic to the trade, there would be much less hate directed at the occupation in general.

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