The Vendors came today. The Vendors bought us lunch.

For my non-IT readers, the “Vendor” phenomenon requires some explanation. Even if you are an IT person, but you are a vendor, you may need to know what it looks like from the inside.

I work for a company. And companies, in many ways are all the same. I do what I do for them, and they need someone to do it, and they are glad that they have someone reliable like me doing it. But mostly, I am not that important. I solve problems when they arise, mostly. I do other things, but as far as everyone else in the company knows, I solve problems.

People are sometimes grateful when their problems are solved. But usually, the intensity of their gratitude does not equate the intensity of their distress when they came to me with the problem.

So I am not that important in my company, not really. I just do my job and continue to solve problems.

BUT! There are vendors. Vendors are special. They are the people we pay to do certain things that we don’t know how to do or don’t have the time to do. They are not us. They are other people, other companies, who do only that one thing that we happen to need right then. And we pay them to do that one thing, because we need it.

Naturally, we think that they should be so excited to just be near us, that they would offer to do the job for free.

Naturally, they think that since we need the job done so badly we should be willing to pay top dollar.

Somewhere in the middle, we have to find a way to get what needs done. Usually, the vendor has to do some things for free. Usually, the company (us) has to pay top dollar for some things.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of shifting and discussing and pushing back and forth to achieve the mutually beneficial balance between free and top dollar. Exaggerations on both sides, promises on the one, threats on the other. Poking, flattery, courting and playing hard to get, all these things play into the vendor-company relationship.

I usually enjoy meeting with vendors. Because I’ve always been on the company side, and I get to be the one to play hard-to-get. It’s nice to be treated like you are important. I like to make vendors take me out to lunch.

But I like meeting with vendors for another reason, too. I have to spend most of my time buried in a technology that most people don’t know that much about. But these people (or at least some of them) do know about it. They can talk about it, and answer more questions and tell me about new things that are about to happen, or things that happened in the past that I hadn’t heard before. It’s almost like a fan club.

These vendors hadn’t met me yet. I just started work there, remember? So when they met me, they wanted to know what I had done. When I said I had 5 years experience in Video Conferencing, they just about fell out. Not so many people have that.

They asked me about this and that and gave me kudos and all kinds of respect for knowing things. It felt kind of good, except there was no way to forget that these were vendors and sucking up is what vendors do. At least in those kinds of meetings.

But I think they really were quite impressed with the breadth of my experience. We were talking like equals in nothing flat. They were impressed by my experience, but even more than that.

I was a girl.

There was an additional reason I was looking forward to this meeting with the vendors. Even more than being treated like I was important for the duration of a lunch hour, I had some ISSUES that I needed to take up with them. Some of the equipment wasn’t working right, and I have problems with their service that I wanted to take them to task about.

My boss has indicated that he is pretty direct with vendors and getting what he needs from them. He has told me to do the same. No problem. That would be my preference anyhow. Isn’t direct the shortest distance between two points? Or something.

The vendors were talking a mile a minute, and telling about this and that and all the things that can be and could be and should be. I had questions, and I had no problem saying, “stop! What do you mean by that? And what about this?”

I didn’t learn without asking questions.

A lot of what I wanted to know, they didn’t have answers to. Well, I don’t appreciate that. I like to think that the people who do the ONE thing, and the ONE thing they do is what we are paying them for, should know all about it.

Whatever. They are trying to sell us something so that they can stay in business and get their bonuses. That’s fine.

Anyway, the vendors took us to lunch, and we were all talking about this and that. The guys were asking my opinion about this company and that company, what I thought about different products, etc. Then, from the other end of the table, I catch one of the guys saying, “Well, I’m sure that if it wasn’t done right, we would hear about it from Murphy…and loudly!”

Loud? I hadn’t been loud. “…i wouldn’t be loud….” I said.

Well, we were all having a good time. He meant no harm by it, I’m sure. But I began to think about it. Why would the vendor guy think of me as loud? I wonder if he thought of my boss as loud? Because my boss was probably as direct, if not more direct than I.

I think that assertive and smart in a female is particularly astounding. Women are not expected, are not taught, to demand from others. We are taught to get along, to compromise, to let it slide. “Oh, that’s okay. I don’t mind”

I wish that women could be as assertive as men and not lose femininity. Let those of us who will be women hunters and women warriors.